Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beauty Pageants of History

A man asked me to explain this picture:

In any way I saw fit.  So I will.

This was taken during the May 1989 All-Union Beauty Contest, put on by the All-Union Directory for the Organization of Mass Spectacles, an "all-male perestroika-inspired cooperative" that was actually privately owned, commonly known as "Venets," or Crown.  35 finalists were given three weeks of intensive training to make them ready for presentation as potentially the most beautiful (unmarried, childless) women of the Soviet Union.  The final event of the contest was originally to be held on International Women's Day, March 8, but there were problems.

There had been earlier beauty pageants in the USSR, beginning with one in Vilnius in March of the previous year, and the existence of uncategorized beautiful women preceded all of these.  None of them seem particularly Soviet in intention, and Lenin's averted gaze seems to suggest he knows it too.  The New York Times, among others, noted that the bathing suits worn by some of the contestants were remarkably revealing.  The women pictured in the set of black-and-white photographs that has made its way around the Internet are beautiful, without necessarily being comprehensively presentable, against the grain of so many a pageant participant.

The pictures are also beautiful, I think, perhaps to the point of being a little misleading; a search for the same event on Russian news websites brings up photos of the same in the garish color that seems to be very much of its time, that is, shortly before my birth.

Even now, or now-ish, though, the idea of a beauty pageant in Russia seems to inevitably inspire skepticism, across venues, in a way that seems incongruous to me with the myth/sporadic truth of the beautiful Russian lady.  She is made beautiful by not being in Russia, I guess, where she can only be ridiculous.

Along marginally similar lines, since the unpleasantness twenty or so years ago, you find Lenin in the strangest places.

Lenin in the ice.

I'm not sure he was ever beautiful, but as a subject of kitschy sculpture he seems accustomed to being ridiculous.

My favorite beauty pageant of history, or 20th-century East European history, though, is the one in Firemen's Ball.  This is how it's done, as I shall explain another post in the near future.

I'll leave you with this, a passably relevant link between U2's decadent, melancholic Euro-irony phase of the early nineties and its compulsive world-half-awareness/neo-Christian phase of the later, for some reason:


Marisa said...

So I assume this post is factual? But since you said you were asked to explain it "however you saw fit," at first I thought you might just have been crafting an explanation that sounded good.

That first picture is so much. So crazy, but also good.

Emmo said...

As far as I know. If I were spinning lies it would have been much more fun all around.

dandelionia said...

I really like your tag "beautiful unmarried childless women".

Also, good post.