Paper Dolls
















The Girl in the Catalog Speaks

Please, I beg you,
find some scissors
and set me free.
Release me
from this empty space,
this frozen moment.
Help me put down
the pink paisley cinch sack
I’ve had in my hand since
long before the season.
Let me have my own
edges. Cut carefully
around my limbs,
my fingers, the strands
of my fan-blown hair.
Once I’m out, please
don’t let me flop.
Give me some cardboard
backbone—a bit of box
will do. Paste it on.
Snip my feet. Slip a tab
into the slots and help me stand
on my own. I wouldn’t mind
some different clothes—
long jean shorts in lime or peach
a ruched knit tank in ultramarine,
or maybe a pine green taffeta skort.
I think you’ll find
they all come in my size.
How I long to drive around
in a shoe box of friends
from other pages,
other companies.
Perhaps we could pose
for a picnic on the lawn,
but please, I beg you,
don’t leave me
in the rain.


Lately I’ve been reading blog posts and internet essays about the tradition of making paper dolls. Girls (and boys?) used to wait for the new Sears catalog to arrive knowing that meant it was safe to cut up the old one. The girls would cut out figures, clothes, furniture, and household objects. They would paste them to cardboard and fold the bottom edge back so the pieces could stand. Some girls made box houses for their dolls. Others made cars out of shoeboxes. After the catalogs had been cut to shreds, they went to the outhouse for their third and final use.

For more Poetry Friday visit Anastasia Suen at Poet!Poet!

© Elizabeth Steinglass, 2014, all rights reserved

23 replies
  1. Laura Shovan
    Laura Shovan says:

    Liz, this poem has such a great concept. I love how the girl asks to be released from her catalog pages. Sometimes I used magazine cut-outs for a portrait poem workshop. I’ll have to add your poem (and maybe some cardboard backing) to the lesson.

  2. jama
    jama says:

    Really enjoyed your poem and still love paper dolls. I remember McCalls Magazine used to have a Betsy paperdoll in the back of each issue. British illustrator Emma Block, whom I recently interviewed, sells paper dolls at her Etsy Shop. 🙂

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      I came across Betsy doing some Pinterest research on paper dolls. I’ll have to check out that Etsy shop. Thanks for mentioning it!

  3. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
    Michelle Heidenrich Barnes says:

    So much preferable to Barbies! This poem took me back, Liz. I had paper dolls, though I can’t say that I ever was much of a fan (much to my mother’s chagrin). I do remember those catalogs well and also my wardrobe that came from them way back when!

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      My daughter made a paper doll too. She put hers in her book as a bookmark. It looks like the girl is peeking out of the book!

  4. Buffy Silverman
    Buffy Silverman says:

    Love the voice and viewpoint here–and the plea to “Give me some cardboard backbone” is terrific! (Now go write yourself a nonfiction book about the history of paper dolls and include a few poems from the dolls.)

  5. Karin Fisher-Golton
    Karin Fisher-Golton says:

    Delightful poem! It has both a lightness and fun–I love all the catalog color names. I also found it to touch something more serious–the longing for freedom. I love your bit of children’s history about the Sears Catalog, too.

  6. Donna Smith
    Donna Smith says:

    Seriously. I had paper dolls from the Sears Roebuck Catalog (it wasn’t just Sears back then). I had a whole family. Named everyone. Each had their own set of clothes cut from the catalog also. My best friend and I used to play with them for hours and hours, and days and days. Store bought paper dolls were great to have, but making them from the Sear Roebuck catalog was the best!

  7. dmayr
    dmayr says:

    Buffy’s suggestion is a fabulous idea. As a librarian I find that there are very few books for kids about doll history. It’s probably because publishers see it as a limited market–girls will read about boy things, but boys aren’t going to read about girl things. How sad is that?

  8. margaretsmn
    margaretsmn says:

    I can see the other meaning here in your poem. “Let me have my own edges.” A girl/woman wanting to break free and be herself. I like Laura’s idea, too, using it to model Portrait poems.

  9. Myra GB
    Myra GB says:

    Hi there Liz. I remembered my childhood when I used to play with a lot of paper dolls. My own daughter did not enjoy this activity as much as she preferred cars and trains. I love the photo you used here, perfect complement to your verse. 🙂

  10. Bridget Magee
    Bridget Magee says:

    You’ve captured the essence of this paper girl perfectly, Liz! I love the lines:
    “How I long to drive around
    in a shoe box of friends
    from other pages,
    other companies”
    My youngest, Maureen, is obsessed with paper dolls at the moment. She doesn’t want to cut out her store bought paperdoll books, instead she uses catalogs (like your poem) or she draws/cuts out of cardboard her own girls and then glues fabric clothes on them.
    This is the perfect poem to share with my Mo. Thank you! = )

  11. Linda Baie
    Linda Baie says:

    I had paper dolls from the books, but my mother often talked nostalgically of cutting the dolls and other things from the catalogs for playing. This is beautiful, Liz, and like others, I love the idea of driving around in a shoe box-so clever and such a clear voice.


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