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Photography Julie Poly

Introducing Dazed Beauty: On Ukraine

TextBen Freeman

For the first of our beauty reports, we head to Ukraine to assemble the most talented photographers and writers to create seven stories on bodybuilders, bridal traditions, wig trade, rave style, salon culture, wreaths, and beauty in older generations

Welcome to a new series of reports on beauty around the world by moi, @ben_ditto. Dazed Beauty seeks to explore and redefine the way that we communicate about beauty and identity, and to question prevailing notions about what beauty means. A key part of this is for us to understand cultural perceptions of beauty. It’s easy to exist in a bubble where beauty is the latest celebrity eyeshadow, Instagram influencer brand or freaky plastic surgery trend. And that’s all great, but what about the roots of how we as humans have defined beauty across cultures? To augment our bodies is part of the essence of what it is to be human, evident throughout history, from beautifully made-up royalty in Egyptian sarcophagi to the frozen remains of a 2500-year-old Siberian ice maiden with intricate tattoos.

My first report is from Kiev, Ukraine, my grandfather’s home-town. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has throughout its history seen significant political upheaval; a proxy war with Russia is happening as we speak, and while I was over there, the town was full of delightfully friendly military personnel and a brand new shiny police force, created with the help of the US to replace the corrupt and shitty old police force. I got to sit on a tank. We documented a rave in Kiev and one of the country’s most prominent politicians got on stage and spoke to the blissed-out crowd.

It’s a strange atmosphere, liberal and open, whilst existing in the shadow of Russian aggression; a homogenous-feeling culture where the Orthodox Church has significant power that it is redefining at present, with a split from the church in Moscow. Youth and expression don’t feel suppressed in the face of the current turmoil. We got together with some of the most talented photographers and writers in Ukraine to create seven stories on bodybuilders, bridal traditions, wig trade, rave style, salon culture, wreaths, and beauty in older generations.

We want Dazed Beauty to become an archive of attitudes and definitions of beauty from as wide a range of sources as possible. Amongst talk of cultural appropriation, with people increasingly scared to do anything other than stay in their lane for fear of offending, let’s not forget that diversity, appreciation of differences between cultures, and the cross-pollination of ideas and attitudes has invariably led to great art, technology, philosophy and beauty.

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