Kim Jong Un looked thinner than ever this week with excess skin sagging around his neck and his jacket hanging loosely over his shoulders in a new propaganda broadcast.
The North Korean tyrant appeared on state TV walking in front of a stand filled with hundreds of seemingly adoring school children, the girls crying and the boys clapping enthusiastically as he waved and smiled during Youth Day celebrations in Pyongyang.
Kim’s facial features were notably prominent, particularly around his chin which used to disappear in folds of fat just six months ago.
The 37-year-old also wore a white jacket which provided a generous space between his neck and the collar, as well as flaps and creases down the midriff where once the fabric would have been pulled tight around his belly.
Speculation about Kim’s health has forced the government to ban gossip about his weight as a ‘reactionary act’ after photos emerged earlier this year showing a dramatic change thought to represent a roughly 44-pound drop.
The North Korean tyrant appeared on state TV walking in front of a stand filled with hundreds of seemingly adoring school children, the girls crying and the boys clapping enthusiastically as he waved and smiled
Kim Jong Un is pictured in 2018. It is believed the dicator has lost around 44 pounds
Kim Jong Un posing with youngsters this week. The photo opportunity was part of Youth Day celebrations in Pyongyang
Kim Jong Un wearing the same white jacket on April 12, 2020. The fabric appears to be pulled tighter around his waist and there is no clear gap between his neck and chin appear larger
In a bid to stifle the rumours, the apparatchik have told state media that Kim is eating less ‘for the sake of the country’ as it grapples with famine, saying that the despot is healthy.
However, there have been reports that Kim may have had a gastric band fitted to reduce his cheese-fuelled weight problem.
Others have claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus the need for the leader to shed some pounds.
State TV even spoke to someone who said his ’emaciated’ condition was ‘breaking our people’s hearts’ in a highly unusual broadcast around two months ago.
Experts believe this was a cynical attempt to garner sympathy for Kim, whose country is in the throes of an economic crisis precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and a poor harvest.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed country is more isolated than ever behind its self-imposed coronavirus barricade, and this month admitted it was tackling a food crisis, sounding the alarm in a nation with a moribund agricultural sector that has long struggled to feed itself.
At the same time Kim’s health has long been closely watched internationally as his sudden death would raise questions over succession and stability.
Known as a heavy drinker and smoker, the leader has long been obese, with his weight appearing to increase steadily in recent years.
But he looked noticeably less overweight in around June in pictures published by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency and on state television.
Kim’s personal life is normally taboo for North Korea’s state media and Pyongyang has never even confirmed how many children he has.
Pictured: Kim Jong Un’s watch strap shown in North Korean state propaganda this week appeared to give away his weight loss, compared with photos from December 2020 and March 2021 show his watch strap was done up looser to accommodate his thicker wrists. Photos from this week showed more of the watch strap showing after the buckle, and did not look as tight
Kim looking much bigger in his white jacket at a meeting in June, 2020
But KCTV in July aired a clip of an unnamed resident of the capital claiming everyone in the country was ‘heartbroken’ by his ’emaciated’ condition.
‘Seeing our respected general secretary looking emaciated breaks our people’s hearts the most,’ he said.
‘Everyone is talking about how their tears welled up immediately.’
Last year it was estimated he had put on another 20 pounds, taking him to around 305 pounds.
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out it was unlikely his recent weight loss was a symptom of acute ill health, as he had attended several public events this month.
‘No one can really know why he lost weight,’ he told AFP. ‘What’s clear — from the KCTV footage — is the regime wants the world to think that its people love care for their leader, to a point where they’d cry over his thinner appearance.’
Kim has acknowledged a ‘tense’ food situation that could worsen if this year’s crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
‘The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,’ said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.
‘Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time.’
The regime may have intended from the beginning to emphasise the fact that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or its messaging may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.
‘What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a talking point among ordinary people,’ he said.
‘From there it is a simple matter to respond by designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the regime’s advantage.’