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North Korea is a fashion-conscious nation where political leaders are preoccupied with how to dress the nation's people through rigid social practices, such as imposing military-style uniforms to various social sectors and systematically recommending certain designs to civilians. North Korean leaders have issued numerous fashion statements with the intention to promote fashion as a national project meant to groom ideal corporeality. While many other socialist regimes have glorified masculine clothing as a preferred means to represent revolutionized women, North Korean fashion has continuously explored and expressed various degrees of femininity that seemingly contradict a stringent revolutionary spirit. The varying visual representations of traditional femininity and state-organized socialist ideals, which often equal masculinity, collide in North Korea so as to mark a unique sense of fashion for women clearly distinguished from those of its closest neighbors—the People's Republic of China, the former Soviet Union, and South Korea.
This article explores the representation of an ideal female body in North Korea by examining women's fashion as manifested in visual media such as stage productions, films, magazine illustrations, paintings, and posters. The article ultimately argues that visual media in North Korea are not merely consumerist objects but by far the most important form of bodily discipline. Their functions are wide in scope—they educate, entertain, and mobilize people. In a society where ideals shape reality itself, the way in which visual images are coordinated and circulated is far from accidental. I argue that in North Korea, the images of women on stage and screen function as models to emulate, thus imposing ideal bodily practices onto viewers. Examining the dress codes of female protagonists on stage and screen illuminates how the North Korean state has set out to craft an ideal female body by constantly negotiating revolutionary masculinity and traditional femininity.