Beauty is a terrible power!

Imagine an early weekday morning in Moscow or somewhere in the Russian provinces. Tens, hundreds, even thousands of working women are rushing out of their homes to trains, bus stops and the Metro. Yet half of them look like they're going not to a job, but a cocktail party.


Garish makeup, extravagant hairdos, form-fitting clothes and - always - high heels. These are de rigueur. Despite the notorious Russian climate. Despite the snow, slush and freezing rain. Sidewalks like skating rinks are no reason not to don your high-heel boots. To casual observers, a Russian woman tottering about on shining ice in perilously high heels can look frightening. But if you ask why she doesn't prefer more comfortable footwear, she will only be insulted. She is not suffering. She feels fine. Because she knows she looks great. And that's the main thing. That sensational feeling trumps any slippery sidewalk, any mad dash for a departing bus or down an endless escalator in the Metro. I hear that in Europe they now have races for women in high heels. Russians have never been invited. Nor should they be! Because we would win every prize. Running in high heels is a national sport. We train every day, without even noticing.

True, our high heels have a habit of breaking. But luckily there is a shoe repair booth on almost every corner for just that occasion. These are inhabited by kind old men able to bring ill-used shoes back to life. Shoe repair in Russia is quite profitable largely because every self-respecting woman has her own cobbler. Designer shoes can't be trusted to just anyone.

Why do Russian women dress to the nines every day? Supposedly to please Russian men. At any rate, that's what the men think. The gender question is a sensitive one: there aren't enough men to go around, and the ones we have are not always in condition - some drink, others engage in risky (life-threatening) business. And yet, it would be naïve to think the woman who turns up at a bus stop at the crack of dawn in spike heels is hoping to meet the man of her dreams then and there. A Russian woman does not expect anything to fall into her lap; she solves problems herself. And if she needs a man to make her happy, she will acquire one - or more.

A Russian lady would rather go barefoot than be caught walking down the street in an elegant suit and running shoes, in the manner of practical-minded American women. A dress and Nikes? Not for anything in the world! No matter how arduous her commute, no matter how many buses, trams and trains it takes. And women drivers, too, of whom there are more and more, are not about to give up their high heels. They may be a danger to other drivers, but Russian women are more concerned about the danger to their designer shoes from those pesky rubber mats. They solve that problem by slipping a piece of cardboard on top. That's practicality, Russian-style. Who gives a damn about comfort? Beauty will always be more important.

The Russian woman dresses first for herself; second for other women (let them feel envious); and third, of course, for men. In the 1940s Soviet film of "Cinderella", the marvelous actress Faina Ranevskaya, as the stepmother, declares: "Beauty is a terrible power!" I suspect that most - if not all - Russian women would agree.

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