North Korea has banned citizens from discussing Kim Jong Un’s weight loss and has told people that gossip is a “reactionary act”.
Government agencies have insisted that the despot eat less “for the sake of the country” as he faces severe food shortages and claims that Kim is healthy.
Speculation about Kim’s health began after photos showed the despot was looking thinner and thinner after apparently losing up to 44 pounds earlier this year.
However, efforts to quell the gossip about Kim’s weight have failed, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Sources said the neighborhood guards had made official statements warning that discussions about Kim’s health were prohibited.
“The neighborhood watch also said the sudden weight loss was not due to a health problem, but that it was suffering in the interests of the country and the people in crisis alone,” the anonymous source said.
It is reportedly the first time officials in North Korea have raised speculation about Kim’s weight loss or health, as it is usually considered a taboo subject.
New pictures of Kim Jong Un waving to a crowd of enthusiastic military men who look noticeably slimmer in his signature Mao suit
South Korea’s espionage agency reported that Kim (pictured in 2018) had gained up to £ 285 after having accumulated around £ 90 and “rushing into food and drink” since taking power in 2011.
In front of statues of the late North Korean dictators Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il – both obese and died of heart attacks – people lay tributes with flowers
However, some residents told RFA they were pleased that their leader was getting slim “because the way he appeared before losing weight seemed more dangerous to his health.”
Another source said North Koreans were delighted with Kim’s weight loss because he was so tall “it was difficult for him to walk.”
Some observers say Kim – who is about 5 feet 8 inches tall and previously weighed 308 pounds – has lost between 22 and 44 pounds.
The despot was shown waving to a crowd of enthusiastic military officers last month and appeared to have lost weight around his waist and face, with his signature Mao suit looking slightly baggy.
Pictures from the first workshop of the commanders and political officers of the Korean People’s Army Show in July showed Kim with a noticeably slimmer face.
It comes two months after state television said Kim’s “emaciated” condition “broke the hearts of our people.” in a most unusual show in a country where public discussions about the Fiihrer’s health and private life were always forbidden.
The tightly controlled state media quoted an unidentified Pyongyang resident on June 25 as saying that everyone in North Korea was heartbroken after seeing pictures of the noticeably slimmer Kim.
Analysts say the statements showed authorities were trying to use Kim’s weight change to build loyalty to the regime during desperate times.
More isolated than ever behind its self-imposed coronavirus barricade, the impoverished, nuclear-armed country admitted this month it is fighting a food crisis and is sounding the alarm in a nation with a dying agricultural sector long struggling to feed itself .
At the same time, Kim’s health has long been closely monitored internationally as his sudden death would raise questions of succession and stability.
Known as a heavy smoker, the leader has long been obese, with his weight appearing to have increased steadily in recent years.
However, he looked noticeably less overweight in recent media images released by Pyongyang’s official news agency, KCNA, and on state television.
Kim’s personal life is usually off-limits to North Korea’s state media, and Pyongyang has never confirmed how many children he has.
But KCTV aired a clip in July by an unnamed resident of the capital claiming that everyone in the country was “unhappy” with their “emaciated” condition.
“Seeing how our respected Secretary General looks emaciated is the most heartbreaking thing for our people,” he said.
“Everyone is talking about tears flowing right away.”
Some observers say Kim (pictured on Feb. 8) – who is about six feet tall and previously weighed 308 pounds – may have lost between 22 and 44 pounds
Analysts say the statements showed authorities were trying to use Kim’s weight change to build loyalty to the regime
Kim Jong Un also seems to have lost weight on his face, pictures from the first workshop of the commanders and political officers of the Korean People’s Army in July 2021
Analysts say Pyongyang uses Kim’s looks to glorify him by portraying him as a “dedicated, hardworking” leader as the country struggles to overcome its food crisis and other challenges.
“If outside observers noticed the change in Kim’s appearance, you can bet that the North Korean people noticed it sooner too,” said Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
It closed its borders in January last year to protect itself from the pandemic, and as a result, trade with Beijing – its economic lifeline – has slowed to a trickle as all international aid workers have left the country.
“The message Pyongyang is sending is that Kim is a leader who works very hard for his people, even to the point where he skips meals and loses weight,” the renegade researcher told Ahn Chan-il AFP.
Global speculation about Kim’s health flared up last year after he missed his late grandfather’s birthday ceremony and was out of public for about 20 days.
Kim’s father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung were also obese and heavy smokers. Both died of heart attacks.
In 2016, the South Korean espionage agency reported that Kim had gained as much as 285 pounds after accumulating around 90 pounds and “ate on food and drink” since taking power in 2011.
Last year, Kim Jong Un (pictured in May 2020) was estimated to have gained another 20 pounds, bringing him to about 305 pounds
Last year he was estimated to have gained another 20 pounds, bringing him to about 305 pounds.
However, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out that his recent weight loss is unlikely to be a symptom of an acute illness, as he attended several public events this month.
“Nobody can really know why they lost weight,” he told AFP. “What is clear from the KCTV footage is that the regime wants the world to believe that its people care about their leader to the point where they would weep over his thinner looks.”
Kim has acknowledged a “tight” food situation that could worsen if this year’s harvest fails, exacerbating economic problems amid tight self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
“The most likely reason you mention his weight loss this way, in my opinion, would be the ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, based in Seoul.
“Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, there appears to be propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is suffering the same food shortages that the country is currently experiencing.”
The regime may have intended from the outset to emphasize the fact that Kim is working hard for the people in a time of widespread need, or its messages may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.
“What is important is that the North Korean regime learned from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a topic of conversation among ordinary people,” he said.
“From there, it’s easy to respond by developing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the regime’s advantage.”
Analysts say Pyongyang uses Kim’s looks to glorify him by portraying him as a “dedicated, hardworking” leader
The “pseudo-voxpop” – carefully staged by state media to appear authentic – like that of the nameless resident of Pyongyang, is a common North Korean media tactic, he added.
It is unusual, if not uncommon, for North Korean state media to mention a leader’s state of health.
In 2014 it was reported that Kim – who had inherited his position before him from his father and grandfather – suffered from “discomfort” after an extended period out of the public eye.
With succession plans unclear, a sudden decline in Kim’s health could disrupt the 76-year-old system of hereditary leadership of nuclear-armed North Korea.
“It’s a great weight loss, and its health is important to the functioning and fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely,” said Town of 38 North.