Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Girls of Russia and the Iron Curtain: Playboy, Communism, and a Mystery


A young friend here from the martial arts community asked me not long ago about communism. Most young people here have no idea what the term means: truly no idea. I was searching for a way to explain the horror of it to him, something he could really understand, and I finally hit upon the example of Slavic women. I explained to him that believe it or not, it used to be a known joke that Russian women were abject crocodillo moosepigs. Yes, I explained to him as he stared at me in astonishment, communism turned the women every young Turkish man knows to be the most babelicious in the world into the women of the famous Wendy’s commercial. I’m not sure he believed me, but it did impress him. (The Wendy’s commercial reference was lost on him, though.)

I do think that what woke a lot of ordinary people up to just how awful communism was was seeing this–first, they actually saw a lot of Russian women (few people in the West had met more than one or two in the flesh before the Wall came down, since they weren’t allowed out); but also, incredibly, the world’s most laughably dumpy and sexless women, the butt of all these cruel jokes, almost overnight became seriously-threatening, drop-dead gorgeous, scantily-dressed stone foxes. If communism could do that to young women, people thought–and the free market could do that–communism must be pretty wicked indeed, as indeed it was.

When I visited the Soviet Union, the first thing every woman would ask me is if she could see my makeup. And whatever was in my handbag, she, and all the women around her, would sigh over and admire as if I’d just produced the Hope Diamond instead of some 99 cent tube of fruit-flavored Chap-stick. They lined up for hours in the hope of procuring the one single item the stores were rumored to have that day, for so-called shampoo that I wouldn’t use to scrub my toilet. And I think one of the reasons Russian women are so hot now is the memory of this humiliation: They would die before they looked like that again. It’s an overcompensation.

Anyway, my theory about this took a minor hit today when I found these scanned images from Playboy’s 1964 March pictorial, “Girls of Russia and the Iron Curtain.” (Totally safe for work! Go ahead, enjoy.) Indeed, you see in these lovely women the prototype of the modern era’s Slavic Superslattern, albeit more modestly dressed.

So, where exactly–besides Playboy–were these women during the Cold War?

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    Its no surprise to me that socialism robs people of their looks as well as their money. The lack of beauty products can be explained as a cause of socialism’s incentive problem and economic calculation problem.

    Most people are aware of the incentive problem. Under socialism it is customary for the government to redistribute wealth from the would-be rich to the poor in an attempt to establish income equality. Thus, the incentive to produce in abundance is destroyed and the incentive to non-produce emerges, as the wealth made from would-be profitable endeavors is siphoned off by force and given to others who have not. Hence, who would have voluntarily produced beauty products within the Soviet Union since the financial benefit of doing so was non-existent?

    • #1
    • July 27, 2010, at 6:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Mel Foil Inactive

    Your theory may be safe. I have a hunch that Playboy’s interest was spurred by a James Bond film:

    and maybe a Westerner with a Russian grandmother was sufficient to qualify as Russian.

    • #2
    • July 27, 2010, at 6:23 AM PDT
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  3. Profile Photo Member

    Now one may object with “why couldn’t the Soviet government produce beauty products instead of private individuals?” Well, aside from the incentive problem which would still plague government producers, socialism is further hampered by the economic calculation problem.

    Under socialism, the government owns all or most of the non-human factors of production, therefore making trade in such factors impossible (trade requires at least two owners of goods). If trade in factors is impossible, then markets and, ergo, market prices for such factors are equally impossible, since market prices are formed only through trade. If market prices for factors don’t exist, then government producers trying to produce anything, including beauty products, will be unable to either:

    1. Compare the true cost and revenue of any production plan or

    2. Compare the true costs of various alternative production plans

    If a government producer can’t discern its true costs of production, then it can’t know if its production plan is efficient, inefficient, or just average. I would guess that Soviet planners, not knowing the true cost of producing beauty products, simply diverted resources away from the production of such an unnecessary bourgeoisie commodity.

    • #3
    • July 27, 2010, at 6:27 AM PDT
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  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    All true, Michael, but you have to tailor your explanations to your audience, and this was mine. I’m proud to say I planted at least the seeds of skepticism about the planned economy.

    • #4
    • July 27, 2010, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Claire Berlinski: So, where exactly–besides Playboy–were these women during the Cold War? ·

    These women were probably supplied to Playboy as a propaganda tool and were given nicer clothes and makeup for the shoot.

    Otherwise, certainly wives and daughters of the ruling class did not do without.

    The rest of Russia’s hot women were in the West, trying to seduce us oversexed American males.

    • #5
    • July 27, 2010, at 6:59 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m sort of wondering why you were surfing all over looking for old PB bowdlerized photo spreads. Was this for a Virginia Postrel-inspired piece on international glamor, or something regarding the graceless decline of Hugh Hefner?

    • #6
    • July 27, 2010, at 7:26 AM PDT
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  7. Zavedomo Inactive
    Claire Berlinski

    and I thought, “Wait, those women don’t look Soviet!” and well, here we are.

    You may not realize how correct your assessment actually was. I enlarged those pages as much as I could and could just make out in the captions that only about 3 of the photos in that spread are of Soviet women. The rest are Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Romanians, Yugoslavians (as they then were) etc. For us kids growing up in the old CCCP those “near foreigners” were already mysterious and “Western”…

    But indeed all too many young women in the USSR of old, once past the first blossom of youth, just decided that the huge effort needed to keep looking chic was simply too much…

    • #7
    • July 28, 2010, at 3:59 AM PDT
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  8. Morituri Te Inactive

    Finally, someone who remembers the Wendy’s Soviet Fashion Show commercials! Those are completely iconic for me, and play a regular cameo role in my similes and metaphors, none of which anyone ever understands since they cannot recall the commercials. I still go on using them, though, since I’ve never found anything as perfect for their type.

    Evening Vair: Is nice! (Shapeless Soviet Woman wearing lumpy khaki sack turns on giant industrial flashlight.) Makes my day just thinking about it.

    • #8
    • July 28, 2010, at 12:07 PM PDT
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Duane Oyen: I’m sort of wondering why you were surfing all over looking for old PB bowdlerized photo spreads. Was this for a Virginia Postrel-inspired piece on international glamor, or something regarding the graceless decline of Hugh Hefner? · Jul 27 at 7:26am

    Oh, you know how it goes. First I was looking at photos of these amazing sculptures some guy makes out of glass that are actually replicas of deadly viruses, then I followed the link to “Blind Couple Reunited with Baby Taken Away at Birth by the State,” then somehow that item caught my eye, and I thought, “Wait, those women don’t look Soviet!” and well, here we are. All in a day’s work. Or all in day’s avoiding work.

    • #9
    • July 28, 2010, at 12:23 PM PDT
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