Barbie Doll Questions and Answers
by Marge Piercy

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Which of these is the more appropriate theme statement for the poem "Barbie Doll"? "Sometimes, other people's expectations on outward beauty influence a woman to judge herself harshly and lose her personal identity and unique natures in order to conform and gain acceptance." OR "sometimes, people in society focus too much on the outward beauty of a woman and oversees and deprives her of her unique personal identity and self esteem when expressing their opinion on physical appearance."

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While both statements of theme seem appropriate, perhaps the first one strikes more immediately at the tension created in the fifth line:

Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:

You have a great big nose and fat legs.

These lines are central to the controlling metaphor of the "girlchild's" not meeting the standards set by society for beauty with a teenaged girl.  For, the girl's self-perception changes after the classmate derogates her appearance.  Even though she is healthy and athletic, the girl henceforth apologizes and she believes that "Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs."

The third stanza clearly indicates the young woman's desire to conform as she takes advice on how to "exercise, diet, smile and wheedle," thus losing her personal identity.  All that is important to her is her identity by means of her conformity.  However, when she cannot conform to the idea of beauty set forth by the classmante, the young woman despairs and dies.  But, in the casket with her putty nose, she at last conforms:  "Consummation at last."  [As you say, she loses her personal identity and unique nature.]  The authors rage, of course, is evident in this ironic line.

The first statement of theme, thus, follows the arrangement of the poem and is validated by this arrangement.

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