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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020

Are these the 18 state-sanctioned haircuts for women in North Korea?

This photograph has been doing the rounds online, claiming to show the official haircuts for women in the country. But is this really the case?

WHEN IT COMES to North Korea, sometimes it feels as though the truth is stranger than fiction.

From its nuclear tests to its intriguing leaders, its lack of internet to its mobile phone restrictions for visitors, it is a country rich in strange and often discomfiting stories.

The latest unusual tale to go around is that there are state-sanctioned haircuts for women – and 18 of them, no less.

This photograph, taken by David Guttenfelder of Press Association Images, has been doing the rounds on Twitter for the last few days, having appeared on The Guardian website with the caption:

North Korean women are encouraged by the state to choose from one of the 18 officially sanctioned hairstyles, as shown in this display on the wall of a salon in the capital

It was then picked up by Reddit with the caption ‘North Korea’s 18 state sanctioned female hairstyles’:

The original photograph on the Press Association site has a different caption:

Photos showing example hair styles hang inside a hair salon in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.

This piqued our interest at Why did the photo appear with such a different caption, one that led to it being re-tweeted on a rapid basis since Friday?

Hair in Korea

We weren’t the only ones wondering. One Reddit/Imgur commenter got to the heart of the issue, linking to this essay about North Korean hairstyles for women.

However, their link, posted three days ago, wasn’t picked up at the same rate as the Imgur photo was tweeted.

It turns out that in North Korea, there are some very distinct hairstyles, ones which are chosen for very specific reasons. Whether a woman is in traditional or Western dress, is a student or is unmarried, for example, dictate what sort of style she goes for.

Interestingly, in the third photo on the KoreaBang essay, we see that there are more than 18 example haircuts shown in one salon – but some of the photos are the same as in the Press Association photo.

There is no doubt that there are strict social rules around haircuts in North Korea (and that some of the hairstyles would have been popular decades ago here), and that the approach to them in turn reflects the rigidness of the country’s political regime.

In 2005 it was reported that North Korea encouraged men to only wear short hair to a certain length in accordance with the socialist lifestyle, and in 2009 that the late Kim Jong-Il was said to have launched a campaign against untidy and foreign hairstyles. Hair clearly is a political issue in North Korea.

Photos showing example hair styles hang inside a barber shop in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

People in North Korea do commit to haircuts within a specific range of styles, but whether they are ‘State-sanctioned’ is not exactly clear.

We can assume, however, that North Korea being the country it is, there isn’t much divergence from the norm, even when it comes to hair.

Read: North Korea loosens mobile phone restrictions for visitors>

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