Anne Applebaum from Microsoft’s Slate Magazine wrote an article proclaiming that the fall of communism made women more beautiful in Russia, as evidenced by the emergence of super-models like Natalia Vodianova pictured left.

Under Soviet control there was no market for fashion magazines, TV series dictated by ratings, and various market mechanisms built into ‘preference satisfaction’. Soviet communism did not offer the myriad of beauty products and sexual instruction that the capitalist West offered. There were famous Soviet film actresses, like Lyubov Petrovna Orlova, yet Applebaum notes that she was allegedly Stalin’s prized actress and was much more “cheerful and wholesome” than sexy. She said market mechanisms brought beautiful Russian women into markets that they could succeed in.

What’s missing from the article is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Western cultural values became accepted in Eastern Europe. The article gives all the credit to capitalism, forgetting imperialism.

Capitalism succeeded in creating a more potent spectacle than the Soviet Union, and part of that had to do with the way women are judged in Western society. The reason why Applebaum thinks capitalism caused hot women is because Applebaum herself was socialized into a society dominated by capitalist conditions of production, including the production of image: when Russian production became interconnected with Western production, Applebaum, like so many – you could call them “global gentrifiers” – could not tell the difference between capitalist penetration and cultural imperialism.

And because the West is both capitalist and imperialist, when Westernization causes women around the world to look – not surprisingly – “Western”, she assumes it’s because of an economic transformation.

Okay, okay. So it sounds like I’m trying to leave capitalism out of it. Capitalism certainly played a role in speeding up the process of Westernization. But my argument is that Applebaum, and other people too, are thinking that – because Russian women are being exploited and made to look like American models – she assumes that they are becoming sexier than before. But, of course, Applebaum is an American and from a particular time-period in American history. She’s completely sidestepping ‘cultural relativity’ and replacing it with naivete.