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While clearly

While clearly, the Barbie Doll has been around for decades and is a staple of little girl's toys everywhere,
not everyone views her as a positive or uplifting role model. Barbie is an oft talked about controversial
topic. Two such authors, Marge Piercy and Allison Joseph respectively, do not view her as a harmless toy
or as a necessary staple of little girls growing up. Based on their poems entitled, Barbie Doll and Barbie's
Little Sister, you can get a sense of their feelings. They are obviously feelings of a perpetration that has
occurred since 1959, when Barbie was first introduced to store shelves. A perpetration against young girls
everywhere who play with this plastic image of perfection that can never be realistically achieved.
In Piercy's poem, Barbie Doll, she starts out the poem by noting that most young girl start out with dolls
that were realistic in that they peed and household replicated toys, and play makeup. It seems very
innocent in the first stanza, that the child playing is just emulating what they see their mothers doing and
what eventually they are expected to become. Most girls are given these playthings to be introduced to
motherhood and womanhood at a very young age so they develop a sense of self and what is socially
expected of them when they achieve adulthood. It's not until they reach puberty however, that they realize
the underlying tones of the toys their playing with. Such as, the perfect body that their toy portrayed was
no where near what they looked like. Piercy in the last line of the first stanza points out that a classmate
makes fun of the child's apparent fat nose and thick legs. It seems to me, that one statement, pointing out
the differences between ones body image and what they always played with and assumed to be the
perfect body image, can do so much damage. It only takes one statement or phrase to change the course
of a girl's life.
I believe Piercy utilizes sarcasm well in the next stanza to show that even with qualities that make a
strong female that one statement made previously to her had made her so self conscious she felt she
must apologize. Apologize for being above average intelligence and not the size of Barbie or perhaps, to
fit in and for the need for validation from her peers? The reaction of her peers of only seeing a big nose
on fat thighs shows the social norm of not seeing someone for the qualities they posses or what their
personality is like, but only for what is on the outside. It's that undying effort to have the perfect body, the
one we all saw growing up, Barbie; the one with perky breasts, long legs, and a perfect waist. Apparently
this girl saw her as the perfect body with the upturned nose and the legs that went on for miles. I believe
that Piercy used irony very well in this stanza when she pointed out that the girl had strong arms and a
strong back. Realistically, if Barbie was a real person she would most likely be anorexic, with extremely
weak arms, and back problems due to the proportions of her breast to the rest of her body.
Piercy clearly demonstrates the expectation of society in the world of the Barbie Doll. The world where
she must be coy, alluring, hearty, always have a smile, to diet and exercise and wheedle away at her
appearance in order for that ungettable get. The author points out that in that quest for perfection the girl
lost herself. I especially appreciate the line, "Her good nature wore out like a fan belt". She used a great
analogy in describing the slow wear down of herself. She lost her good nature and the qualities that made
her special and unique. Just as a fan belt once it is completely wears down, it stops working. So, does the
girl quit working. Her essence or who she truly was died a slow death. In response to this death of her
true self, she seemingly gave up as is depicted in the last two lines of the third stanza. It says that she cut
off the things that were apparently most offensive about her, her nose and her legs. It seems that Piercy
is showing in this last line, that the girl finally realized that the perfect body she had dreamed of and other
people had pushed her towards was not going to happen. She gave up and deformed herself in order to
get rid of the things that people seemingly did not like about her. If that isn't irony I don't know what is.
Striving for perfection, only to end up deformed? It seems like such a waste.
In the last stanza, Piercy shows the paradox of beauty in death. Clearly, the girl, had once been full of life,
with qualities that made her unique and special had the life slowly beaten out of her by constant criticism
and urge to look better, to be better, and to be the Barbie doll. She finally ended it all, by removing the
things that made her ugly or less than. While she is lying in the casket, after clearly committing suicide,
people realize how beautiful she is, what with a new upturned nose, made out of putty, and permanent
makeup on. I believe that Piercy is showing that what was unachievable in life was achieved in death.
People said how pretty she was with her fake nose, makeup, and in pink clothing. At last she had her
happy ending.
To me it seems as if Piercy is making a parallel between what is socially expected of young girls and the
Barbie image. The fact that the girl in this poem was given toys to play with that should ultimately
reinforce the idea that she should grow up to be a young woman who was alluring, demure, charming,
and beautiful. Perhaps this girl was a tomboy by nature, one who was healthy, smart, and strong.
Perhaps she was apologizing for not being part of the social norm, for not being able to be the girly girl
everyone expected her to be. Perhaps, she tried her best to become the Barbie image that everyone
expected her to be and she just could not do it anymore. Maybe that is what led to her suicide. It is the
social expectations of females in the United States, the expectation for young girls to want to play with
Barbie's, and miniature ovens, and to play house. Anything outside the social norm is considered
eccentric, weird, or ugly. Piercy, to me is showing what the social expectation of women can do to the self
esteem of a girl who is not the norm or who is not what a girl is expected to be like. Throughout the whole
poem, Piercy clearly drives her point home with sarcasm and irony to point out the similarities between
social expectations and unachievable goals.
The next author, Allison Joseph, entitled her poem "Barbie's Little Sister". She introduces her poem by
introducing Skipper. Skipper is Barbie's little sister, who from my recollection had short strawberry blonde
hair and freckles and wore the ugliest outfits ever imaginable. My mother had three Skippers from the mid
1960's that we played with, and they were seriously atrocious. Joseph agrees with this sentiment when
she describes Skipper as perpetually pre adolescent without breasts, without any prospects or hopes of
growing up, with a horrible wardrobe, and a boyish body that would never fit into the glamorous wardrobe
of her older sister Barbie. Apparently however, Mattel decided to make, "Growing Up Skipper", where you
could twist her arm and she would grow taller and she would sprout breasts! She apparently was stuck at
the age of fifteen, where she was forever a teenager.
Of course Mattel didn't stop there, they created equal rights Barbie, Christie, the token "black friend" of
Barbie. They even introduced Barbie's best friend, Midge. Joseph, likened Midge to be the friend who
after hearing about Ken, apparently Barbie's philandering boyfriend, over and over, had enough. So,
Skipper, Christie, and Midge ; who had enough of only ever being footnotes in the world of Barbie, stole
Barbie's camper, left California, and set up shop in Las Vegas. Apparently they are very happy there,
because they found a restaurant not exclusively serving long legged blondes, with impossibly tiny ankles
and feet, and breasts that are perfectly proportioned and perky.
The tone of Joseph's poem is very sarcastic throughout. She paints a vivid picture of Skipper as someone
who can never truly grow up to be as perfect as her sister. It seems as if in her world she was never even
given a chance. To me, it seems as if Joseph is painting a portrayal of sibling rivalry. Always being
compared to someone else and to whom you should strive to be like is a feeling I can somewhat relate to
as I have an older sister. Of course, my parents never intentionally meant to make feel as if I was always
being compared to her as a model of how I should be. She did come she came first and set the precedent
of what constitutes a good, beautiful, and charming girl. Still, there was that underlying tone of, be better,
be more charming, and be more beautiful. Like any younger sibling, I was given hand me downs, of
literally everything. I was given her shoes, pants, shirt, dresses, and even underwear. So was the same
with Skipper, she was always given second best, as is portrayed by Joseph, showing that she only had
Kmart to shop at; while Barbie had thousands of outfits. Barbie also had the dream house, the cars, the
pools, and the accessories. What did Skipper have? She had a perpetual 15 year old body, Barbies black
friend, Christie who only served on purpose, as the face of civil rights and equality, and Midge the "best
friend" who knew that deep down Ken was scum and was sleeping around. So what to do? Of course
they had to get out of there and start over in sunny Las Vegas, where the rules are a bit different and the
fun never stops. Certainly more fun than they had before living in California under Barbie's shadow.
Both poems show the skew of what is viewed as normal and beautiful in American society. Barbie, the
blonde leggy female with impossible body proportions and never ending charm, that's what, is beautiful.
Individuality, however, is not. Ugly is being a size sixteen instead of a size zero, having thick ankles
instead of ankles, that if any female today had, would be broken most of the year, and not having
perfectly sized or proportioned breasts. Piercy shows it as having a fat nose and thick ankles, to Joseph's
portrayal of having a body that is adolescent still.
Piercy's tone in her poem comes off as a fairy tale of sorts. A tale of a girl who seemingly is normal while
young playing with her dolls and toys; toys that are considered acceptable to play with as a young girl.
However, as she reaches puberty, her body changes and perhaps her interests as well. Her whole life
changes when she realizes that unless she conforms to the standards of society she will never be
accepted, be considered beautiful, or be truly loved. The fairy tale takes a tragic turn from the second to
the third stanza, where she loses her identity, her strength, and ultimately her life. Piercy paints this
picture of helplessness almost. That unless you conform to society's expectations you will always be
miserable and can expect to end up dead, whether that is literal death or just figuratively is beyond me.
However, in Joseph's poem, the tone is a bit different. It comes across as more of a "screw you" to what
society expects. Joseph, doesn't to me, show that helplessness. In fact, she shows a certain defiance of
society's expectations. Skipper, who has always been in Barbie's shadows combined with Christie, and
Midge, decide they have had enough and go off to a place where the society is different. In this new
place, the three sidekicks find that it doesn't matter that they're not perfect. No one else there is either. It
seems a relief to me that they don't have to strive for perfection. They can be themselves and be perfectly
happy that they are not Barbie. The Barbie figure there is irrelevant and no longer is there that giant
looming above them, the thing that is holding them back from being themselves.
Piercy and Joseph, both touch on the idea that thin, is beautiful. Piercy touches on it when she pointed
out that the girl in her poem had thick legs. These thick legs lead to her being ostracized her whole life
and eventually she cut them off in an act of desperation. Joseph's nuance to the issue is very subtle, but
to me the statement that while Barbie had over a thousand outfits to wear, Skipper was condemned to
buying off the rack clothes at Walmart. As a female who is not so slight, I can actually very much attest to
this fact. There are very limited clothing stores in which I can shop. Mostly, because these stores cater to
females who are size zero to fourteen and disregard the fact that the average woman is a size sixteen.
Most stores, if they do have plus sizes are so ugly that I would rather wear a burlap sack than wear what
they have to offer. The stores that do carry fashionable clothes in my size charge almost double what
regular stores cost. Apparently they believe they are selling a tarp to me, rather than a size sixteen shirt.
In the same section, Joseph claims that Skipper has to wear floral sun suits with Peter pan collars, which
alludes to the clothes with no shape or distinction of body type. The type of clothes that if you wear it you
don't really know what size or shape a person is. The stereotype that thin is beautiful is perpetuated by
Piercy more so than Joseph. Piercy, again paints the picture that if you are fat or not the social norm you
will never be happy. Joseph paints a picture of hope almost, by stating that Skipper, Christie, and Midge
got out. They found a place of happiness, and peace with themselves.
As I read these poems more and more, I find that Joseph paints a picture of life that is more accurate.
Joseph realizes that yes the Barbie stereotype does exists, and many do buy into it. However, not
everyone does and for those who are fortunate enough to get from under the spell of it can lead a healthy
and successful life. Piercy's tone and attitude is of the other extreme. Piercy comes across as cynical and
bitter about what society expects women to be like and portrays a story of a helpless life and that one will
always be stuck in the cycle of being that perfect female character by society standards, the perfect
female in every way; being thin, perfectly proportioned, charming, and demure. The helplessness in the
tone of Piercy's poem pushes it into the realm of the unbelievable for me. As human beings we inherently
have a choice. A choice of whether to buy into the thought that the Barbie doll is the perfect image of
society, or if as human beings our unique essence or what make us, special is what we should strive to
be. Joseph portrays that and Piercy does not, which makes me believe Joseph's view of Barbie is the
correct one.
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