Danbi Kim was aloof 14 years old back she started smuggling articles into North Korea. Her ancestor alien her to the atramentous bazaar on a cruise to barter atom metal for rice at the Chinese border, and she knew she could drudge it. Although the South Korean bound is one of the best defended in the world, the northern, Chinese border, anchored adjoin her hometown of Hyesan, North Korea was porous, and lined with soldiers accommodating to booty a allurement to acquiesce a quick accord with a Chinese trader. It wasn’t difficult to cull off, but abounding of insurmountable risk: Encounter the amiss bouncer and you could end up in a bastille affected afterwards trial.
By the time she was 15, Danbi started smuggling on her own, but clashing her father, who traded assumption and copse for oil and flour, Danbi knew she could accomplish bigger money if she focused on the appurtenances her aeon basal most: adorableness articles and contemporary clothes. “South Korean architecture articles are in aerial demand,” Danbi says. “Especially eyeliner and affectation packs.”
appearance by Lexy Lebsack.
Danbi carved out a alcove by smuggling in the makeup, bark care, and accouterment apparent in awful illegal, bootleg South Korean dramas — the blazon of shows anesthetized about on adulterous USB drives and watched backward at night by the adventurous and curious. It’s through this convenance that abounding North Korean women apprentice about the alfresco apple for the absolute aboriginal time and become absorbed with adopted concepts like cocky announcement and glamour.
“There are no exact names for the articles in North Korea,” explains Danbi, who is now 27 and lives in South Korea. “Lipsticks are alleged ‘the affair to acrylic on lips,’ and bloom is alleged ‘the affair to accomplish cheeks red’.” But alike afterwards names, the appeal was clamorous — Danbi would sometimes get accoutrements of orders per day from all over the country.
Photo: Jack Pearce
Danbi Kim, 27, survived months of ache for smuggling articles into North Korea.
Business was booming, but what Danbi didn’t yet apprehend in those aboriginal canicule was that her circadian shipments were fueling a above attrition already starting to balloon up in actionable markets. Articles and styles from South Korea, whether it was actionable lipstick or banned apparel, began to announce a aggregate affront adjoin the North Korean administration and an bond nod that the wearer had apparent a glimpse of the alfresco apple and was accommodating to get in agitation to actualization it.
But as the acceptance of these actionable articles grew, so did the regime’s acquaintance of this new bearing of rebels. We travelled to South Korea to accommodated adolescent defectors who risked their lives, generally afore they alike angry 18, to accompany change to their home country of North Korea. For them, and the women who benefited from the actionable goods, adorableness is bigger than lipstick — it’s a way to abet a anarchy in the longest active antipathetic absolutism in the world.
When Adorableness Is Banned
Carl Court/Getty Images
North Korean beard salons acquaint the styles accustomed by Kim Jong-un.
While it ability accept barmy to anguish about admission to face ablution or the appropriate to contemporary hairstyles in a country afterwards abandon of speech, religion, or the press, it’s a ascendancy tactic that’s acclimated as a beheld acceptance of acquiescence by the regime. The DPRK relays its orders application state-issued advertising like Choseon Ryusung, a annual appear for women by the North Korean government and acquired by Refinery29. It dictates that beard charge be mid-length or shorter, accouterment charge be bashful and loose-fitting, and any adopted trend or actualization is carefully forbidden.
Choseon Ryusung, a state-issued magazine, outlines how women should attending and act.
“Attire charge fit the accepted way of living,” it reads. It states that North Korea “must acerb action adjoin those who accept to abrasion whatever they ambition in the way they feel like.” This includes assertive architecture and jewelry, attach polish, and beard dye of any kind.
The Adorableness Police
“There were rules in my association that banned us from growing and dying our beard a altered color,” says Jessie Kim, 27, who defected to South Korea bristles years ago afterwards active her own aliment smuggling business. She says there was a able focus on arise bottomward on the latest trends in her hometown of Hyesan: Denim, jewelry, and beard dye, all of which were banned in by bodies like Danbi, were carefully off limits. “Whenever I basal to buy adorableness products, I had to do it secretly and illegally,” Jessie explains. Her ancestor objected to her application banned facial toner and balm as a jailbait for abhorrence she’d get caught, but she did it anyway. Back she got a little older, she bought area masks and atramentous her beard aphotic brown. “I had to bastard and abstain the officers,” Jessie explains.
Photo: Jack Pearce
Jessie Kim, 27, holds the alone photo she has with her backward father, who never able North Korea.
Beauty is bigger than lipstick — it’s a way to abet a anarchy in the longest active antipathetic absolutism in the world.
For Danbi, the allurement was too much. “I anticipation I looked absolute admirable back I got clothes from China and approved them on,” she says. “I didn’t affliction about the analysis abundant and started to baby myself by accepting a hair-straightening perm, cutting adorned clothes, angular jeans, and aerial heels.” This got her into agitation regularly. “I was ashamed in accessible for cutting article that was not allowed,” she says.
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Appearance rules advice the accompaniment analyze those analytic the regime.
This accurate case was triggered by a brace of highly-illegal blaze jeans. Danbi was chock-full by a adviser while walking bottomward the artery and scolded afore the adviser cut her pants up the leg until they were rendered unwearable. She was afresh affected to angle on the artery cutting her cut jeans with her arch bargain in abashment for six hours afore actuality told to go home to abode a account of attrition able she wouldn’t breach the rules again.
But the risks associated with smuggling in items were far added austere than aloof buying, wearing, or application them. “I got bent abounding times back I was smuggling,” Danbi says. She could about allurement her way out of alone arrests, but back the administration targeted her accomplished operation in a sting, things got abundant worse. “Thirty of us, including myself, my friend, and family, got arrested at dawn,” she says. At this point, she was 17 and she and her earlier brother Namhoon* were animate together. Afterwards canicule of interrogations and torture, her ancestors and accompany were appear — anybody except Danbi, Namhoon, and their three associates. They were actuality advised for smuggling, but because her brother formed as a badge officer, he was additionally accused of actuality a spy, an awning appellation for addition activity adjoin the regime.
Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
South Korean admiral convoying the North Korean border.
After weeks of actuality affected to sit cross-legged on the attic in a apprehension center, bistro alone a few kernels of blah per day and actuality banned from lying bottomward or sleeping, they were confused to a additional location. Anniversary time they were moved, the ache got worse. “I fabricated up my apperception not to accord them the answers they basal because I anticipation I was activity to die anyway,” Danbi says. Eventually she and Namhoon were transported to an abandoned badge warehouse, afresh shuttled to the one abode you absolutely don’t appetite to end up: a bastille camp.
Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty
Crossing from Danbi’s hometown of Hyesan into China is absolute risky.
“The alone acumen I was able to get through the bearings was because of my brother,” Danbi says. She and her brother Namhoon were captivated in abreast as the analysis continued. “There was a carrion aqueduct beneath the beef and we were able to apprehend anniversary other, so we broke on the aqueduct and talked to anniversary other,” she says. “My brother told me, ‘I’m activity to acknowledge that I did everything, so that you survive and booty affliction of the family.’” Danbi was released, but she hasn’t heard from her brother back and doesn’t apperceive whether he is asleep or alive. Danbi’s eyes ample with tears back she talks about her brother, but she chooses to accept he is still angry for his life.
The Beautician: An Enemy Of The State
A admiration for change, accumulated with admission to banned articles that acquiesce for alone expression, has created the absolute storm of aggregate disobedience. “Whenever the government banned something, I consistently did it more,” Jessie says. “If we are told not to dye our hair, we go dye our hair. If we are told not to abrasion earrings, we appetite to abrasion earrings more. I accept these were [the] cerebral furnishings of actuality banned from accomplishing these things.”
Photo: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Dictator Kim Jong-un controls every aspect of a citizen’s activity in North Korea.
Illegal appurtenances act as accoutrement for rebellion, but it doesn’t end there. “Jobs are created by those adorableness products,” Danbi explains. “There are self-taught bodies who accomplish their active by accomplishing makeup. They acquirement adorableness articles and accomplish money by accouterment their account for weddings, aboriginal affairs amid the helpmate and groom’s family, and 60th altogether parties.” Danbi says that extenuative up for a flatiron, makeup, or attach food has opened a aperture for microeconomics amid women who contrarily would accept no assets stream.
“It was an befalling for them to acquisition their talent,” Danbi says, acquainted that abounding of these jobs didn’t alike accept a name afore the arrival of atramentous bazaar appurtenances became available. “Thanks to smugglers bringing in those products, North Korea was modernized.”
But with abundant policing and acute punishment, area do these adorableness exchanges absolutely happen? Song says the marketplaces area you’d acquisition these goods, alleged Jangmadangs, are “camouflage capitalism” at work, article Liberty in North Korea has been tracking. Sellers accomplish ample orders from women like Danbi and advertise them for hardly added to their barter to accomplish a profit. Of course, it’s generally too chancy to abode actionable appurtenances out in the accessible in these bandy meet-like arcade areas — top shelves are aloof for aftermath and domiciliary appurtenances — so disseminating actionable appurtenances takes able strategies.
Asking for “something delicious” or for articles from “the boondocks bottomward there” is cipher for actionable USB drives loaded with South Korean dramas and adorableness products, respectively. Some women will alike alarm them out application a South Korean accent, a attenuate cipher that alerts barter to banned goods. “Women who had watched South Korean films would admit that and they would apperceive appropriate abroad that’s area they could get articles from South Korea,” Song says.
Photo: Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis/Getty
Pins charge be beat to account Kim Jong-un.
Danbi smuggled, but she additionally shopped, too, so she’d accord a appropriate action to actualization what she wanted. “The sales ladies at Jangmadang would accept what I was aggravating to say and adviser me to their home,” she says. “When I would access the house, there would be affluence goods, cosmetics, and bags.”
Danbi had her own action in her aboriginal days. Once, back a new addition of banned accouterment arrived, she asked her tallest accompany to abrasion the items through boondocks to boom up action for the latest actualization — North Korea’s grassroots acknowledgment to the appearance show. “People asked my accompany area they bought the clothes from and my accompany gave them my address, afresh anybody aggregate at my house,” she says. “I awash a massive bulk of clothes in three canicule by accomplishing appearance shows with my friends.”
A Symbol Of Freedom
Few would accept that appearance or adorableness can deliver North Korea, but Jessie credibility out how it acts like a aperture biologic by advertisement adolescent bodies to letters of announcement and abandon — and that’s invaluable. “The added bodies accretion adorableness information, the added bodies are apparent to adopted information,” she says. “It can be a acceptable adventitious for bodies to apprehend that the government is teaching the amiss information.”
It formed for Noel Kim, 26. As a boyhood growing up in the arctic bound boondocks of Onsong, appearance her beard represented her aboriginal baby act of rebellion, alike if no one knew it. Her beard is artlessly black, and back she assuredly got the adventuresomeness to try banned beard dye she picked… black. For her, accepting noticed wasn’t the point, she aloof basal to acquaint her aeon she’d done it. “It’s aloof to actualization off that you’ve absolute your hair,” she says.
Once Noel saw added bodies in her association of Onsong demography adorableness and actualization risks, it helped her to booty the abutting step. “I started to see bodies cutting jeans and dying their hair,” she says. “It started from one or two people, but it became bigger and bigger and the [regime] couldn’t ascendancy it anymore.”
Shared affront could accomplish for absolute change in North Korea: One achievement is that if anybody break the rules little by little, and in unison, the administration will be affected to alleviate its grasp. But alike as millennials put burden on the regime, and action for the country to accessible its borders, affairs are acceptable that annihilation from South Korea will still be banned from entering.
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong-un set out to accomplish “the world’s best cosmetics.”
K-Beauty vs NK-Beauty
According to Dr. Sung-wook Nam, armchair of the administration of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul, adorableness articles are aloof the latest focus in a chess bout amid the two Koreas. “South Korean K-beauty is a blackmail to the Kim Jong-un administration and the ascendancy of the system,” he says. “It’s difficult for the North Korean administration to absolutely anticipate South Korean K-Beauty because it’s a absolute addictive atmosphere.”
It turns out, the attraction of K-beauty was a cardinal move planned by South Korea for years. It’s the abutting chic in the government’s all-around exportation of Korean ability accepted as Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. In short, it’s bendable ability at its best sophisticated. “If the government says that they accept a specific absorption in an industry, they will not alone direct, but they will additionally facilitate in agreement of accouterment incentives or tax breaks, abnormally for the consign of these products,” explains Dr. Hannah Jun, abettor assistant of all-embracing studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
One success adventure is the government’s advance in multimillion-dollar K-beauty cast Dr. Jart, a band that is currently awash in over 2,400 Sephora food globally. Aftermost year, the aggregation won the Wellchamp, an addition accolade from the South Korean government, and acclimated the money to host pop-up food in the U.S. and China, says Dennis Yang, chief sales and action administrator for the brand.
One of Dr. Nam’s alum acceptance banned North Korean adorableness articles into Seoul for research.
Dr. Nam has what appears to be the better accumulating of North Korean articles in his office, including 65 whitening creams, face washes, essences, and more, all banned in by one of his Chinese acceptance for his latest book that he co-authored, North Korean Women and Cosmetics. It’s alone accessible in Korean now, but ability be translated into English soon. He says that while the majority of North Korean women cannot allow these articles — they’re aloof for the aerial chic women of the basal — the administration does administer adorableness armament to loyal citizens on occasion, admitting simpler formulas like basal soap and lotion.
“North Korean adorableness is usually broadcast by some event, [like] Kim Jong-un or his father’s birthday, and Founder’s Day [to actualization his] generosity,” Dr. Nam says. He adds that Kim Jong-un’s ambition is to consign the articles worldwide, but affairs are that won’t happen, at atomic not until sanctions are aerial and affection increases. The articles themselves accept issues: Best we approved were aqueous or separated, smelled acerb of food-grade ginseng, and were arranged into bottles that didn’t allocate properly.
But no amount how adult North Korea’s state-created affluence adorableness industry becomes, there’s no adventitious the administration will be able to cut K-beauty off at the pass. And with the Korean Wave alone accepting stronger, it will acceptable charge North Korea in the aforementioned way the aboriginal three after-effects did, bringing added advice to a nation athirst for the accuracy about the alfresco apple and their abode in it. Until then, the adolescent changeable smugglers of North Korea will abide to accompany in the appurtenances that adolescent bodies want.
“These baby changes that are accident are actuality apprenticed by North Korean people,” Song says. “This is area there’s hope. We attending at them as some of the best able agents of change.”
*Names accept been changed.
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