Shopping in God’s World

During the 1970’s, I was involved in editing and writing for a youth magazine called Credo. Recently I was browsing through my bound collection of Credo issues when I ran across an article I wrote about shopping for my nieces. Here’s an excerpt, edited slightly. 

Sales pitch
I have sisters who have children and so I am an uncle. Unmarried uncles are marvellous creatures in the eyes of their nephews and nieces because they tend to have loose purse strings and soft hearts. Thus it was that I recently found myself in the toy department of a large store. I wanted to buy a cuddly dolly for one of my little nieces.

“Cuddly dollies aren’t in any more, sir,” the teenaged sales clerk informed me. So I asked her what kind of dolls were “in,” whereupon she answered, “Barbie dolls,” whereupon I realized my absolute stupidity. Of course, Barbie dolls. Barbie is about nine inches high and, if my calculations are correct, is built to a scale of about 40-24-36. She has a “twist and turn waist, bendable legs and real eyelashes.” 

My sales clerk pointed out some of the other thrilling things about Barbie.

“Naturally,” she said, “your little niece will want a complete wardrobe for her doll.”

“Naturally,” I replied.

And, indeed, “a complete wardrobe of groovy fashions” was to be had, including coloured bras, skimpy bikinis and diaphanous negligees. I mentioned that the little girl for whom I wanted to buy a doll was only five years old.

“Oh, they soon know what’s going on,” I was assured. And the Barbie lifestyle would soon teach them if they didn’t. Barbie, you see, has a boyfriend named Ken, who has muscles in places where I don’t even have places. He too has a complete wardrobe. Of course, Barbie and Ken are very popular and have many friends. And to show that they are socially aware, broad-minded dolls, they have friends of various colours.

“Very educational,” my sales clerk intoned. So we have Brad and Christie, a black couple, and there is P.J. (Latino) who is Barbie’s best friend. All come with complete wardrobes as well as sports cars and motorhomes so that “your little niece can build her life around these toys.”

I was not convinced. Being an early adopter of feminism, I bought my niece a fully functioning Tonkin dump truck instead.

Same body shape
That was 50 years ago, but Barbie is still a major earner for the toy maker Mattel. A bit of modern feminism has made its way in recent marketing campaigns. There is now an aspirational line of Barbie dolls with the tag line “You can be __________”, providing career choices (with appropriate fashion accoutrements, of course) for Barbie as a comedian, president, songwriter, medal winner, doctor, pilot, athlete and so on. Although the aspirational line of diverse role model Barbies accounts for a very small percentage of Mattel’s various Barbie lines, it is seen as being a serious business move in the toy marketing game for girls. Personally, I’m not sure it is anything more than a PR move, but then, what does a 72-year-old grandfather with only grandsons know about these things?  


  • Robert (Bob) Bruinsma is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton. He has interests in language and literature and loves birds and the outdoors. To help pass the time on long winter nights, he makes wine and beer (and drinks it in moderation) with his wife of 46 years (Louisa). Bob is a member of Fellowship CRC where he tells stories for children and happily participates in weekly communion. He and Louisa have three grown children and three little grandsons.

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