Anne Applebaum asks, “Where Did All Those Gorgeous Russian Women Come From?”:
There was a particular historical moment, round about 1995 or so, when anyone entering a well-appointed drawing room, dining room, or restaurant in London was sure to encounter a beautiful Russian woman. Though the word beautiful doesn’t really capture the phenomenon. The women I’m remembering were extraordinarily, unbelievably, stunningly gorgeous.
These women were half-Kazakh or half-Tartar with Mongolian ancestors and perfect skin; dressed in the most tasteful, most expensive clothes; shod in soft leather boots; and perfectly coiffed. They were usually accompanied by an older man, sometimes much older, to whom they were perhaps married, or more likely not. They spoke in low, alluringly accented voices and towered over the lesser mortals in the room. I distinctly remember gazing upon one such creature while in the company of a friend, an old Russia hand who’d spent much of the previous decade in the Soviet Union. He stared, shook his head, and whispered, “But where were they all before?”
In the aftermath of the Australian Open, a tennis tournament whose final rounds featured a parade of notably stunning ex-Soviet-bloc players, it is perhaps time to make a stab at answering my friend’s question. Whatever you may say about the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s, it was not widely known for feminine pulchritude. Whatever you may say about women’s professional tennis in the 1970s or ’80s, it did not feature many players who looked like Maria Sharapova, the latest Australian Open victor.
Where were they all before?
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