Anne Applebaum’s latest is a must-read.
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.
Unusual beauty, like unusual genius, was considered highly suspicious in the Soviet Union and its satellite people’s republics.
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, that changed.
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 fashion world is ludicrously silly and superficial, but it did get Vodianova from Nizhny Novgorod to London, far away from her mother’s abusive boyfriends, which wouldn’t have happened before 1989.
My gut instinct is to think, “I wish there were a better way to escape misery and abuse than to cultivate good looks,” and I think that’s clearly right. Yet it’s also true that in our less-than-perfect world cultivating beauty as a means of economic advancement is a tried-and-true strategy. It just happens that it is now available to millions more than ever before — or rather thousands more unusually symmetrical people. Applebaum ends on the right note.
Beauty is a matter of luck, but the same could be said of many other talents. And 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.
This is as good a place as any to note that Applebaum is married to Radek Sikorski, currently the Polish foreign minister. What’s even cooler is that Sikorski, once affiliated with AEI, is part of a liberal center-right government that is playing hardball with the United States over missile defense. Note that the Poles didn’t play hardball with Moscow when they were in the Warsaw Pact. I’d say the world looks pretty terrific from this vantage point.