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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Poetry as Social Comment

On my other blog, I wrote about some fun poems, children's poems that can make you smile or laugh outright.  The following poem is a sad comment about the way culture and media can be an invidious influence on self-image.

Barbie Doll

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.

She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.

Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Marge Piercy

Here is a link to an article Piercy wrote about a problem that still exists, the importance placed on body image, especially for women.  I'm glad Piercy also mentions the problem of aging (again, especially for women).   Piercy is correct, the problem is even worse today than it was when she wrote the poem.  People seem to have the freedom to say things online that perhaps they would not, otherwise.   It is difficult to understand  how fat old men feel no contradiction about making crude comments about a woman's body, whether "positive" or negative.  Not that women are excused, because women are equally judgmental in many cases.  Such a strange disconnect!

Piercy's article is a good one, but it is an angry one.  Barbie Doll is an angry poem.  And despairing.  Because things have actually gotten worse.  We are all susceptible--old, young, fat, thin, pretty, plain, male, female.  


  1. Oh this is so good. Thank you so much for sharing this and I look forward to reading Marge Piercy's article too.

    1. I used this poem in AP classes, and often think about it when I see commercials that target appearance and sexuality so deeply embedded in our culture. The poem pulls you up sharp, doesn't it?

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jenclair. I like the poem quite a bit. It is a sad commentary on our times that it still rings true today--and in some ways, more so.

    1. We all want to be valued for more than our appearance, but it is difficult to avoid all the images of "perfection." One reason I loved Hidden Figures so much (both film and book) is the way it celebrated the intelligence and determination of women. :)

  3. My mind is searching for eloquent sentences to compose a comment to this post. I can't get past an account of my own experiences and what I see when I look in the mirror. A pretty face that has aged, as it should, with some wrinkles but not excessively tracked. A body that is not over weight but a little more flabby than it always was since I am no slave to physical exercise. But I like myself and I am not sure what year that happened. Society will not change. Not as long as guys want a Barbie.

    On a lighter note. My grandson is 22. When he was little he found a troll doll that he carried around and said it was his Barbie. Maybe there IS hope. LOL
    xx, CCarol

    1. I love the idea of your grandson finding a troll doll and calling it his Barbie! Trolls are lovable, but Barbie is generally a pretty cold fish. :)

  4. I so much love Marge Piercy and her poetry! I agree that in many ways the issue of women and body image is worse than ever, mostly because of social media. There is a countering body positive movement but its voice/s are so easily overwhelmed by the negative. Thanks for sharing the poem!

    1. I know that even men feel the pressure to look a certain way, but most of the pressure is on women. What bothers me is that stage when a little girl becomes aware of the pressure to mold herself into a less honest, but commercially approved version of herself.