Looking Pretty In North Korea

Where do North Korean Girls Get Their Fashion and Beauty Inspiration From? How Does It Differ From South Korea?
December 10th, 2012

Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about. This week, Georgio asks:

Where do North Korean Girls Get Their Fashion and Beauty Inspiration From? How Does This Differ From South Korea?

In North Korea only people with time and money can really care about beauty. That’s why it isn’t the serious business it is in South Korea, where I live now. In my opinion, the North Korean standard of beauty isn’t therefore on the ‘outside’, instead, it’s on the ‘inside’: the beauty that allows a woman to take care of both her household and husband.

When I lived in North Korea there was a famous actress named ‘Miran Oh’ who was extremely beautiful and very feminine. She was popular with many girls who all wanted to be like her, and with guys too (for obvious reasons). I think its fair to say that Miran Oh must have been the beauty standard for many North Korean women. But as I mentioned, the ability for a woman to be strong and maintain her livelihood is sometimes viewed as a more important form of beauty in North Korea.  As a result, the propaganda often talks of  women like ‘Lady Kang Ban Seok’ (Mother of Kim Il Sung) or ‘Kim Jong Suk’ as being the ideal role models, giving credit to the type of woman who knows how to care for their husband without caring too much about beauty.

When I was young, I wanted to be like my mother – a woman who even many of our neighbors admired. She was really good at housework, calm, and helped my father a lot. For me, she was a proud woman and the type of woman I most wanted to be like. But since moving to South Korea I have to care more about external beauty too, since that’s such an important part of being a woman here. That’s not to say that some of us didn’t think in the same way as some South Koreans, though…

At one time double eyelid surgery became very popular for girls in North Korea and even my mother suggested I get it done. But I was really scared about it!  You see, there are no professional plastic surgery hospitals in North Korea and so often you have to get these types of operations done at someone’s house. These homes aren’t the most hygienic of places for surgery, but nevertheless many women are on waiting lists to get these kind of beauty operations. And it became so common that the government actually started controlling these kind of places with regulations and laws.

There are many, many regulations in North Korea on how a woman should look. You’re not meant to put your hair down, skinny pants are frowned upon, jeans aren’t allowed, and there are definitely no short pants. If you’re ever caught breaking these rules you’re forced to write a self-criticism report or if you have long hair, risk having it cut short. Nevertheless, some girls turn a blind eye to these penalties all in the name of beauty.

While it is a lot poorer than South Korea, just like any other country in the world women in North Korea want to look pretty. But unlike other countries, there is a lot less foreign influence when it comes to beauty and fashion in North Korea. Really, China is the only country that really has much influence over us.

Chinese fashions get into North Korea because of the high trade between the two countries and the fact that we are able to legally watch some Chinese soap operas and movies. So we see what is popular in China through TV shows or through what people crossing the border are saying.  For North Korean girls, cosmetic products, fashion styles, and most of the daily stuff all then gets influenced by Chinese trends.

North Korean women care a lot about cosmetics and usually Chinese cosmetic products are more popular than the North Korean ones (I personally always used to use the Chinese ones). Because my family had a better quality of life than many of our peers, they had the resources to care about my beauty more than most girls would ever experience in North Korea. So from time to time they’d treat me – once for example my mother bought me an expensive Chinese cosmetic product for whitening the skin (we don’t like to tan like Americans!).

I think it is normal that women in both Koreas make an effort to look pretty, but I guess the main difference between the two countries is economical. That, combined with all that I mentioned above, is why there are such obvious differences between the standard of beauty in both North and South Korea.

Got A Question?

Jae-young grew up in North Korea but now lives in the South, and is happy to tell you all about her past. So if you have a burning question for her, get in touch and send us your questions.

Artwork by The Morning Skyrail

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About the Author

Jae Young Kim

Join the discussion

  • Lee Song Yi Sonia

    I would recommend a nice book called “Illusive Utopia” which also talks about “women fashion” in NK.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judy7493 Kyung-Joon Song

    yesterday, I had a interview with a cook who were North-Korean,

    I asked her “Could you tell me the difference in cook & food between South and North?”

    and… the conclusion was, as like the author of the article said, economical gap.

    by the way, I wonder when JAE YOUNG KIM escaped North Korea and when come to Republic of Korea.

  • Voila

    Women in Pyongyang are very well dressed. Have great taste! And in no other country have I seen so many beautiful, colourful patterns on rubber boots!

  • Daisy

    I find it horrifying that beauty is dependent on a woman’s ability to look after husband and home.