The Cost of Beauty in North Korea

Ameena Khan, Editor

The smooth swipe of a red matte lipstick. The gentle sways of a brush to blend out sparkly eyeshadow. The dewy finish of a good foundation. These vivid images are often familiar with people in western countries, but for many women in North Korea, even owning makeup requires courage, secrecy, and smuggling.


To Creek students, makeup is an important aspect to growing up and discovering themselves. Makeup is used to discover oneself, which is imperative to the formative teenage years through adulthood.


“It allows me to express myself through different cosmetic trends and products,” sophomore Lily Prat said.


“After quarantine… makeup started out as a way to reinvent myself. My makeup was a sort of journey for me to grow into myself coming out of a year and a half of isolation, and trying to figure out who I was supposed to be,” Theo Williams (10) said. Makeup was also a way to protect myself from people, and it was a sort of shield between myself and the world, and it was like a projection of who I wanted to be, and eventually, who I wanted to grow into,” sophomore Theo Williams said. “The middle of freshman year and up until now, makeup has been a way

for me to explore my gender identity, because makeup transforms you. [Makeup] makes me feel at home in my skin.”


In North Korea, an oppressive regime, ruled by the dictator Kim Jong-un, the government often bans items and practices that are deemed “too western” or “anti-socialist,” such as miniskirts, skinny jeans, hairstyles, movies, and makeup. Makeup, which is often a form of self-expression, relaxation, and an outlet for creativity, but the regime in North Korea, which is adamant on keeping their population oblivious to the world outside by regulating their it. Most individuals use makeup as a means of discovering themselves and growing into the person they want to be.


“Makeup has been a way for me to explore my gender identity, because makeup transforms you. I can make myself look more masculine or more androgynous, or whatever way that I’m feeling that day, and it makes me feel at home in my skin so it’s less of a way for me to hide anymore, and it’s more of a way for me to be who I am,” Williams said.


The dictatorship uses their regulation of appearances as a control strategy to demonstrate compliance. The regime requires modest and loose-fitting clothing, hair that must be mid-length or shorter, and that any foreign trend or style is strictly prohibited. According to CNN, though the laws vary depending on the region, wearing clothing that is considered to be “too Western,” may result in fines, or public humiliation, such as standing out in public with their head down in shame, for hours. However, the price of wearing makeup tends to be harsher, since wearing

obvious makeup often leads to the assumption that it was illegally smuggled into the country. If one is caught smuggling any item, the punishment is extremely severe.


For instance, Danbi Kim, a former resident of North Korea, began smuggling makeup at 14-years-old. On a journey to exchange scrap metal for rice near the Chinese border, her father introduced her to the illicit market, and she was confident she could succeed there. Although smuggling makeup isn’t hard to pull off, there was a huge danger involved, because if you met the wrong guard, you could end up in a prison camp without trial.


In a nation where there is no freedom of expression, religion, or the press, some may think that it is trivial to care about having access to the newest blush or eye shadow pallet, but in North Korea, experiencing the satisfaction and freedom of expressing oneself and regulating their own appearance contributes to fighting the oppressive regime.


Although the regime has developed a line of skincare in reaction to the growing demand of beauty products, specifically South Korean makeup and skincare; it doesn’t mitigate the controlling and oppressive nature of the regime. A line of skincare, entitled North Korean Beauty, was only developed in an attempt to take control of the smuggling of makeup and skincare products. This cosmetic innovation was just another control tactic. To add to the manipulative nature of the release of the skincare line, the NK Beauty line of products are extremely low quality, with off putting scents, oil separation in the creams, low quality packaging, and more.


In order to liberate the people of North Korea, the regime should adopt democratic policies so that the population can exercise their basic human rights. However, this is likely unattainable since the regime has been inciting fear and compliance through the regime. Due to the regime’s oppressive nature, more organizations and western news outlets should focus on the injustices that the North Korean people face in their lives in order to spread awareness on the issue, as citizens in North Korea don’t have the resources to do so. Also, more organizations should be formed in order to give North Koreans more outlets to escape the country. People should encourage western countries to do more to free the people of North Korea through peaceful protests, letters to political figures, and encouraging other forms of awareness.