South Korean dramas and soap-operas are extremely popular in North Korea, having increased in circulation dramatically over the past decade. Exposing Northerners to the liberal and colorful lifestyle of the South, these productions have been instrumental in shattering North Korea’s own propaganda about the Republic of Korea At the same time, they have also begun influencing fashion and style in North Korea, with younger generations increasingly keen to emulate the looks of the South Korean celebrities. Perhaps as a result of this dynamic, North Korean authorities have become increasingly eager to clamp down on anti-socialist influences, with hair-styles being the target of two interesting government initiatives in recent years.
Back in 2005, North Korean state TV launched a five part TV series entitled “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle” with the aim of promoting short hair among the male populace. At the same time, a number of reports appeared in the North Korean press and radio, urging tidy hairstyles and appropriate clothing. The TV show was particularly interesting by North Korean standards, sending out teams with hidden cameras to catch Pyongyangites who were falling foul of recommended hair-styles. Upon confronting these individuals, the program makers dramatically went on to broadcast their full names, professions and addresses, in the hope of influencing viewers to stick with orthodoxy. And if that wasn’t enough, the program even cited a number of absurd health reasons to not grow long hair – including the far-fetched idea that long hair would rob the brain of energy. Men watching were told to keep their hair shorter than five centimeters, and to have it cut every fifteen days. An exception was included for older men, who after fifty were told could grow their hair up to seven centimeters, presumably to help cover balding.
If the 2005 campaign was effective, by 2009 it appears to have become feint in the minds of some North Koreans. Right after implementing the disastrous November economic reforms, reports emerged that another campaign to clamp down on inappropriate hair-styles had been initiated in North Korea. In a major editorial, Rodong Sinmun explained, “To keep your hair tidy and simple… is a very important matter for setting the ethos of a sound lifestyle in the country”. South Korean NGO “Good Friends” claimed that the editorial line came from Kim Jong-il after taking objection to what he saw as the foreign influences of a female sales clerk he met during a visit. Allegedly he said to officials after the visit, “Is she really our own Korean woman? Why is she giving up our own traditional beauty and choosing to model bad foreign habits of the capitalist”.
Fast-forward to 2011, and it looks like little has changed in North Korea hairstyle policy. A recent visitor to the DPRK took the following photos during a rare visit to the Changgwang Health Complex, where there are two large salons for men and women. The photos show the current menu of state-approved options available to the salon’s clientele, and as you can see, there are still no long-haired options for men in the DPRK!