In our day and age, it’s difficult to imagine what living in a tightly controlled society like North Korea would be like. Our brains have to make a mental stretch to even comprehend lacking basic liberties such as choosing what clothes express who you are when you leave the house. Unfortunately in North Korea, fashion restrictions are the least of everyone’s worries.
So here’s a little background on North Korea before we get into the hair styles
Society in North Korea is divided into groups according to their status which is determined by something called their Songbun:
“Based on their own behavior and the political, social, and economic background of their family for three generations as well as behavior by relatives within that range, Songbun is allegedly used to determine whether an individual is trusted with responsibility, given opportunities, or even receives adequate food.” (source: Wikipedia)
Basically, your Songbun affects everything: your ability to get a job, a decent education, etc. Not fun, but it is the North Korean way of creating what they consider to be an orderly and manageable society.
For those who criticize the leadership of the regime and their beloved ruler, or break the law, or are Christain, or sneeze the wrong way, deportation to prison camps (concentration camps) are an acceptable form of punishment for the offender and also for their entire family.
These camps currently hold approximately 200,000 people and most are stuck there for life. Hundreds of thousands of people over the years have been murdered or starved to death, while the survivors continue to be subject to torture, medical experiments, forced labor akin to slavery, rape, and forced abortions. (source: Wikipedia)
And we haven’t even begun to mention other human rights violations!
“Amnesty International reports of severe restrictions on the freedom of association, expression and movement, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment resulting in death, and executions.” (source: Wikipedia)
At the top of the ladder, reaping the benefits of total power sits Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He was born in 1983, so that makes him what, 30 years old? The supreme leader also loves basketball and making elaborate plans to nuke U.S. cities in his spare time, between purges, human rights violations, and partying all night.
Controlling how people look: 28 Hairstyles
A lesser known part of the control exercised by the supreme leader and his regime are the restrictions on fashion including the hairstyles for men and women. There are regulations people are supposed to follow, certain dress codes considered “appropriate” and of course, certain hair styles that are “recommended.”
The punishment for not cutting your hair according to the designated styles is supposedly much less severe or enforced than other offences, but living in a society where attempting to be different can get you killed doesn’t quite make rebelling seem so appealing.
The styles themselves are very clean-cut, conservative, and “according to the regime they are the most comfortable styles… capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism” (source: ifeng.com via Want ChinaTimes)
A people with very little freedom
I think the general impression of people who live in the West is that North Korea is a society run by a dictator who doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything aside from whatever whim he has at the time. The people are clumped together in a homogeneous, faceless group that we are hard-put to empathize with because we have no access to them as individuals. For most of us, the only individual associated with North Korea is Kim Jung-un, while the people he rules are barely even recognizable as background noise.
But what are the people like?
At the end of the day, despite what little information we have on North Korea, the country is made up of real people who live their lives, who love, who ache, who experience joy, loss and desire. They are not robots, no matter how much the regime has made it difficult to be perceived as anything else.
Even in the places where humanity is stripped of basic rights and freedoms, people seem to always find a way, however small, to express their freedom of spirit.