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

How It Works
March 26 2014 2:26 PM

Fake North Korea News Watch: Haircut Edition

480259237-this-picture-taken-on-march-22-2014-shows-a-chinese
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.

Advertisement

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.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.