Are mandatory Kim haircuts a baldfaced lie?


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s distinctive hairstyle is the ‘do of the day on the Internet, thanks to a viral report that every male university student in the capital is now under orders to get a buzz just like it. But it appears the barbers of Pyongyang aren’t exactly sharpening their scissors.

Recent visitors to the country say they have seen no evidence of any mass haircutting. North Korea watchers smell another imaginative but uncorroborated rumor.

The thinly sourced reports say an order went out a few weeks ago for university students to buzz-cut the sides of their heads just like Kim. U.S.-based Radio Free Asia cited unnamed sources as saying an unwritten directive from within the ruling Workers’ Party went out this month, causing consternation among students who didn’t think the hairdo would suit them.

“I was there just a few days ago, and no sign of that,” said Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, which brings foreign tourists to North Korea. “It’s definitely not true.”

An AP journalist in Pyongyang also said he had not seen any recent changes in hairstyles among college students.

Though the forced grooming story may be one of many reported oddities about North Korean life that turn out to be false, it is true that the government has its own “fashion police.”

Choe Cheong-ha, a defector who left North Korea in 2004, said members of a government-run youth organization routinely check for people who are not dressed appropriately. They look for whether people are wearing the mandatory lapel pins with the images of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, or for violations such as blue jeans, clothes with English words or short dresses.

But Choe said directives on hairstyles aren’t much of an issue, since most people voluntarily keep their hair neat and conservatively styled.