K-Beauty and Liberty in North Korea

north korean beauty

The North Korean regime has been a topic of conversation for the past couple decades.

Ever since North Korea split from South Korea, we’ve all remained solemnly aware of its human rights violations and the tyrannical rule of the Kim family. It’s hard to ignore the horrors its citizens face. It’s often a tough topic of discussion because of the helplessness most of us feel.

For those who don’t know much about North Korea, it’s an Asian nation currently led by dictator, Kim Jong Un. The authoritarian regime uses tactics of terror to keep its people in line. As mentioned in an article on Human Rights Watch, “Human rights violations committed by the government…[include] murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence, and constituted crimes against humanity.” Citizens aren’t even granted freedom to speak as they wish and there are massive restrictions on the information they’re exposed to.

Overall, it sounds unimaginably appalling. North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, does his best to control his citizens lives. This goes farther than just being loyal to the state – it even may include one’s appearance. There are plenty of restrictions on the way women, in particular, are allowed to dress and style themselves. Women are expected to choose between a certain number of “accepted” hairstyles and there are limitations on makeup. Essentially, if you’re a woman in North Korea, you have little control over how you present yourself.

north korean beauty
via nypost.com

Because of this, smuggling has become a growing form of rebellion. North Korean women have begun to crave South Korean beauty products — also known as K-beauty — are due to their growing international popularity. Refinery 29 talks a lot about this situation in their video on beauty products in North Korea.

Not only do they discuss the restrictions placed on women in the regime, they also show some firsthand accounts of women who’ve managed to escape and how they rebelled during their time in the oppressive state.

Beyond this, the thing that intrigued me the most was Kim Jong Un’s beauty brand.

Yes. You read that right.

Kim Jong Un has his own government-issued Korean beauty brand.

At first thought, this sounds insane. Why should Kim Jong Un even care about creating makeup products?

It all comes down to politics and the North Korean obsession with controlling their citizens and perfecting their nation.

Beauty is a powerful industry. Brands like Fenty and South Korean K-Beauty brands are extremely well-known. For South Korea, specifically, it’s a way to spread their Korean culture and remain prevalent in the world’s eye. It’s all a part of what’s been called the Korean Wave – or Hallyu.

More than that, it’s a way to compete in a popular world market.

North Korea seems desperate to get its feet wet in this industry. Kim Jong Un has made claims about his products being able to compete with brands like Chanel. He recently put more money into improving his product line and the goal seems to be to sell internationally.

north korean beauty
via exploredprk.com

So, while South Korean K-Beauty products are disallowed from entering the state, North Korea hopes to create its own products in place of international ones for its citizens to use.

It’s hard to tell his exact intentions. It’s hard to learn much at all about what’s going on in North Korea, since so few people manage to escape without permission. But it’s intriguing to me that there’s this other side of North Korea that’s brushed under the rug while most focus on its nuclear weapons development.

After reading through all of this, the politics of beauty in Korea and the ways in which the Kim family has exerted control, I can’t help but feel frustrated. North Korea oppresses its citizens even in smaller aspects of life such as beauty and appearance. These seemingly irrelevant restrictions are ways in which citizens are trapped in their own nation. It frustrates me that all this is happening on the other side of the world, and we’re often too involved in our own lives to notice it.

I know I’ve taken beauty for granted. I wake up in the morning and put on some eyeliner. I might do my hair in a messy bun or leave it hanging at my shoulders. Then, I can freely choose my outfits for the day, knowing I can dress however I please.

Women in North Korea don’t have the same luxury. Everything they do is watched and if they step out of line, they could be risking everything. For one girl who spent her teenage years smuggling in South Korean beauty products, this meant suffering abuse and torture in a North Korean prison camp. The only way we now can hear her story is because her brother claimed his sister’s innocence, allowing her to escape while he remained stuck in the camp.

What’s happening in North Korea isn’t something we should be okay with. As I listened to the stories told by some of these girls, I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing a dystopian novel come to life. It’s impossible to imagine exactly what the citizens of North Korea deal with, but I do think everyone should try learning more.

Liberty in North Korea is one of many organizations trying to help the situation in North Korea. If you get the chance, it wouldn’t hurt to donate or help in any way you can.

north korean beauty
via sofii.org

It may seem like there’s nothing you can do to fix what’s going on – but just deciding to stand against it is enough. Change only happens when enough people decide to take a stand.

Photo by Random Institute on Unsplash