And you thought Barbie was just a good gift idea to put under the tree next Christmas. In Piercy's "Barbie Doll," Barbie kind of gets a makeover and it's not exactly for the better. Here she's more of a symbol of what Marge Piercy sees as the failed value system we've put in place for young girls in America. In all of Barbie's "perfection," we come to see the real cost these kinds of expectations inflict upon the "girlchild."
Title: Notice we don't actually hear the speaker use the word "Barbie" anywhere besides the title. And yet the imagery of Barbie is all over the poem when we consider how the girlchild is teased for her "fat nose on thick legs" that don't look like Barbie's flowing hair and perfect legs.
Lines 5-6: Ah, the "magic of puberty," when boys and girls suddenly realize they don't look like Barbie or Ken. And yet those mean kids still tease the girl for her "great big nose and fat legs," no matter how physically unrealistic Barbie really is.
Lines 7-9: When we consider just how talented the girlchild is with her intelligence, strength, and health, she kind of blows Barbie out of the water. Barbie's lifeless without any of these attributes, and yet the kids still won't leave the girl alone because she doesn't look like Barbie.
Lines 12-14: On top of looking like Barbie, the girl is also expected to behave in the sort of way we might imagine to be "perfect" for a young girl. Yet, all of the acting only wears the girl out because she's trying to be someone she's not.
Lines 17-18: Finally, the girlchild has had enough and cuts off her nose and legs because they don't look like Barbie's. And in doing so, she ends up killing herself since you can't be yourself and someone else at the same time.
Lines 20-23: You'd think that because of the whole death thing, everyone would leave the girl alone and let her be herself in her casket. Nope. The girlchild is made-up to look like Barbie even in death, just so everyone can say how pretty she looks. Creepy.