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Ugly Slavic Women

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"Russia! Our women look like men!"
Ryan Stiles, Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Eastern Europe is subject to a lot of generalizations in foreign eyes. Basically all people from Slavic/Eastern European countries are pigeonholed as the same people. When they are young and attractive they are Sensual Slavs. A female may be an Ice Queen who is emotionally reserved and needs to thawed in order to show her beauty and happiness underneath the stern façade, 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, although Baba Yaga, the Wicked Witch from Slavic Mythology, is an example from within the culture itself right 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, wherer the default expectation for women was to be housewives and maintain a level of daintiness, these strong Russian women were seen as equal parts unconventional threat and laughably repulsive. Western Red Scare propaganda did a lot to hammer this image in people's minds and became more and more prevalent at the height of the Cold War. Especially in the United States, 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 (whether one finds them ugly or just charming) still pop up in tourist brochures. Nowadays it's mostly been replaced by the Sensual Slavs portrayal, which in the Cold War tended to only pop in When Harry Met Svetlana spy stories with the beautiful Slavic woman being an obvious state agent compared to her uglier cousins.


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  • This Wendy's commercial, which is called "Soviet Fashion Show." It takes place in a dimly lit auditorium with a lot of uniformed, unsmiling men in the audience. 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]

  • 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.
  • Born American (1986). One of the protagonists in the gulag gets hold of a coin and tries to purchase medical care for his friend. The Friend in the Black Market says it's not enough, but as he's a young man he could use it to buy... (puts a finger through hole in coin and leers) We then cut to several male inmates looking through vents into the women's shower. Contrary to the usual Girls Behind Bars trope the women are rather unshapely, though that doesn't make any difference to the men.
  • Patton. Right after victory in Europe, General Patton and his staff have to smile through a celebration with their Soviet allies — and all the women are frumpy and unattractive. Screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola, in the DVD commentary, notes that this dated stereotype was based on Nikita Krushchev's wife (seen here with Jackie Kennedy) and that the recent prevalence of gorgeous supermodels from Russia has proven they actually have some of the most beautiful women in the world.
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash. The computers in the bank where Terry works occasionally picks up a TV transmission from a Russian satellite, whereupon the employees have fun mocking the Russian female gymnast shown.
  • Doctor in Trouble: After finding out he'll be stuck on the Drobny for two weeks, Dr. Burke bemoans the fact that Ophelia is still on the Golden Horn. To make matters worse, the Russian Captain assures him that there are women on the Drobny too, showing him the two haggard, heavyset women who do the cooking.

  • To paraphrase an old Soviet joke, "Where once were ladies and gentlemen, there are comrades and comrades." Also...
    Q: What do you call an attractive woman in Russia?
    A: A tourist.
  • One stock joke that lives on today combines this with Sensual Slavs, where young Russian women are quite beautiful until they hit their "sell-by" date, at which point they instantly transform into the Babushka archetype.

  • 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, two weeks later".
  • A male example in Caging Skies. The Poles are described as having hairy feet and wrinkled noses. Then it's revealed that they're actually Russians pretending to be Polish. There's also this line that emphasizes their lovely features:
    The Poles were arguing over something that I assumed, from the complex sounds, to be philosophy or astrophysics. Unexpectedly, the older one exposed his molar. I burst out laughing, imitated their grandiose sounds, then pointed to my back tooth. We all roared, except Pimmichen, who hadn't caught on.
  • In the 1990's action series Soldiers of Barrabas the SOBS are on a mission to the Soviet Union and watch in bemusement as Alex Nanos (who works as a gigolo when he's not a mercenary) seduces a woman of this type. They conclude the only plausible reason is that he was born horny (though it doesn't hurt that the woman concerned is enthusiastically randy herself).
    • On another occasion, a female weightlifter makes advances to Nanos while he's at the gym. Nanos thinks that normally he wouldn’t go for this type but as it's been a while since he got laid he goes for it. She turns out to be a KGB assassin who tries to murder him during sex.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Watch some old (uncensored) The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson monologues — at least once a week Johnny 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 


    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 
  • An episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius has Jimmy travel to the past to convince his father to make an alternate business decision that'd make the family rich. When he returns to the present, he finds his family much richer but also much colder, with his primary caretaker now being a brutish looking Slavic woman who only says "Da!" in a gruff voice to every order.
  • Ren & 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 and 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 June Foray, using an accent that would become Natasha Fatale's voice from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: In “Fish and Visitors”, Yosemite Sam meets one of these online and invites her to live with him (with the caveat that he was staying with Bugs and Daffy at the time). Sam says she looks nothing like her profile pic.