In the poem "Barbie Doll," author Marge Piercy utilizes four short stanzas to provide a scathing review of the cultural and societal expectations that American culture places on children, particularly young girls. The protagonist, if the subject of the poem can really be called such, undergoes a short summary of life during the piece of literature, beginning at birth and ending with a sad picture of her funeral. The entire poem is written with a tone of depression and sadness, in fact, with the young girl presented as " [going] to and fro apologizing," about her culturally unacceptable image.
The image that she possesses is not supposed to be wrong in an empirical sense, but rather that it is incorrect in comparison to what America typically presents as being the "perfect" woman. As a child, the girl was "presented dolls that did pee-pee/ and miniature GE stoves and irons/ and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy." By providing concrete examples that many Americans will be familiar with, and even using the brand name of General Electric, Marge Piercy allows the story to resonate with some image of the reader's past. In these examples, though, abide the very ideas that ultimately cause the girl's lack of self-satisfaction: perfect bodies, perfect faces, and the perfect look. It is no coincidence that Piercy names the poem "Barbie Doll" the quintessential example of fake perfection.
The author goes a step farther, however, and shows the consequence of dissatisfaction with one's self. Despite the fact that "she was healthy, tested intelligent/ possessed strong arms and back/ abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity," traits that would be considered to be the pinnacle of "correct," she was unacceptable to culture. The girl attempts to please everyone at first, but soon "Her good nature wore out." In the stanza immediately following, Piercy brings the central idea together: as the girl, now dead, lies in a casket with fake makeup and fake dress, the people, or society, are finally happy. "Doesn't she look pretty? Everyone said. / Consummation at last. / To every woman a happy ending." Laced in irony, the author states that finally, the girl has achieved acceptance, but not on the merits of her character or her being; rather, through the unwilling compromise to culture. Piercy shows through her poem "Barbie Doll" the dangers of false standards and the consequences of their application. It is not that we should all be held to a single, high standard, but rather that we should be judged each according to our own merits and values.