How is the poem's statement about social obsession with cosmetic beauty linked to the poem's overall statement about the feminine condition?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Piercy's poem about cosmetic beauty and the social obsession about it is constructed to feed into the larger narrative that women are mere "dolls" in the patriarchal modern setting in which they live.  On one hand, Piercy's poem makes clear that cosmetic beauty and social obsession with it is a self destructive element.  Consider what the poem says to this point in the "great big nose" and "fat legs."  Piercy's subject continually "apologizes" for her own condition, one that is not deemed as beautiful by society.  Through "exercise, diet, smile, and wheedle," the woman in Piercy's poem becomes overwhelmed with trying to reach the male standard of beauty, the need to be the "Barbie doll."  At the same time, the ending of the poem is one in which the makeup applied to the woman is that which the undertaker applies to the corpse. This helps to reveal two elements.  The first is that makeup and cosmetic beauty takes a woman "from womb to tomb," in how the same emphasis on cosmetics is applicable to her both in life and in death.  At the same time, Piercy's overall point is how social constructions of beauty, the same designs that are developed for and by men, end up taking a toll on what it means to be a woman.  In order to avoid the predicament that Piercy offers, women have to recognizes that social obsession with cosmetic beauty does not lead to good things.  In this, the poem speaks a level of truth still understood and confronted today.

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