The girlchild in "Barbie Doll" gives us a good idea of what it's like to be a young woman growing up in America (though hopefully times have improved since the seventies). We get a clear, and creepy, snapshot of some of the absurd expectations society often dangles over the heads of womenfolk.
Between the "pee-pee dolls" and creepy-sexy corpses, this poem shows us how femininity in mainstream culture appears to be in need of a real makeover (without the makeup).
It's not that women are portrayed in "Barbie Doll" to be weak in mainstream culture, but rather society bars them from exercising their true strength. Girl power, gang.
Appearance is pretty much the only thing Barbie has. And since she's a doll, we know she can't think or do anything either. Of course, the girlchild in "Barbie Doll" offers far more than an appearance, yet her appearance is the only thing everyone cares about. Society, this poem tells us, often prefers dolls over people. Go figure.
Appearances may be skin deep, but in Piercy's poem they have a way of killing what's inside too. Bummer.
If true beauty comes from within, then "everyone" in Piercy's poem looks pretty silly valuing a lifeless doll over a talented person like the girlchild. Wise up, y'all.
Face it, everyone: growing up is a tough experience. We're trying to figure out who we are, what we want to do, and having to live up to everyone's expectations isn't always the easiest either. For the girlchild in "Barbie Doll," coming of age isn't about learning about oneself, but rather learning (and failing) to please everyone else, no matter how silly folks may be.
Coming of age in Piercy's poem isn't so much about learning who you are, as it is learning who you're "supposed" to be in the eyes of society (skinny, pretty, putty-nosed—you get the picture).
The adults in "Barbie Doll" appear as if they never quite made it past puberty—they don't sound a whole heckuva lot different from the girlchild's classmates.