A Theory of Beautiful Russian Women

by on September 3, 2009 at 11:38 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Anne Applebaum, author of the excellent Gulag: A History, asks where did all the gorgeous Russian women, now gracing Vogue covers and tennis courts everywere, come from?  "Whatever you may say about the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s," she writes, "it was not widely known for feminine pulchritude."

The answer, of course, is that the beautiful women were there all along (Russia is a big country) but

…they didn't have the clothes or cosmetics to enhance their looks, and, far more important, they couldn't use their faces to launch international careers…

Instructive, in this light, is the career of a real Vogue cover girl, Natalia Vodianova. Born in Nizhny Novgorod to a single, impoverished mother, Vodianova ran away from home at 15 to run a fruit stall in the local street market (successfully, according to her official biography). At 17, she was spotted by a French scouting agent and told to learn English in three months. She did–after which she moved to Paris, married a British aristocrat, and went on to become "the face" of a Calvin Klein perfume and to earn $4 million-plus annually. 

The deeper point is about not about fashion but about markets and globalization:

Ultimately, what goes for the fashion world goes for other spheres of human activity…what open markets do for beautiful women they also do for other sorts of genius. So, cheer up next time you see a Siberian blonde dominating male attention at the far end of the table: The same mechanisms that brought her to your dinner party might one day bring you the Ukrainian doctor who cures your cancer or the Polish stockbroker who makes your fortune.

See also my theory of why Latvian women are beautiful, Tyler's simple theory of where the women are beautiful and my TED talk which has no beautiful women but does discuss other benefits of globalization.

Hat tip Daniel Lippman.

Eric September 3, 2009 at 12:07 pm

My of the beautiful women in latvia are actually russian. At least that is my experience, I lived in Riga Latvia for over 2 years

The Other Eric September 3, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Alex, at the risk of being obvious, you should revise your presentations for the future with at least one slide illustrating the ‘beauty of open markets.’

Barkley Rosser September 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Alex,

Probably preferable to have you putting up these posts than anybody married to a post-Soviet woman, :-).

Alex Tabarrok September 3, 2009 at 2:05 pm

The Other Eric, excellent suggestion!

Ned September 3, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I believe that the reason lies in large male/female imbalance following the second world war (former Soviet Union lost about 30 milion people in the war). In the post-war period, the marriage market was *extremely* competitive for women, resulting in only the most attractive ones being able to find husbands etc.

Peter September 3, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I believe that the reason lies in large male/female imbalance following the second world war (former Soviet Union lost about 30 milion people in the war). In the post-war period, the marriage market was *extremely* competitive for women, resulting in only the most attractive ones being able to find husbands etc.

It certainly sounds plausible. On the other hand, as I pointed out in the other thread, Britain had no apparent surge in feminine beauty a generation after a huge number of young men died in World War I, and Brazilian women are famed for their beauty even though Brazil has never had significant war deaths.

farmer September 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm

i’m not sure i get where this “we didn’t know they were hot!” thing comes from. Certainly Soviet-era James Bond films depicted hot soviets. It seems revisionist to suggest our antennae weren’t tuned to soviets before 199X

anonymous September 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

@Ned,

In the 19th century, Paraguay got involved in a war with its neighbors that resulted in mind-bogglingly catastrophic loss of territory and population — more than half the population overall and 80% – 90% of the male population.

According to your theory, this should have resulted in extraordinarily beautiful Paraguayan women. Is there any historical evidence for that?

michelle color me shocked September 3, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Anyone wonder why economics is a discipline numerically dominated by males? Gee, guys, who do you think your audience for this blog is?

adam September 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm

When I lived in Russia, I often heard a Russian theory of why there were so many attractive women – the inquisition. They believed that the Inquisition in the west targeted attractive women as agents of evil and that Russia, by virtue of its non-Catholic status, escaped this insanity and preserved the hotness gene in their population.

Carpetbeggar September 4, 2009 at 1:20 am

By Affluenza (Oliver James) has alternative theory re beauty in Russian women. My understanding is that he thinks the Russian society goes for beauty rather than attractiveness. Russian women are more comfortable in themselves with men and other women without need for makeup.

babar September 4, 2009 at 7:39 am

these posts on beauty all treat beauty as one dimensional. just static looks. that’s only part of it. even if you only consider the things that a stranger could sense in under ten seconds, you end up with a very long list.

Sovietologist September 4, 2009 at 10:01 am

I blogged about this when Applebaum first published her column about it last year:
An Embarrassment to Sovietology
Basically, Applebaum’s claim that “in the Soviet Union there was no market for female beauty. No fashion magazines featured beautiful women, since there weren’t any fashion magazines.” is simply incorrect.

Robert September 4, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Another good thing about Russian women is that they know how to do basic math – American women, well….

Dave Lawrence September 11, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Russian women and East European women in general, are beautiful because of the Asian genes introduced by the Mongolians. Look behind eye, hair and skin color and you can easily see it in Slavic faces. That said, few Western men I know who married Russian/ex-Soviet girls are happy about it after a few years.

kerimaude October 31, 2010 at 7:50 am

It’s true, beautiful women are everywhere and since Russia is such a big country, it’s bound to have a few. They weren’t famous for their beauty in the past because the socialist era didn’t allow them to wear makeup, use skin care products or dress fashionable. That’s why they weren’t discovered and promoted.

Skin Care December 27, 2010 at 10:54 am

It’s a lot to do with the way they take care of their skin and other outside appearances in order to look their best. They really are paying attention to all the right details.

Alex February 4, 2011 at 9:22 am

Some women are really beautiful because they know what skin products to use and which to avoid. I know women who use a daily microfoliant by dermalogica and their skin looks awesome !

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