Beauty pageants were banned in the USSR in 1959. No scantily clad women, no swimsuit portion, no “world peace” quotes.
But that all changed with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s eighth and final leader. His appointment ushered in a new era of social freedom, which included lifting the pageant ban.
And so, in 1988, the first official pageant took place, at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports in Moscow. Inspired by American beauty contests, the event culminated in the crowning of Miss Soviet Union, Maria Kalinina, aged 16. Shortening her name, Maria Kalin now lives in Los Angeles with her partner Valery Seagull, former athlete and bodybuilder.
The annual pageant lasted only three years until 1991, when the USSR crumbled. These behind-the-scenes images were taken during that brief period of the late Soviet era.