That Story About North Koreans Being Required to Get Kim Jong-un’s Haircut Is Probably Fake

The World
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March 26 2014 2:26 PM

Fake North Korea News Watch: Haircut Edition

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A Chinese street food vendor with a resemblance to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un smokes a cigarette by his barbecue stall in Shenyang, China, on March 22, 2014. It's a great look!

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Basically every viral-minded news website on the planet is running a story today about how North Korea is requiring men to get their hair cut like Kim Jong-un. Korea Times reports, citing Radio Free Asia, that “since about two weeks ago, men are allowed to have the ‘Dear Leader Kim Jong-un’ haircut only.” Another sources is quoted as saying that “Until the mid-2000, we called it the ‘Chinese smuggler haircut.’ ”

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Like most news out of the brutally repressive dictatorship/global meme generator, it should be treated with some skepticism and is already being picked apart to some extent. The sourcing is pretty thin, and NK News quotes some recent visitors to Pyongyang who don’t recall seeing people with unusual haircuts.

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This is not to say that the North Korean government hasn’t been unusually preoccupied with the hair of its citizens. As far back as 2005, the country’s state-run media launched a campaign titled “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle,” which apparently argued that long hair "consumes a great deal of nutrition" and could hinder intellectual development.

In 2008 the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, citing some dubious sources, reported that while watching a university soccer match, the late Kim Jong-il became quite perturbed.

According to an insider, after realizing that several of the Kim Il-sung University players were sporting long hair, Kim declared it to "look disgusting," and said "I can't tell if this is men's soccer or women's soccer." 

The article claimed that shortly after the game, notices were placed in workplaces across the country banning long hair.

Then last year it was reported that the country had released a list of 28 approved hairstyles—14 each for men and women.

In other words, it’s true that the North Korean state discourages long hair, and this has been known for a while. But enforcement of these rules seems to be pretty lax and it seems extremely unlikely that every man in the country is now walking around with an imitation of Kim Jong-un’s Macklemore-ish side-shaved do. (Though, to be fair, it would probably be a step up from his dad’s famous bouffant.) 

In other news, North Korea fired some medium-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday.

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