The North Korean Refugee Who Crossed the Border for Fashion

Annette K. Brown

She escaped North Korea at 20 many years outdated. Not for the reason that of hunger or to abide by spouse and children who have presently still left she risked her life and crossed the border to South Korea so she could have on whatever she wanted. It’s a privilege that most just take for granted, but a aspiration for Yoon Mi-so. 

Yoon, now 31, loved make-up and outfits from a young age. She grew up in Hyesan, Yanggang Province, a metropolis shut to the North Korean border with China, wherever a lot of offered smuggled products. Two many years back, her mother would make a dwelling by sneaking in cloth from China and grew to become to some degree of a trendsetter. Instead of the brief, permed hair popular amongst North Korean ladies at the time, she experienced the thick, wavy fashion well-liked in China. Perhaps mainly because of her mother’s affect, Yoon way too, is passionate about beauty and style. 

Now living in Seoul, she operates as a “beauty consultant” to gals of all ages. She’s like a stylist, dishing out recommendations on wardrobe and makeup that will greatest accommodate her clientele. It’s her aspiration occupation, just one she would have under no circumstances attained experienced she not left North Korea, where gals are told how to existing themselves and envisioned to seem just like absolutely everyone else. In numerous means, it is the finish opposite of South Korea, now acknowledged internationally for its road model and significant splendor field.

VICE visited Yoon’s business office in Gimpo, a town near to Seoul, to talk about clothing, makeup, and how the definition of attractiveness differs throughout the border.

VICE: Why did you leave North Korea?
Yoon Mi-so:
In 2006, the so-referred to as fashion law enforcement or ‘gyuchaldae’ started cracking down on apparel they deemed inappropriate. A single day, I was strolling down the avenue and 1 of the regulators blocked me, all because I was sporting a yellow jacket with the English phrase “sports” on it. Seemingly, it manufactured me stand out. My hair is by natural means dim brown, but the gyuchaldae also reprimanded me for that, pondering I received it coloured. At the time, I was summoned by a govt youth corporation for putting on tight trousers. They tried using to acquire me to the youth organization’s office environment once more another time but I ran away. 

I sooner or later arrived across an acquaintance who supplements her working day position as a broker by encouraging individuals escape North Korea. It made me consider: I will need to go away in this article now. For me, the wrestle that arrives with not owning the liberty to express myself was more painful than the problems of making an attempt to make a living in a poor nation. 

I desired to leave even extra right after my mother died. My mothers and fathers divorced when I was 2 a long time outdated and my mother remarried when I was 10. My mother frequently argued with my step dad simply because he was unfaithful and materialistic. My mother died 3 yrs right after they bought married. I believe my step father was included in her death — all simply because of funds — but it was considered a suicide. I was only 13 yrs old then but I understood that it was unfair. I was quite disappointed in my state, which pushed me to go away.

What does a natural beauty marketing consultant do?
A person’s graphic is even additional important these days individuals care a ton about their appearances and expectations from other individuals are also bigger. As a attractiveness guide, I coordinate my clients’ fashion, suggesting what shades and make-up satisfies them. In essence, my job is to take care of a person’s physical appearance.

I would have never imagined having a career in the elegance marketplace in North Korea. Again then, I could not even style myself the way I wished. I hated it so considerably. I was already pretty interested in fashion and attractiveness at the time, but I under no circumstances even believed of discovering how to place on make-up. Soon after transferring to South Korea, I determined to go to school and majored in cosmetology in 2015. From there, I discovered skin care, make-up, hairstyling, and nail artwork. It was a new globe. Aiding other individuals come across a type that fits them and watching them change was so gratifying to me that is why I want to retain undertaking this. 

“Helping other individuals find a style that fits them and looking at them renovate was so fulfilling to me.”

Are the magnificence requirements in North Korea and South Korea distinctive?
The beauty requirements in North Korea and South Korea are really different. South Koreans like women of all ages who have a v-formed experience, with skinny bodies and big eyes. I imagine North Koreans prefer women of all ages with round faces and eyes that are not far too significant. If you are far too skinny, persons notify you points like “You look much too weak,” “I do not think you can perform,” or “You seem inadequate.” If adult men are skinny, folks say “You look like you undergo from malnutrition” or “You never seem sturdy adequate to chop trees.” Contrary to in South Korea, North Koreans desire gentlemen who have darker pores and skin, which is viewed as manly. 

So was it unusual for North Koreans to go on diet plans?
No, North Koreans go on eating plans also. I once took a laxative to drop excess weight simply because my sisters had been doing it. You get sick all working day and then reduce body weight. People wore underwear for system shaping as well.

What was the most disheartening thing about residing in North Korea?
It was the apparel. I would say the type in North Korea is like an outdated professor’s garments in South Korea. They cover most of the human body, are static, vintage, and without the need of color. I wished much more than that.

What were the style developments when you have been in North Korea?
Really, it was a little distinctive from area to area. In North Korea, a go is required when you go to other locations. In my hometown Hyesan, the armed forces uniform worn by the border guards was well known between guys. When you take out epaulets from the uniform, they convert into everyday clothes. Though these uniforms are pretty normal, people are judged dependent on the material. You can notify when a human being has an upper class qualifications based on the fabric of their uniform nylon was the best content and cotton was the 2nd very best.

I listened to that Ri Sol Ju, Kim Jong Un’s spouse, is a trendsetter in North Korea.
When I was in North Korea, I did not know about her. But if I had been still there now, I would in all probability follow her model. Gentlemen wore Mao satisfies like the previous leader Kim Jong Il did more mature adult men liked that design. In 2010, appropriate before I left North Korea, “flight jackets” were in vogue. They were commonly eco-friendly, blue, or crimson. They were being high priced, but so preferred that individuals purchased them on credit rating. A jacket was around $2.65 to $3.5 at that time one kilogram of rice that was fantastic for just one working day was a lot less than a dollar, when a pair of pants was $1.6 — the cost of a jacket was double that. 

Was there a trend road in North Korea, like Sinsa-dong in Seoul?
There was no extravagant style street in Hyesan, but there was a street wherever “young persons who know how to use clothes” collected. It was truly a small secondhand current market. Garments from South Korea, China, and Japan had been smuggled and marketed on that road. 

If the apparel have been viewed as problematic, they couldn’t be marketed in the current market brazenly offering them could get you in problems. These incorporated flared pants, entire body-hugging and skimpy dresses, and pieces of outfits with English terms on them, and ended up generally marketed secretly in people’s homes. When people today obtain out that a specific household sells these outfits, they go there with other pals who are intrigued in fashion. If you want to dress in what you shopped, you have to sneak all over side streets exactly where there are no regulators. 

Why did they regulate people’s appearances and ended up there any other constraints?
They say that individuals who observe trends are “immersed in bourgeois thoughts” and talk to “Why do you put on garments with American terms?” Every single Saturday, learners are informed to consider about what they’ve completed erroneous in the previous 7 days and stage out what the misdeed was in public — they’re also produced to criticize their classmates. It happens in workplaces also. It is a person of the approaches the federal government brainwashes citizens. 

I could not use colourful lipsticks. Not due to the fact they regulated it, but due to the fact I was far too shy to use dazzling purple ones. No 1 else wore lipsticks like that in North Korea it’s just odd to stand out. Colourful make-up was also a extremely peculiar thing. If you place on coloured make-up, folks will say you’re insane. Or persons may say, “Why do you paint your eyelids so blue? Did an individual conquer you up?”

How did you do your makeup in North Korea?
Men and women applied eyeliner and mascara but it was unimaginable and peculiar to add color to your face. In South Korea, there are so quite a few alternatives, like warm and neat tones, but in North Korea, it was normally just about getting white pores and skin, which was deemed very for ladies. 

Bomhyanggi, which usually means “spring fragrance,” a brand name generated by Sinuiju Cosmetics, was well-known. My mother utilised Chinese cosmetics additional typically than North Korean ones. She also secretly used items from South Korea, which ended up commonly offered by men and women and not in community markets. You only get these via connections and can’t tell everyone about it, in case authorities come across out. I experienced to cover my South Korean cosmetics when my friends visited me. Some markets have them but they’re hidden underneath exhibit stands and bought secretly. Ah, individuals were being these discouraging situations (laughs).

How precise is the Korean drama Crash Landing on You in depicting daily life in North Korea?
The location in the drama was also rural it is not actually that old-fashioned in North Korea. But the way of life is really related. For instance, it’s genuine that families with a military services officer are privileged and that most people envy their wealth. A substantial-ranking soldier’s spouse has authentic ability in the city.

If you were to decide a coloration to explain North Korea, what would it be?
People typically consider it is red but I assume it is considerably from pink. Crimson symbolizes passion and drive, but North Korea doesn’t permit folks do what they want to do. I believe North Korea is additional black. There was a tunnel I made use of to go to in my hometown and from there you’d see Changbai County in Jilin Province, China. It is a community exactly where numerous ethnic Koreans stay, so you’d frequently hear Korean songs. I went to that tunnel when I got discouraged or missed my mom, considering about how substantially I preferred to get out of my place. Probably that’s why the coloration of North Korea reminds me of the darkish color of the tunnel.

“Red symbolizes enthusiasm and want, but North Korea does not let folks do what they want to do. I think North Korea is much more black.”

What’s your strategy for the long term?
Up till previous calendar year, I by no means said that I was from North Korea. I hid it like a guilty person. When buying out my outfits, I was generally acutely aware about how some others would see me, worrying that I may search like a North Korean lady. But then I discovered out that a ton of individuals, together with global and South Korean corporations, are intrigued in the tales of North Koreans and North Korean refugees. That’s when I realized I have been hiding and only focusing on myself. Now, I want to proudly say that I’m from North Korea and present that I’m residing a fruitful existence. I want to be an inspiration for North Korean refugees. Sometime, I hope to help them as a magnificence marketing consultant as well. 

Interview has been edited for duration and clarity. 

This short article initially appeared on VICE Korea.

Next Post

Bread Beauty Supply Macadamia-Oil Review

Investing in skin treatment has develop into a lifetime pastime. If it is not vitamin C serums or butt masks, I’m usually on the prowl for moisturizing goods to give my pores and skin some TLC — especially on the coattails of winter, when I am most inclined dryness and […]
Bread Beauty Supply Macadamia-Oil Review