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How North Korean millennials use makeup to rebel against the state

   January 30, 2021 1:42 AM
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POLITICS Rebellion
Aspiring actress Nara Kang puts on a coral red lipstick and gently rubs orange blush onto her cheeks, the white glitter swept under her eyes sparkling as she tilts her head in the light.

Kang would never have been able to do this back home in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province. "Putting on red lipstick is unimaginable in North Korea," she says. "The color red represents capitalism and that may be why North Korean society does not let you wear it."

Kang now lives in Seoul, South Korea. The 22-year-old fled North Korea in 2015 to escape a regime that restricted her personal freedoms, from what she wore to how she tied her hair.

Most people in Kang's hometown were only allowed to wear a light tint on their lips -- sometimes pink but never red -- and long hair had to be tied up neatly or braided, she says.

Kang would walk through alleys instead of main roads to avoid encountering the "Gyuchaldae," North Korea's so-called fashion police.

"Whenever I put on makeup, older people in the village would say that I'm a rascal smeared with capitalism," recalls Kang. "There was a patrol unit every 10-meters to crackdown on pedestrians for their looks."

"We weren't allowed to wear accessories like this," she says, pointing at her silver rings and bracelets. "Or dye our hair and let it loose like this," she gestures to her wavy locks.

According to two defectors CNN interviewed for this story, who left the regime between 2010 and 2015, wearing clothes perceived as "too Western" such as miniskirts, shirts with written English and tight jeans, can be subject to small fines, public humiliation or punishment -- though the rules vary in different regions.

Depending on the alleged offense or the patrol unit, the defectors said some offenders were made to stand in the middle of a town's square and endure harsh criticism from officers. Others were ordered to perform hard labor.

"Many women are instructed or advised by (their) house, school or organization to wear tidy clothes and (have a) clean appearance," explains Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.

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