It seems that the most evident irreconcilable difference between the two social orders that dominated the twentieth century, Capitalism and Communism, lies in the field of arts and humanity.
The millions of people who lived their lives under either one of these economic systems were not only separated by an iron curtain that engulfed them in the dark regarding what life was like on the other side. They were also subjected to ideological superstructure loaded with values in favor of the free market or the concentration of means of production in the hands of the State.
Frivolity, a trait seen as purely capitalistic, gave a last blow to a system that was born in the twentieth century. This way of life provided standars for the quality of life, development in productivity, and technological innovations. Yet in the end, this system drowned in machinery and forgot its promises at some point in the century.
In 1988, the Soviet Union wrote its epilogue and began digging its own grave through Stalin’s generalized purges and repression. The gradual introduction of Western values accelerated under Mikhail Gorbachev. One of the aspects of this new ideology was celebrating the objectification of female beauty.
Fashion, accessories, makeup, and an unending list of items to promote consumption took over the repressed youth’s angst, charming them with a world of merchandise that only capitalism could provide. As an unequivocal sign of change, the government accepted the proposal to organize the first beauty pageant in Soviet territory since 1959, the year they had been banned.
The announcement of a seemingly superficial event had an unprecedented response. Dozens of thousands of teenagers signed up, hoping to stand out. The difference between American pageants and this one is clear from what the event’s announcement said.
Moscow’s Gorki Park received thousands of teens who ecstatically answered the ad. Mile-long queues appeared to register for the event which began in the Luzhniki Olympic Complex with the theatrics only an event like this can create.
For months, the contestants underwent dozens of trials in monokinis, evening gowns and traditional dress, plus countless hours of size measurements, photographic sessions, as well as getting their hair and makeup done. All this was worth winning the title of being the most beautiful woman in the largest nation in the world. While this occurred, the bulk of land that had chosen socialism was beginning to crumble.
The final result was presented during the 1988 finals at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports. After fierce competition, which was unheard of in Russian society, 16 year-old Muscovite Maria Kalinina won the title of the Most Beautiful Woman in the Soviet Union. News traveled across the globe and was covered extensively in Russia’s media, often comparing the event to the space race.
Translated by María Suárez