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

I knew their heart-wrenching stories long
before I flew halfway around the world. But it didn’t make them any easier to hear. These young smugglers are part of an underground
resistance in North Korea, pushing the limits against one of the most oppressive regimes
on the planet. Risking everything for an unexpected tool
for freedom: Make-up. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,
better known as North Korea, was born after World War II when the once united Korean peninsula
was split. You probably know it best for its eccentric millennial dictator, Kim Jong Un, his arsenal
of nuclear weapons, and his tit-for-tat with international leaders. In North Korea, access to the Internet and
cell phones is heavily restricted, and few are allowed to leave. The longest running communist dynasty has
survived by ruling with an iron fist. But there’s a new wave of resistance brewing. Only it might not look how you think. Seoul, South Korea is known for street after
street of beauty boutiques, carrying the latest South Korean products known as K-Beauty. In less than a decade, it’s exploded into
a more than 13 billion dollar industry. The sheer amount of choices and information
can be exhilarating, especially for 27 year old Jessie Kim. She and I, same neutral colors? Yes. We’re both neutral. Oh my god! So good! Jessie grew up in North Korea, under oppressive
rule. She’s part of a new generation that’s
pushing boundaries in an unexpected way. Strict rules around appearance are used by
the North Korean regime as a form of control. Visual confirmation of whether or not you
fall in line. A state issued guide outlines specific hairstyles
and lengths approved by the Supreme Leader. Salon menus show the cuts that are allowed. Appearances are so regulated that any deviations
can lead to public shaming and even arrest. But what’s strictly controlled by the regime
is still finding its way in. Danbi Kim started a business smuggling basic
goods into North Korea at just fourteen years old. But she quickly realized that beauty and fashion
items were the most in demand. What kind of items were most requested? Many North Koreans barely know what South Korean K-Beauty products are even called. But they know they want them. You were getting hundreds of orders from all
over North Korea? The demand for South Korean products is high. But how do they even know that they exist? The best way to understand K-beauty is within
the Korean Wave. The Korean Wave. A tsunami of popular South Korean culture. Boy bands, and girl bands. K-dramas and films. And the latest wave: K-beauty. So as you see here, we have four different
kinds of masks. These microtip pads have a needle here. Wait, there’s needles on these sheet masks? Iconic South Korean
brand Dr. Jart+ is at the forefront of K-Beauty. It’s like a lab down here. Its progress is part of a larger experiment. We’ve got some support with our global marketing
activities, such as a pop up store project in the U.S. and in China. So the government awarded Dr. Jart+ funding
so it can go out into the world and do pop-up stores and spread the word even further
internationally. Yeah. It’s part of a government strategy to export Korean culture and build international
influence. It’s called In international relations, if we talk about
soft power, that’s usually in contrast to what we call hard power. So when we talk about hard power, we normally
think of something like, you know, bombs, guns, military might. When we talk about soft power, we’re trying
to use the power of attraction to get the counterpart to do what we would think is desirable
behavior. So if hard power is forcing people to like
you, soft power is getting them to like you. Yeah. This soft power strategy has been vital to
South Korea becoming an economic powerhouse by bringing in tens of billions of dollars. The Korean Wave has reached countries all
over the world, including its adversarial neighbor. K-Dramas smuggled into North Korea through
flash drives have spread like wildfire, and so have its beauty trends. We’ve heard from North Koreans how they
began to wonder, “Why can’t we have these things ourselves?” Liberty in North Korea is a non-profit that
helps North Koreans defect, and tracks the information they bring out of the country
with them. It’s this sort of shared disobedience you
could say. In a country that’s as restrictive as North
Korea, this is a really interesting and important signal. You were a rebel. Yeah. Jessie was able to avoid being arrested. But Danbi paid a heavy price. One night, North Korean officials came to
Danbi’s home and arrested her entire family. They accused her older brother of being a
spy, a common umbrella charge for going against the regime. She was just 17. Punishments for rule breakers in North Korea
are horrifying. 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 from prison camp survivors detail
the conditions they endured. Eating rats to survive. Barbaric forms of torture. And even mass executions. It’s estimated that around 200,000 North
Koreans are imprisoned in camps today. Danbi’s decision to leave wasn’t an easy
one. Defecting from North Korea is a difficult
journey. South Korea has an open door policy but there’s
no easy way to get there. The demilitarized zone between the two countries
makes it nearly impossible to cross at the border. Instead, most take their chances through China, and then on to Mongolia or
Southeast Asia, hoping to make it to a country that won’t send them back. Liberty in North Korea’s footage gives us
a rare view into the harrowing journey. You may face the risk of being shot in the
back as you’re trying to get to the other side. Or caught midway through and being dragged
all the way back in the act of trying to get across. And there’s no time to think, sometimes
they don’t even eat, because they’re so nervous and scared. That’s about a 3,000 mile journey, longer
than the distance between New York and LA. Once they get to Southeast Asia and our team
greets them, it’s always a mix of emotions. Some people are just so exhausted, they just
pass out. Others are just so overjoyed because this
is the first time that they are truly free. Of the more than 25 million people living
in North Korea, it’s estimated that about 1,000
safely escape each year. Hannah and her team are involved every step
of the way. They’ve seen what matters most to defectors
who make it to safety. The basics are the most important, but every
so often women will ask for BB cream, or maybe they’ll ask for hair dye or face masks. Some people might look at this very small
step of what you do, which is putting together these kits, and say, “Why would someone from North Korea need a face mask?” What would your response to that be? I can only imagine how difficult that journey is. And so to come through that, even if there’s
something small we can provide, like a face mask, what’s so wrong about wanting to really
look their best as they’re really starting a new life? It’s a reminder that K-beauty’s impact
goes beyond face value. It’s a tool of comfort, resistance, and
especially international influence. I’m about to learn just how far that influence
goes when it comes to North Korea. Just last year, Kim Jong Un declared that
North Korea was getting into the global luxury cosmetics game to make, in his words, the
world’s best cosmetics. Is K-beauty a threat to North Korea? I think so. The South Korean K-beauty is a threat to the
King Jong Un regime. society. Professor Nam is one of the few people in
the world who’s studying North Korean beauty products. He offered to show me what NK beauty looks
like. I wouldn’t know that any of this is from
North Korea if I wasn’t standing in your office looking at products that you basically
can’t find in most of the world. Trying North Korean, state-created beauty
products for the first time. It doesn’t smell like a beauty product. It doesn’t have that floral-y, fragrance-y
smell that beauty products will have. And it smells more like it’s 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’s a driver of change. These small changes that are happening are
being driven by North Korean people. This is really where there’s hope. The reality is beauty isn’t going to free
North Korea. But curiosity about self-expression creates
curiosity about the outside world. It’s empowering the younger generations
to imagine a new kind of North Korea. Thanks for watching Refinery29. For more videos like this, click here. And to subscribe, click here.

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