A Hair-Brained Rule



Pictured above is a type of image commonly seen at American barber shops. (Here’s a larger version.) For those of us who can’t well describe how we like our hair cut, this is, effectively, an order-by-number work-around. Choose a hairstyle you want, tell the barber which number it’s associated with (or just point, although there could be some unfortunate ambiguity there), and you’ll get roughly the same ‘do as the guy in the corresponding picture. That doesn’t preclude you from getting something other than what’s on the chart, of course — you can always opt for a perm, mohawk, or one of these. After all, this is America, and what’s freedom mean if it doesn’t mean you’re free to choose your own hair style?

Okay, okay, that last sentence is pretty facetious. The correlation between “freedom” — in the political sense — and being able to choose a haircut is, basically, nil.

Unless you’re in North Korea.

In February of 2013, Want China Times — an English-language publication of the Taiwan-based China Times — reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promulgated a list of 28 approved haircuts — 18 for women, 10 for men — as seen below.


Technically, the approved haircuts are just “recommendations” and there’s reason to believe these suggestions are laxly enforced (although it’s likely that if someone grows his or her hair too long, it will be used against him or her if convenient for the government to do so). As the Want Chinese Times noted, the “generous [generous!] range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens” were selected because they are believed to be “the most comfortable styles and capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism.” Long hair, on the other hand, is forbidden due to its apparent association with freedom, capitalism, and a rebellious spirit.

Further details about the de facto mandate are sparse — North Korea isn’t one to share its policies or reasoning with the rest of the word — but this relatively new suggestion is not all that out of line with the recent history of North Korea’s approaches to hair. In 2005, per a BBC report, North Korea released a media blitz titled “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle.” (It loses something in the translation, one hopes.) The series included a five-part TV series, according to the Daily Mail.

But there are some limits to the (pardon ton the pun) lengths North Korea will go to control the hair of its populace. The 28-approved-cuts news sparked rumors that Kim Jong-un was looking at even more restrictive hair rules, one requiring that all men copy his characteristic haircut. But as Slate reported, that one rumor was fake. Kim Jong-un isn’t quite that crazy.

Bonus Fact: Hair cuts can serve another purpose other than furthering the objectives of a Socialist dictatorship. According to a 2010 report from USA Today, hair absorbs oil very well and can be used to help clean up oil spills.

From the ArchivesNorth Korea’s Mickey Mouse Club: Why Kim Jong-un’s older brother isn’t the guy in charge of North Korea.

RelatedHaircutting for Dummies.