Colleges in North Korea have ordered male students to sport the same hairstyle as the country's young leader Kim Jong Un while female students are being advised to keep their hair as short as that of first lady Ri Sol Ju, according to sources inside the hermit kingdom.
The order, issued in early March, has sparked resentment among some male students not in favor of trading their hairstyle for Kim's shaved sides and long parted top look, which a decade ago was regarded as a style sported by smugglers, the sources said.
The instruction for male students to get the same haircut as their leader is not based on any directive from Kim but on a recommendation from the ruling Workers' Party, according to a North Korean from North Hamgyong province near the border with China.
Still, colleges nationwide are treating it as a directive and "many students are disgruntled by it," the source told RFA's Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The round-faced Kim's trademark half-buzz, half-mop hairstyle "is very unique but it does not look good on some face shapes," the source said. "However, the college authorities have told the students that this is a party recommendation and must be adhered to."
"In the past, the authorities did not make a particular hairstyle compulsory,” the North Korean said. "This is the first time. So criticism against the instruction is unavoidable."
One source said he knew of a college student, a neighbor, who had just unhappily shed his hairstyle for Kim's look.
The absence of a written directive from the government or ruling party on the hairstyle reform makes it easier for the authorities to ease the policy if there is a groundswell against it, according to observers of developments in North Korea, a reclusive country with intricate rules aimed at stage managing information.
The Swiss-educated Kim came to power after his father Kim Jong Il, who favored a bouffant hairstyle, died in December 2011.
A North Korean living in Pyongyang on a visit to a Chinese border town confirmed that college students had received the new hairstyle instructions.
"In North Korea, Pyongyang is the launchpad for any national policy," he told RFA, saying the instructions were issued early this month.
However, there was confusion over the reasons behind the haircut instructions, the Pyongyang resident said.
"In mid-2000, youngsters wouldn't dare sport the Kim Jong Un hairdo," he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "At that time, the authorities would pounce on anyone with such a hairstyle because they would be deemed to be a smuggler."
"It's not the first time North Korea has had this preposterous policy," he said.
List of approved styles
Last year, according to reports, the North Korean government recommended a relatively generous range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens—18 for women and 10 for men.
The reports were based on pictures seen on the walls of hair salons around the impoverished country showing the approved styles for men and women. Married women were allowed more flexibility in their hair choices than single women.
But the new call for female college students to sport the short hairstyle of Kim's fashion-conscious wife Ri is merely a "suggestion," the source from North Hamgyong province said.
Ri, who entered the public eye as the first lady in July 2012, raised eyebrows when she displayed a new, shorter hairstyle at a concert featuring a police performance troupe in September last year.
The North Korean paper Rodong Sinmun printed a picture from the event, showing Ri wearing her hair short and dressed in a deep blue shirt with a black collar, contrasting with the shoulder-length perm she had sported while attending a performance a month earlier.
The North Korean source said college students have been advised, however, against wearing the above-the-knee skirts at times donned by Ri.
Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Bong Park. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.