When schoolchildren tell their parents that they are being bullied or made fun of at school, their parents would recite the age-old idiom, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But does that saying hold true? Paul Zimmer's Zimmer in Grade School and Marge Piercy's Barbie Doll show two examples of children who are adversely affected by the opinions of others. Both poems are about how bullying does not just affect a person at the time of incident, but how it also the victim well into adolescence and adulthood. Piercy's poem is about a girl that was bullied because of her appearances and Zimmer's poem is about a boy made fun of for his awkwardness and poor academic performance. Even though both examples are of youths being bullied, the poems detail how the harsh words still stick with them years after the bullying stopped.
It is important to note that the bullying of both Piercy's and Zimmer's characters occurs in their childhood. When young children start going to school, they are being exposed to an interactive environment with a large number of other young children for the first time. Naturally, some kids are going to be bullied. Zimmer's character, who had a square nose streaming mucus and blood, was beat by the school's nun, and did not perform well at school, was considered an awkward child. Piercy's character was also considered awkward due to her great big nose and fat legs. These children are sensitive enough to begin with, but being bullied at a young age may distort their perception on people at an early age. Not only that, but they will have a flawed self-image and a lower self-esteem from the start.
Although the bullying occurred during a very young age, this experience was somewhat traumatic for both characters. The resulting low self-esteem stayed with them after childhood and developed into something else when they reached adulthood. While Zimmer's character grew up to be a normal adult, he makes it known that those childhood events still affect him. He mentions that while he hides behind an elaborate mask/ It is always known I am Zimmer,/ The one with the messy papers. Zimmer shows that behind the mask adulthood, he really is still a child. He still feels ostracized, afraid, and outcast among others. In Piercy's Barbie Doll, the main character is made fun of for her physical characteristics, as opposed to Zimmer's social eccentricities and awkwardness. In the poem, classmates point out her great big nose and fat legs, despite her being intelligent and otherwise normal. Others still told her to change herself by losing weight exercising and dieting. The protagonist put up with this for years and years, presumably up until adulthood, and eventually could not withstand anymore. She then cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up. This isn't to say that she literally performed self mutilation, as poets have artistic license, but what is explicitly made clear is that the main character underwent a drastic change. Her childhood experience with incessant bullying about her image caused her self-esteem and self-image to suffer as an adult. She could not take any more criticism and took a drastic measure to silence them.
These social pressures to be normal or good looking also exist outside of school environments. There are many advertisements that use sex appeal to make a consumer believe that using their product will better them in a social setting. This would appeal to the Zimmer archetype, or those that are socially awkward and want to avoid any social apprehension. However, these types of advertisements will make the Piercy archetype feel even worse about themselves. The Piercy archetype is aware of their physical flaws and any attempt to point them out only makes them even more nervous that others will notice them. They, in turn, become very self-conscious. There have been numerous media reports that unrealistically thin runway and photo models, Barbie dolls, and an increased amount of sex advertisements only make more Piercy archetypes. There are unrealistic ideals depicted in these images and society expects everybody to attain that ideal. When people who have this ideal picture of a person in their heads meet someone who does not meet their expectations of that ideal, they may directly or indirectly point that out, which only makes the victim more self-conscious about their physical faults. Those with these ideals in mind go ahead and produce these advertisements portraying unrealistic, unattainable beauty, which just serves to continue the cycle.
Although Zimmer's and Piercy's characters were both made fun of for different reasons, they both suffered in similar ways. They were both identified as different and proceeded to be excluded and outcast. They were also reminded of their outcast status everyday by other students and in Zimmer's case, teachers, too. We can see how being outcast and made fun at such an early age has an affect on youth social development. Social apprehension is not only prominent in the subject, but practically takes over and defines the person in some cases.
Social apprehension may be a genetically inherited characteristic, but it universally understood that if a person is criticized and ostracized from the a very early age, they are more likely develop some type of neurosis as an adult. We have see Zimmer write about hiding behind an elaborate mask as an adult because he still feels like that failing child in elementary school being berated and beaten students and teachers alike. We have also seen Piercy write about being made fun of for physical characteristics so much to the point of a drastic, unhealthy change of her physical image. Both these characters were incessantly picked on for something as children and suffered into adulthood because of it. These are just two of many examples of a child's events following and shaping their adulthood.