The Devastation of Social Pressure One would think that growing up would be a fun, not a worry in the world, happy experience. Yes, that is the way it should be, but that’s not always the case, especially for women. As girls season into women they realize they not only have to face the fact that they’re in a patriarchal society, but also the influences and pressure they face in the social aspect of things, such as their looks and body image.
There is so much competition amongst girls, especially when transitioning into a woman and through most of their adulthood.
So instead of being able to enjoy life and absorbing the true quality of it, we are side tracked with superficial, stereotypical, shallow thoughts and images of how we think life is supposed to be. Although, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong with the way we interpret things? Marge Piercy, who wrote the poem “Barbie Doll”, has a very strong view of how destructive social pressure can be to a girl through her transitioning stages into a woman.
She expresses how the Barbie doll, the toy figurine that woman idealize, is, in fact, a method of corruption to a young girl.
First and for most we must understand who the persona is in the poem, which is a woman, and more specifically Marge Piercy herself. She is observing a young girl going from Wolfe 2 childhood, adolescents, adulthood and then death in a roundabout way. Starting with the first stanza, of four, the persona explains of a young girl, and her playing with a doll, the Mattel’s Barbie doll to be precise. This doll is to be described as tall, blonde hair, blue eyes and it has the perfect body.
The girl, “…presented dolls that pee-pee/and miniature GE stoves and irons/ and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (2-4). The words iron, stove, and lipstick are all play-things for the girl, but are also identity markers. Such that the doll represents the ideal body image, the iron and stove tells us what type of work is expected of the girl when she becomes an adult (keep in mind that this poem was written in the nineteen seventies and that woman in the work force was still a very small percentage, thus women were still very domesticated) and the lipstick is to imply a sexual innuendo.
In the last line in the first stanza the girl goes through puberty and no time is wasted before a classmate judges and criticizes her, “You have a great big nose and fat legs” (6). Going through puberty is a stage of growth. Adolescents become more aware of their social standing and sexual being. As we read further, the doll, she once played with, will create a major impact on her; in the aspect of her body image and the pressure she faces from her peers.
In the second stanza we see how the woman is dissatisfied with herself even though she is “healthy and tested intelligent/possessed strong arms and back/ abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity” (7-9). The persona continues to say, “She went to and fro apologizing/Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs” (10-11). The traits that this woman possesses, is in every way correct; however, she is so sure her physical traits are unacceptable to the culture.
No matter what she sees in the mirror or what she hears, this won’t change her opinion about herself image. She has been brainwashed about her looks and she doesn’t think she is good enough. She goes around apologizing to everyone about the person she has become, believing there is no way she can change, at least in a healthy manner. In the third stanza we read how society is forcing the woman to change her healthy ways, physically, into something she isn’t. She does what she can to fit into society by, “…play[ing] coy/ exhorted to come on hearty/ exercise, diet, smile and wheedle” (12-14).
She had so much pressure from every direction, she felt obligated to try and conform her body into what society viewed as ideal, which we know of as the Barbie doll toy. This idea was short lived. Instead of standing her grounds and accepting the individual that she is, she drowns. Society got the best of her, “Her good nature wore out/ like a fan belt” (15-16). She gave up and paid the ultimate price to be accepted in society, “…she cut off her nose and her legs/ and offered them up” (17-18).
Now that she has removed her flaws she temporarily relinquishes her depression, weakness, and anxiety. Now that she has met the, impossible, unrealistic, standard, she can permanently wash her existences away and leave her shell of beauty behind. In the final Stanza, Piercy highlights the theme of the poem. Simply put, women aren’t accepted into society unless they represent the ideal woman. Now that the woman is free of body flaws and has had a makeover, she can be accepted into her culture even though we know this isn’t her true self.
What must this say about the society she has been exposed to? In order to survive in this specific culture, if we’re not perfect, is to become someone we’re not. So not only do we have to try to live up to a standard that is not comprehendible but we also have to be fake. In the middle of the last stanza Piercy explains, “with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on/a turned-up putty nose/dressed in a pink and white nightie” (20-22). The woman now has the superficial , but perfect, looks. She is manipulated (physically) so she can finally be recognized.
Letting a society make this woman frail and surrender to being her own individual shows a lack of values and morals within herself. Having our own opinions, life experiences and ethics make us who we are and if we were all the same or are held up to the same expectations what would life be like? Would we all act like robots? Clones? As the woman has been re-configured, shallow talks are amongst her, “Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said/Consummation at last/To every woman a happy ending” (23-25). Mission complete, she achieved her goal; she is pretty, unflawed, and looks like the ideal woman.