Come As You Are | Teen Ink

Come As You Are

April 29, 2019
By joclo SILVER, New Orleans, Louisiana
joclo SILVER, New Orleans, Louisiana
5 articles 0 photos 0 comments

“With all of our imperfections. With all our complexities. We’re worth it. And this is a year of owning who we are,” said Emma Stone as she spoke about the Me Too movement. The Me Too movement, a modern wave of feminism, is working to raise awareness on the issues of sexual assault and harassment in our modern day world. This movement works to empower women, to fight for their equality, and to raise awareness of the suppressive effect society has on women and their body image. Women often feel pressured by society to conform to the image of the “ideal” woman and how she looks and acts. However, women must remember that there is no need to change in order to please other people. Women are made perfect. Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” shows the scathing reality of the pressure put on women to conform to society’s ideals. In contrast, Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” shows the empowering effect of being happy in one’s own skin. Through Marge Piercy’s and Maya Angelou’s contrasting uses of imagery and realism, the audience faces a call to fight the demeaning pressures women face to conform to society’s patriarchal ideals of femininity and beauty.

By illustrating a familiar image of a young girl desperately trying to conform to societal standards of beauty, Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” demonstrates the self-destructive nature of females chasing unattainable ideals and encourages women to dismiss society’s pressures. Marge Piercy uses the familiar image of a Barbie doll to illustrate society’s ideal woman with a picture perfect body. (“Barbie Doll” 34). The patriarchal standard for woman’s beauty is exemplified by a Barbie doll. The patriarchal society expects women to do as men say and to be “feminine, domesticated, pretty, and accommodating.” (“Barbie Doll” 35). However, Piercy illustrates that this standard for beauty is completely unattainable for women (“Barbie Doll” 34). The girlchild in Piercy’s poem grows up living a normal, happy life; however, when she goes through puberty, she becomes more aware of society’s expectations, and she realizes that her body does not look like the ideal Barbie’s figure (“Barbie Doll” 34). In Marge Piercy’s poem the girl is told, “You have a great big nose and fat legs” (6). Even though she had never felt self-conscious about her body in the past, this criticism from others has struck her into feeling self-hate for her appearance. She begins to feel the need to say sorry for her body and to change her fat legs and big nose (“Barbie Doll” 34). The girl attempts to meet society’s standards by changing the way she eats and by working out in order to please everyone else. However, when she is continuously unsatisfied with her results, she becomes heartbroken and gives up: “Unable to cope, she chooses suicide, expressed in a metaphoric amputation of nose and legs, and makes a final oblation of her inadequacies” (DeSantis 374). With the final image of the young girl cutting off her legs and nose as a symbol of sacrifice to the ideal she could never meet, Piercy creates a stark, personal image of what it is like for women chasing the unattainable “ideal” body image (Semansky 39). Through her use of realism and imagery in “Barbie Doll,” Piercy symbolizes the very real struggle that many women face in life as they fail to embody the patriarchy’s domesticated Barbie doll ideal for women (Semansky 39). Piercy also provokes her readers by demonstrating the catastrophic effect these ideals have on women as they try to achieve society’s standards. She attempts to spur the reader into action to fight the pressures from the patriarchal society with the familiar images she creates in this poem (Van Wart 40). The most infuriating lines of the poem come as the girlchild is described as lying in the casket with cosmetics and a tiny molded nose: “Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said. / Consummation at last. / To every woman a happy ending” (23-25). The irony in these last lines exemplifies the harmful nature of society’s pressures faced by women trying to please everyone else, including themselves (Van Wart 42). With these lines, Piercy works to expose this nature to her readers, in order to push them into fighting society’s detrimental standards. Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” presents the story of a self-conscious young girl giving into the harmful pressures of society. Piercy uses this story to encourage her readers to resist the urge to conform and to meet society’s unattainable standards of beauty (DeSantis 374).

Conversely, the confidence expressed in Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” proves women do not have to submit to the pressure put on them to look and act a certain way in order to find joy and appreciation in life. In Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” the female narrator exudes confidence. She does not allow anyone or anything to get in the way of her enjoying life and loving herself (Neubauer 46). The woman is not only happy that she is different, but she celebrates her differences and loves that she is not tiny like a fashion model. This woman is very different than the young girl in Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” who wanted nothing more than to be thin, so she could please everyone else (Bloom 44). Angelou uses vivid imagery to show a woman who is unapologetically herself: “It’s in the reach of my arms, / The span of my hips, / the stride of my step, / The curl of my lips. / I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me” (6-13). Particularly, Angelou uses the word “phenomenal” to emphasize the fact that the woman is confident with her inner beauty, physical strength, and ability to walk into a room with pride. She does not feel the need to change herself in order to please others and to meet their beauty standards (Bloom 44). Angelou creates an image of a woman who is not only physically beautiful but also internally beautiful. Men not only find her physically attractive; they are also attracted to her confidence, her personality and the “inner mystery” she gracefully and courageously carries: “This mystery lies in the arch of her back, in the sun of her smile, in the ride of her breasts, and the grace of her style.” The woman possesses an entrancing beauty which naturally attracts other people’s attention; she does not need validation from others to feel beautiful (Bloom 45). Overall, the woman in Angelou’s poem attributes her beauty, grace, and mystery to the fact that she does not feel the need to “bow” her head: “Now you understand / Just why my head’s not bowed. / I don’t shout or jump about / Or have to talk real loud. / When you see me passing, / It ought to make you proud” (46-51). The woman is confident in the body, traits, and abilities she has been given, and she carries herself with eminent pride. She does not seek outside validation or work to change her appearance in order to feel happy or meet society’s standards. Angelou describes a woman who loves her body including all her curves and imperfections. Overall, Angelou’s use of imagery paints a vivid picture of a realistic woman who walks with her head held high, appreciates her differences, and knows her own self-worth without feeling the need to change to meet the patriarchal society’s standards for feminine beauty (Neubauer 47).


Marge Piercy’s and Maya Angelou’s poems present two very different stories; however, they work together to teach the same lesson. Both aim to create a new society where people no longer feel compelled to look and act a certain way to feel like they belong. The two authors use imagery and realism to emphasize the need for people to fight against the pressure society puts on women to look and act certain ways. Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” shows the negative effects of what happens when women succumb to society’s pressure and try to change their bodies to meet society’s ideals. Piercy uses very relatable images of a young girl cutting away at her body to emphasize the dangerous nature of trying to be something that she is not. On the other hand, Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” highlights the positive effects of being confident and happy in one’s own skin and not feeling the need to change yourself for someone else. “Phenomenal Woman” demonstrates that women do not have to fit the Barbie doll ideal that society places on women in order to feel confident, loved, and appreciated. Moreover, despite their differences in how they teach their lesson, “Barbie Doll” and “Phenomenal Woman” work together to show the importance of self-love and confidence that all women should have relating to their bodies. All women should acknowledge that the most important lesson to be learned in life is to love themselves as they were created-- if women try to change to make other people happy, they will never truly be happy themselves.

The author's comments:

This paper uses "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy and "Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou to expose and analyze the pressures put on women by our patriarchal society to act and look a certian way.

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