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The Terrifying Danger Of Wearing Makeup In North Korea | Shady | Refinery29

May 09, 2020
I knew their heartbreaking stories long before I flew to the other side of the world. But that didn't make it any easier to listen to them. These young smugglers are part of an underground resistance in North Korea, which is pushing the limits of one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet. Risking everything for an unexpected tool for freedom:


. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea, came into being after World War II, when the once united Korean Peninsula was divided. You probably know him best for his eccentric millennial dictator, Kim Jong Un, his arsenal of nuclear weapons, and his tit-for-tat with international leaders.
the terrifying danger of wearing makeup in north korea shady refinery29
In North Korea, access to the Internet and mobile phones is severely restricted and few are allowed to leave. The oldest communist dynasty has survived by ruling with an iron fist. But a new wave of resistance is brewing. It just may not look like you think. Seoul, South Korea is known for streets upon streets of beauty boutiques selling the latest South Korean products known as K-Beauty. In less than a decade, it has become a more than $13 billion industry. The sheer amount of options and information can be stimulating, especially for 27-year-old Jessie Kim. She and I, the same neutral colors?
the terrifying danger of wearing makeup in north korea shady refinery29

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the terrifying danger of wearing makeup in north korea shady refinery29...

Yes. We are both neutral. Oh Lord! So good! Jessie grew up in North Korea, under an oppressive regime. She is part of a new generation that is pushing boundaries in an unexpected way. The North Korean regime uses strict rules around appearance as a form of control. Visual confirmation of whether you are online or not. A state-issued guide outlines specific hairstyles and lengths approved by the Supreme Leader. Salon menus show permitted cuts. Appearances are so regulated that any deviation can lead to public embarrassment and even arrest. But what is strictly controlled by the regime is still finding its way.
the terrifying danger of wearing makeup in north korea shady refinery29
Danbi Kim started a business smuggling commodities to North Korea at just fourteen years old. But she quickly realized that beauty and fashion items were the most in demand. What type of items were the most requested? Many North Koreans barely know what South Korean K-Beauty products are called. But they know they love them. Were you receiving hundreds of orders from all over North Korea? The demand for South Korean products is high. But how do they even know they exist? The best way to understand K-beauty is within the Korean Wave. The Korean wave. A tsunami of South Korean popular culture.
the terrifying danger of wearing makeup in north korea shady refinery29
Boy bands and girl bands. K-dramas and movies. And the latest wave: K-beauty. As you can see here, we have four different types of masks. These micro-tipped pads have a needle here. Wait, there are needles in these masks? Iconic South Korean brand Dr. Jart+ is at the forefront of K-Beauty. It's like a laboratory down here. Their progress is part of a larger experiment. We have some support with our global marketing activities, such as a pop-up store project in the US and China. So the government gave funding to Dr. Jart+ so they can go out into the world and create pop-up stores and spread the message even further internationally.
Yes. It is part of a government strategy to export Korean culture and generate international influence. It is called In international relations, if we talk about soft power, it is usually contrasted with what we call hard power. So when we talk about hard power, we usually think of something like, you know, bombs, guns, military power. When we talk about soft power, we try to use the power of attraction to get the counterparty to do what we would consider desirable behavior. So, if hard power forces people to like you, soft power is to get them to like you.
Yes. This soft power strategy has been vital for South Korea to become an economic power by raising tens of billions of dollars. The Korean Wave has reached countries around the world, including its neighboring adversary. K-Dramas smuggled into North Korea via flash drives have spread like wildfire, and so have their beauty trends. We heard from North Koreans how they began to wonder: “Why can't we have these things ourselves?” Liberty in North Korea is a nonprofit organization that helps North Koreans defect and tracks the information they bring with them from the country. You could say it is this type of shared disobedience.
In a country as restrictive as North Korea, this is a really interesting and important sign. You were a rebel. Yes. Jessie was able to avoid being arrested. But Danbi paid a high price. One night, North Korean officials arrived at Danbi's home and arrested her entire family. They accused his older brother of being a spy, a common general charge for going against the regime. He was only 17 years old. The punishments for rule breakers in North Korea are horrific. The state has a secret network of camps and detention centers that it denies exists, despite detailed satellite images and verified testimonies collected by the UN.
Drawings by prison camp survivors detail the conditions they endured. Eat rats to survive. Barbaric forms of torture. And even mass executions. It is estimated that around 200,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in camps today. Danbi's decision to leave was not easy. Defecting from North Korea is a difficult journey. South Korea has an open door policy, but there is no easy way to get there. The demilitarized zone between the two countries makes it almost impossible to cross the border. Instead, most risk their way through China and then to Mongolia or Southeast Asia, hoping to reach a country that won't send them back.
Footage from Freedom in North Korea gives us a rare glimpse into the harrowing journey. He may risk being shot in the back while trying to get to the other side. Or being caught midway and dragged backwards in the act of trying to cross. And there is no time to think, sometimes they don't even eat, because they are very nervous and scared. It is a trip of approximately 3,000 miles, longer than the distance between New York and Los Angeles. Once they arrive in Southeast Asia and our team greets them, there is always a mix of emotions. Some people are so exhausted that they simply pass out.
Others are simply very happy because it is the first time they are truly free. Of the more than 25 million people living in North Korea, it is estimated that around 1,000 escape safely each year. Hannah and her team are involved every step of the way. They have seen what matters most to the deserters who manage to reach safety. The basics are most important, but every once in a while women ask for BB cream, or maybe hair dye or face masks. Some people might look at this small step of what you do, which is put together these kits, and say, “Why would someone from North Korea need a mask?” What would be your response to that?
I can only imagine how difficult that journey is. And to overcome that, even if there is something small we can provide, like a mask, what's wrong with wanting to look your best when you're really starting a new life? It's a reminder that the impact of K-beauty goes beyond face value. It is a tool of consolation, resistance and especially international influence. I'm about to learn how far that influence goes when it comes to North Korea. Last year, Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea was entering the global luxury cosmetics game to make, in his words, the best cosmetics in the world.
Is Korean beauty a threat to North Korea? I think so. South Korean K-beauty is a threat to King Jong Un's regime. society. Professor Nam is one of the few people in the world who studies North Korean beauty products. He offered to show me what the beauty of NK is like. He wouldn't know this is all from North Korea if he wasn't in his office looking at products that basically can't be found in most of the world. Try state-created North Korean beauty products for the first time. It doesn't smell like a beauty product. It doesn't have that floral, fragrant smell that beauty products will have.
And it smells more like an edible product. For the countries of North and South Korea, beauty has become a new weapon in the race for power. For its people, it is an engine of change. These small changes that are happening are being driven by the North Korean people. This is really where there is hope. The reality is that beauty will not liberate North Korea. But curiosity about self-expression creates curiosity about the outside world. It is empowering younger generations to imagine a new kind of North Korea. Thanks for watching Refinery29. For more videos like this, click here.
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