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.
To Be of Use, 1973.
I discovered Marge Piercy through her poetry, almost by chance picking The Moon is Always Female off a shelf. Her voice was strong and the lines stayed within me, in fact they haven’t left me yet. I’ve since learned that besides being a poet, Marge is a novelist, activist, and feminist. She has an impressive body of writing and shows no signs of stopping her publication output.
The poem above differs from her work in The Moon is Always Female. Moon is mystical, thoughtful, crammed with ideas and images…and much longer. “Barbie Doll” shows a sharper, sarcastic side of her personality. To be perfect, just give up everything that makes you unique. Of course. You can be happy knowing you’re accepted, and you’re just like every other doll in her box. Right?
In case someone out there is in doubt, a world full of Barbies is a nightmare of uniformity and impossible anatomy, not a dream come true. Thank you, Marge!