Created By: PistolsAtDawn on September 1, 2014 Last Edited By: Morgenthaler on April 6, 2018
Troped

Ugly Slavic Women

A stereotypical image depicting women from Eastern Europe (Slavic/Russian/Belarussian,...) as ugly.

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Eastern Europe is subject to a lot of generalizations in foreign eyes. Basically everyone from Slavic, Eastern European, Belarussian or Russian countries are pigeonhold as the same people. When they are young and attractive they are Sensual Slavs. They may be an Ice Queen who is emotionally reserved and needs to thawed in order to show her beauty and happiness underneath the stern facade, but generally this stereotype shows them as sympathetic exotic erotic beauties with a heart of gold. Far worse is the opposite stereotype, depicting them as ugly, even with two variations:

  1. A young/middle aged muscled, mannish worker and/or athlete, usually with moustache hairs and/or heavy eyebrows. She may even wear a uniform and is generally unable to laugh.
  2. An old wrinkled troll-like hag, wearing a "babushka" (a grandma headscarf) tied below the chin. She may have moustache hairs and heavy eyebrows too. Usually she is crooked, searches twigs to make a fire and mumbles in herself. In some cases she may even be a Wicked Witch in disguise.

As with most stereotypes about people it's difficult to find out where these images came from, though the Wicked Witch from Slavic Mythology Baba Yaga is an example from within the culture itself, down to her headscarf. What is certain for a fact is that the ugly Eastern European woman stereotype became more prevalent after The Russian Revolution came in effect. Soviet propaganda always showed a lot of muscle strong women working in the fields alongside the men as their comrade-in-arms. As fashion was considered bourgeois in Soviet Society the industry in this field was fairly limited, resulting in domination of purely functional, often very ugly and shabby clothes designs. This also fit propaganda purposes, as it showed that everybody was equal. In the West, where the Red Scare was strong, these strong Russian women were seen as a threat or something laughably repulsive. Most Western women were still expected to be housewives and even those who did work for a living were not particularly encouraged when doing so. Apart from that the muscular Russian women looked like bitchy manwives in most Western males eyes. Western Red Scare propaganda also did a lot to hammer this image in people's minds and became more and more prevalent at the height of Cold War. Especially in the USA TV sitcoms, films and stand-up comedians liked to crack jokes about hideous Russian women.

The image may also be due to the main way the West got exposure to Russian women — from sports, particularly the Olympics. Russian women are either svelte gymnasts and tennis players or horrible shot putters (rumors that the Soviet Union secretly juiced their female athletes with steroids might have also had an effect.)

This is largely a Forgotten Trope after the end of the Cold War, though old Slavic ladies (YMMV whether you find them ugly or just charming) still pop up in tourist brochures. Nowadays it's mostly been replaced by the Sensual Slavs portrayal.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • This Wendy's commercial, which is called "Soviet Fashion Show." It takes place in a dimly lit auditorium with a lot of uniformed, unsmiling attendees. As a violin/balalaika band plays an off-the-wall version of Volga Boatmen chant, the MC reads out "Is next... Dayvear!" "Is next... Eveningvear!" The model is a large, plain woman in a utilitarian outfit with a babushka who strides briskly onto the stage — same outfit each time (Eveningvear has a flashlight, Svimvear has a beach ball). The idea is that at Wendy's you get to choose what to put on your hamburger.

    Comic Strips 
  • Bloom County:
    • One strip showed the effects of democracy coming to Russia as the Cold War ended, with the same potato-faced woman first in dumpy clothes and headscarf, then in American attire.
    • Another briefly showed a dumpy Russian man and woman reading a Pravda headline that Oliver had hacked with a peace message (but mistranslated as "Gorbachev Sings Tractors: Turnip! Buttocks!"). [1]
    • Rosebud the Basselope also dresses as one for espionage. [2]

    Literature - Fiction 
  • America (The Book) hits both ends of this trope: "Russian women are known for three things: their beauty, their heartiness, and the speed with which one turns into the other." This is illustrated by a picture of a young, attractive woman, captioned "Miss Vladivostok", and an old crone, captioned "Miss Vladivostok, [some implausibly short amount of time] later".

    Film 
  • This trope was used as recently as 2004 in Dodgeball with the ugly woman with a unibrow from "Romanovia".
  • Top Secret! has a variant on this theme, when they comically present the "East German Women's Olympic Team" (East Germany being a vassal state of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia), looking like male bodybuilders in drag; a reference to the rumors that the East German women's swim team took testosterone to make themselves better athletes (and therefore appeared manlier).
  • Get Smart: Played with. One group of women at a fancy dress party infiltrated by Max and 99 are your more typical Sensual Slavs (tall, slim blondes), but come off as bitchy (i.e. ugly personality-wise), while Max does the tango with another one who is overweight. Later, at the Moscow bakery serving as a front for KAOS, the female clerk, who is probably mid-50s and not very attractive, briefly gets the hots for Max.

    Jokes 
  • To paraphrase an old Soviet joke, "where once were ladies and gentlemen, there are comrades and comrades."
  • One joke involved a man going to sleep next to his lovely wife of the first type and being horrified to discover, the next morning, that she has passed her "expiration date" and transformed overnight into the second.

    Live Action TV 
  • Watch some old (uncensored) The Tonight Show monologues — at least once a week Carson would make a joke about how mind-numbingly ugly Slavic women were. And, since he was the most respected comedian in America, everyone copied him.
  • This trope became a running gag for Yakov Smirnoff's character on Night Court. In his first appearance on the show, Smirnoff's character (also named Yakov) is an immigrant from Soviet Russia who speaks almost no English, and Harry is forced by circumstance to befriend him despite the language barrier. It Makes Sense in Context. At one point, Harry gets to see the inside of Yakov's wallet and see photos of his loved ones. Harry is initially confused as to why Yakov has a photo of Soviet Premier Breshnev in his wallet, until Yakov explains that's his wife, Sonia. Since then, each time Yakov made an appearance, reference is made to how painfully ugly Sonia is, until the episode where finally we get to meet Sonia... and she's absolutely gorgeous. Naturally, Yakov thinks she's a KGB impostor, even as she claims her new appearance is due to Magic Plastic Surgery, required due to an accident.

    Mythology & Folklore 
  • Baba Yaga: Baba Yaga, the Wicked Witch from Slavic mythology, is an example from the culture itself, though it must be said that she isn't always depicted as a bad character.

    Music 

    Standup Comedy 
  • Comedian Yakov Smirnoff was using this as late as The '80s: "In Russia we have a saying: 'Women are like buses.' That's it."

    Western Animation 
  • Ren and Stimpy: In the episode A Visit To Anthony Ren and Stimpy leave their house (apparently located in Hollywood, Yugoslavia, according to the caption) and are kissed goodbye by their very masculine looking wives, wearing a babushka an visible beard stubble.
  • The 1957 Merrie Melodies cartoon Rabbit Romeo has Elmer Fudd inherit a large Slobovian rabbit named Millicent. Fudd tricks Bugs Bunny into being Millicent's companion. Bugs is repulsed by this obese, love-crazed lagomorph that speaks with a vaguely East European accent and grammar structure: "Give to me large kiss." Millicent's voice was supplied by the late June Foray using an accent that would become Natasha Fatale's voice fromThe Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.

Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • September 1, 2014
    DRCEQ
    Huh, I thought I had read a trope that already covers this, but that turned out to be Brawn Hilda after all.

    In a way, this is The Same But More Specific, BUT I can see this being distinct enough to cover as well.
  • September 1, 2014
    Cohnisgone
    This is definitely a true and current trope. Along with the character from Dodgeball there is also "Katinka" from Zoolander (she isn't exactly ugly but she's manly and unpleasant). Though this extends farther than Russia to throughout the former iron curtain, as most female hammer throwers are from eastern Europe.
  • September 1, 2014
    lexicon
    How is this distinct enough from Brawn Hilda?
  • September 1, 2014
    PistolsAtDawn
    Looks like Brawn Hilda is a strong, mannish woman, usually forign but not alway. This is about Commie Women being ugly in general, usually mannish but not always. (as you can see the description also includes old ladies)

    Also, Brawn Hilda is about a single character: one big strong unnatractive woman. This is about the generalization that all slavic women are unnatractive
  • September 1, 2014
    Waterlily
    Top Secret has a variant on this theme, when they comically present the "East German Women's Olympic Team" (East Germany being a vassal state of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia), looking like male bodybuilders in drag.

  • September 2, 2014
    Chabal2
    In Big Trouble, the Russian gun smugglers used to be stationed in some unspecified Central Asian mountains where the women were so ugly the soldiers would just as rather have sex with the local goats. Nevertheless, human horniness being what it is, such incidents did happen, and resulted in either the soldier being evacuated or found tied to a rock with his genitals nowhere to be found.
  • September 2, 2014
    DRCEQ
    I've certainly Seen It A Million Times to know exactly what this trope is going for, so it is distinct enough.
  • September 4, 2014
    AgProv
    The group of elderly ladies who recently represented Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest might well be a self-referential nod to this trope?
  • September 4, 2014
    randomsurfer
  • September 4, 2014
    Waterlily
    "Top Secret has a variant on this theme, when they comically present the "East German Women's Olympic Team" (East Germany being a vassal state of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia), looking like male bodybuilders in drag."

    That must be a reference to the rumours that the East German women's swim team took testosterone to make themselves better athletes (and therefore manlier). I have no idea how valid those rumours are but they have been circulated.
  • December 6, 2014
    CaptEquinox
    The Wendy's commercial is called "Soviet Fashion Show." Takes place in a dimly lit auditorium with a lot of uniformed, unsmiling attendees. As a violin/balalaika band plays an off-the-wall version of Volga Boatmen chant, the MC reads out "Is next... Dayvear!" "Is next... Eveningvear!" The model is a large, plain woman in a utilitarian outfit with a babushka who strides briskly onto the stage — same outfit each time (Eveningvear has a flashlight, Svimvear has a beach ball). The idea is that at Wendy's you get to choose what to put on your hamburger.

    Here's more about the East German women athletes. Apparently it was done without their knowledge (they were told it was a tonic to increase stamina).
  • December 6, 2014
    SvartiKotturinn
    Do not use 'fugly' and 'shithouse' when not quoting a work or discussing obscenities.
  • December 6, 2014
    Snicka
    Contrast the Sexy Scandinavian.
  • December 6, 2014
    PistolsAtDawn
    good call, Svarti: I didn't write the description, I copied it from the Forgotten Trope page and i didnt notice that part
  • December 7, 2014
    Arivne
  • December 7, 2014
    MorganWick
    America The Book hits both ends of this trope: "Russian women are known for three things: their beauty, their heartiness, and the speed with which one turns into the other." This is illustrated by a picture of a young, attractive woman, captioned "Miss Vladivostok", and an old crone, captioned "Miss Vladivostok, [some implausibly short amount of time] later".
  • December 8, 2014
    StarSword
    Film:
    • Played with in Get Smart. One group of women at a fancy dress party infiltrated by Max and 99 are your more typical Sensual Slavs (tall, slim blondes), but come off as bitchy (i.e. ugly personality-wise), while Max does the tango with another one who is overweight. Later, at the Moscow bakery serving as a front for KAOS, the female clerk, who is probably mid-50s and not very attractive, briefly gets the hots for Max.
  • December 8, 2014
    Patachou
    Do old Slavic women count too? Because there's an archetype of an old Russian lady with a hump, hooked nose, headscarf searching twigs for the fire that pops up in a lot of works with a Russian/Slavic atmosphere.
  • December 8, 2014
    Duncan
    • Done a few times in Bloom County.
      • One strip showed the effects of democracy coming to Russia as the Cold War ended, with the same potato-faced woman first in dumpy clothes and headscarf, then in American attire.
      • Another briefly showed a dumpy Russian man and woman reading a Pravda headline that Oliver had hacked with a peace message (but mistranslated as "Gorbachev Sings Tractors: Turnip! Buttocks!"). [1]
      • Rosebud the Basselope also dresses as one for espionage. [2]

  • December 8, 2014
    Koveras
    Can someone please fix the laconic? It irritates the hell out of me by sounding like a blanket statement "All Russian women are ugly", which is not a way to describe a trope but a personal prejudice, at best. Not to mention that the description is clearly about politicized Cold War era stereotypes about Soviet women, and "Russian" is not a synonym of "Soviet" (just as "German" isn't one of "Nazi").

    How about Battleaxes And Babushkas for a title and "Stereotypically ugly depictions of Soviet women." for the laconic?
  • December 8, 2014
    MAI742
    ^ Seconded. Soviet, Russian, and Slavic aren't the same thing.
  • December 8, 2014
    Madeira
    Real life:
    • Averted as cosmetics were first widely distributed to Russian women early in the Soviet era and standards of hygiene among the peasants rose considerably thanks to the lady in charge of the cosmetics bureau financing selling soap well below cost by selling fancy perfume domestically and to the export market.
  • December 9, 2014
    AgProv
    The group of seriously old girls who represented Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest, the traditionally dressed Russian Grandmothers (average age seventy) who pushed the stereotype Up To Eleven for all it was worth. A good case of Genre Savvy.
  • December 9, 2014
    JonnyB
    ^^^^ I think we should make it "Soviet", since this seems to be a trope about Western stereotypes of women under the umbrella of the Eastern Bloc (the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries behind the "Iron Curtain").

    (Which would make the Top Secret example count, as well.)
  • December 9, 2014
    aurora369
    ^^ They were traditionally dressed ethnic minority grandmothers (the Udmurts), to be precise.
  • December 9, 2014
    PistolsAtDawn
    Just to be clear, as it says, it is up for grabs. if you want to make changes or add examples just go ahead and do so
  • December 13, 2014
    Patachou
    Took the grab, did some rewrites, changed the title, added an image and some more examples.

    I know that Repulsive Russian doesn't quit cut the cake, because it doesn't mention women, but I was wondering: aren't all Russian men also often depicted as ugly? Most of the time they are portrayed as either an intimidating Husky Russkie with a large beard or a brute Russian soldier/guard/spy/Czar/dictator.

    Also, as is common with many stereotypes, most people just see everybody from Eastern Europe and Russia as basically the same people. Since the ugliness itself is a stereotype I don't think we should worry about the distinction, because popular culture doesn't make it either and I've already addressed it in the introduction.
  • December 14, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ The main issue with that title is still that it conflates Eastern Europe with Russia, and thus reinforces an entirely different set of stereotypes: that everyone speaking English is from United States and that US residents suck at geography.
  • December 14, 2014
    lazybanshee
    Related: Is there a trope about the Russian Grandmother?
  • December 14, 2014
    Patachou
    @ Koveras: We could generalize the title to Ugly Eastern European or It Came From Behind The Iron Curtain or something,, but your remark is in itself an example of We All Live In America, because the stereotype of ugly Russians & Eastern Europeans,... is far more widespread than in the USA alone. Also, why are you so worried about what some people might think Americans are bad in geography on basis of this article? Nothing in this article implies it was written by an American. Besides, there are other offensive tropes on this site too, like All Germans Are Nazis. If some people might assume that a dumb American or xenophobic Briton wrote that article then these people are quite prejudiced themselves, because when you read these articles everyone quickly realizes that we're just addressing the trope, which is clearly a stereotype, and don't claim it's a fact.

    @ lazybanshee: It appears that there isn't one for the Russian grandmother yet, though again: she is also an Eastern European archetype and even with Roma people you'll find such old ladies.

    In general: despite having taken over this article and supporting the trope I must say that I have a few problems with it:

    1) Other stereotypes like Ugly Latino (rat teeth, unshaven, thick moustache), Ugly Brit (British Teeth, large noses and ears as a result of island inbreeding,...) , Ugly African woman (fat, big floppy breasts and behind), Ugly American (brawling accent, morbidly obese,...),... could also all be a trope of their own, because virtually every country has a set of negative stereotypes about other countries. At a certain point we should be aware that this can get rather racist/xenophobic and that we could easily write similar pages about the way people outside the West view Westerners.

    2) That beautiful Russian women suddenly turn into old hags at a certain age is indeed a common stereotype, but people also say this about women from Southern Europe and Latin America.

  • December 15, 2014
    lazybanshee
    Russian babushkas are not a xenophobic trope...

    It is a trope that is heavily based in reality very commonly acknowledged by Russians themselves, and it's not about attraction as it is about cultural characteristics.

    furthermore, i don't see a problem in creating articles for xenophobic tropes. this is a catalog of tropes identified in media, correct?
  • August 6, 2017
    Morgenthaler
    ^ No, a trope being stereotypical does not prevent it from being a trope, no matter how offensive (though it might become discredited as a result). We even have an article for Greedy Jew, since it was something that showed up in media. There's more information on Prescriptive Vs Descriptive Language.
  • August 6, 2017
    WalterSmith
    Bonus points if she speaks with a Funetik Aksent and becomes an Abhorrant Admirer of the main characters.
  • August 6, 2017
    Snicka
    This is only about Russian women, right? Russian men usually get a somewhat more positive portrayal, presented as tough, muscular and incredibly manly with a Carpet Of Virility.
  • August 9, 2017
    Morgenthaler
    ^ The description only mentions women, so I assume so.
  • August 9, 2017
    Circeus
    There's a bit of a similar trope about the French (i.e. smelly cheesse, don't use deodorant/antiperspirant, women who don't shave...) which I suspect is a specific application of Dirty Foreigner.

    @Ag Prov naah, I'm pretty sure there is no relation whatsoever between this and Buranovskiye Babushki
  • August 14, 2017
    Snicka
    ^^ Maybe the name should reflect this. Repulsive Russian is too gender-neutral. Russian Hag, maybe?
  • August 17, 2017
    Morgenthaler
    ^ Alright, I guess.
  • August 17, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The 1957 Merrie Melodies cartoon Rabbit Romeo has Elmer Fudd inherit a large Slobovian rabbit named Millicent. Fudd tricks Bugs Bunny into being Millicent's companion. Bugs is repulsed by this obese, love-crazed lagomorph that speaks with a vaguely East European accent and grammar structure: "Give to me large kiss." Millicent's voice was supplied by the late June Foray using an accent that would become Natasha Fatale's voice fromThe Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle.
  • September 18, 2017
    JustTroper
    IMO, Eastern European Hag would be a better title because this stereotype is not limited to Russia at all, and is frequently present in stories set in Ruritania. Otherwise, everything's Ok.
  • April 6, 2018
    Pisthetairos
    Family Guy had a discussed example, in an episode where Peter travels to Russia. He says every russian woman is either a 10 (Sensuous Slavs) or a zero (this).
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