Shenyang, China — Earrings, once seen as a capitalist symbol and a target for crackdowns, are becoming more and more popular with North Korean women of all social levels in urban areas, while the growth of cheap, unregulated surgical procedures is apparently attracting attention in the capital.
This desire for beauty has even forced the authorities onto the back foot; they have reportedly stopped attempting to control some of the social changes.
A source from the West Sea port city of Nampo explained the situation there on the 13th, saying, “In the past, long earrings were a crackdown target, but now they stop it so people are wearing them a lot.”
Of course, in past years young women in major cities and around the border region also wore earrings, but did so more furtively. If and when caught, they were criticized as examples of an anti-socialist trend at a time when the standard ‘Chosun woman’ was advertized as one who had short bobbed hair, wore no make-up and was to be seen in a dress that came to between knee and ankle.
However, starting with the more affluent families of government officials and now found throughout society, this officially decreed standard of dress is no longer accepted. Indeed, even Kim Jong Cheol was seen with an earring at a recent Eric Clapton concert in Singapore, and, according to North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, “A decree from Kim Jong Eun was handed down this past January stating that earrings are to be accepted.”
Indeed, while official controls on issues of beauty and accessories have been melting away, clothing including skinny jeans, which reveal the figure very closely, have grown in popularity for affluent Pyongyang women.
Even cosmetic surgery is said to be gaining in popularity. Although still illegal, some doctors will apparently perform certain procedures on the side for extra money, while there are also unqualified surgeons offering their services.
One Pyongyang source explained, “Double eyelids, eyebrows, lips and tattooing around the eyes are popular,” adding, “Seven out of ten women between 20 and 40 have had one or other of these procedures done. Mostly it is women who do it; there are many who feel they must do it even if they are short of food.”
According to the same source, part of this popularity stems from the surprising cheapness of the processes concerned. The tattooing of fake eyebrows costs in the region of 1,000-2,000 won, while double eyelids cost just 2,000-3,000 won. This at a time when a kilo of rice in the market costs only slightly less than 2,000 won.
However, the Nampo source explained that there are still some limits in that city at least, where “university students are not permitted to wear striking earrings inside their schools.”