One genre of journalism I'm always very suspicious of starts with the observation that there appears to be a trend toward such and such, tosses off maybe an anecdote or two, then leaps to a broad sociological explanation of the trend's existence. Missing is any effort to quantify the extent or reality of the trend itself. Case in point, Anne Applebaum's article about how capitalism causes hot Russian women. She starts by saying that in the 1990s, one started to see a lot of hot Russian women around whereas "Whatever you may say about the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s, it was not widely known for feminine pulchritude." I looked it up and someone who has "pulchritude" is, roughly speaking, an attractive person. Thus the time has come to answer a question posed by a male friend of Applebaum's "where were they all before?" Her answer:

Though this is a fairly frivolous question (OK, extremely frivolous), I am convinced it has an interesting answer. To put it bluntly, in the Soviet Union there was no market for female beauty. No fashion magazines featured beautiful women, since there weren't any fashion magazines. No TV series depended upon beautiful women for high ratings, since there weren't any ratings. There weren't many men rich enough to seek out beautiful women and marry them, and foreign men couldn't get the right sort of visa. There were a few film stars, of course, but some of the most famous—I'm thinking of Lyubov Orlova, alleged to be Stalin's favorite actress—were wholesome and cheerful rather than sultry and stunning. Unusual beauty, like unusual genius, was considered highly suspicious in the Soviet Union and its satellite people's republics.



This seems really, really dubious to me. Among other things, the contention that "there weren't many men rich enough to seek out beautiful women and marry them" seems oddly gullible about Soviet claims to have created an egalitarian paradise. Surely there were high-ranking powerful party officials to seek out beautiful women and marry them. The idea that the Soviet entertainment industry was entirely insensitive to the basic principles of attracting an audience seems, likewise, bizarre. Zhanna Prokhorenko playing the love interest in Ballad of a Soldier certainly seems like an attractive woman to me. Here's a review essay for the Criterion Collection release of the film:

Besides rejecting political rhetoric and monumental, classical cinematography, the films of the thaw also rejected the sexless, puritanical Soviet representation of love on the screen, reclaiming the body and a youthful, healthy sexuality––rather modest by today’s standards, but liberating for the times. After changing his mind on using the professional actors he had cast, Chukhrai picked two very young, unknown acting students, matching a prototypical, blond, open-faced, and handsome Russian everyman with a (Ukrainian-named) Slavic beauty; her luminous eyes, pouty lips, full figure and long glorious hair are often filmed with a halo effect. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Alyosha’s and Shura’s faces and her billowing hair are superimposed over the pure Russian birch forest the train is passing as they are finally able to exchange their unspoken expressions of love.



Most likely, the change Applebaum is trying to explain is just something that hasn't actually changed. Instead, part of the Cold War dynamic was that most of the Russians a Westerner might see or interact with were government officials, who tended to be middle aged men rather than attractive young women. The idea that the Communist Party somehow managed to create a society in which "there was no market for female beauty" is pretty fantastical -- about on a par with the notion that the Party was going to create a New Soviet Man.

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