Earlier this year, South Korea saw Kim Jong-un be the first North Korean leader to set foot across the border and into South Korean-controlled territory, to shake hands with South’s President Moon Jae-in for the start of a summit meeting. Soon after this engagement, Korean fashion and cosmetics company 5149 launched a widely popular face mask starring Kim Jong-un on the packaging, supposedly as a celebration of the peace process between the two historically divided countries: “I don’t know what Kim Jong-un means in North Korea or what he represents politically, but the whole country of South Korea was happy,” expressed the creator of the masks Kwak Hyun-joo.
Costing around four times the price of regular beauty products, the “Unification Moisture Nuclear Masks”, dubbed “nuke”, flew off the shelves, with over 25,000 having been sold since their launch. The product promises to whiten consumer faces as well as moisturize them with mineral water from the sacred active volcano Mount Paektu that borders North Korea and China. They come printed with propaganda-style slogans such as “All hail moisture for all women of the North and South!”, “Baekdu Mountain spring water makes skin strong!” and “Should we now go over the border with a whitened face?”
Perhaps the positive reception in the city confirms the South’s warming of public opinion towards the autocratic leader. However, many critics have denounced the product, with Professor Kang Dong-wan (of North Korean tradition and politics at Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea) stating that “The fact that the worst dictator in the world — who violates human rights of its residents — is portrayed as someone who can be part of making world peace shows that South Korean society has lost the ability to filter through and control the situation.”
Given the backlash, they’re now being pulled off the shelves of Pierrot Shopping (a leading chain store in Seoul), and we are yet to find out how these masks will be received in North Korea where making a gimmick out of their revered and God-like leader surely can’t fare too well.