In a new propaganda broadcast this week, Kim Jong Un looked thinner than ever, with excess skin hanging around his neck and his jacket hanging loosely over his shoulders.
The North Korean tyrant appeared on state television as he walked in front of a grandstand filled with hundreds of apparently admiring schoolchildren, the girls crying and the boys clapping enthusiastically as he waved and smiled during Youth Day celebrations in Pyongyang.
Kim’s features were remarkably prominent, especially around his chin, which disappeared into folds of fat just six months ago.
The 37-year-old also wore a white coat that provided a generous space between his neck and collar, as well as flaps and pleats along the midriff where the fabric would once have been pulled tight around his stomach.
Speculation about Kim’s health has forced the government to ban gossip about his weight as a “reactionary act” after photos surfaced earlier this year showing a dramatic change that was thought to represent a drop of about 44 pounds.
The North Korean tyrant appeared on state television and walked in front of a grandstand filled with hundreds of apparently admiring schoolchildren, the girls crying and the boys clapping enthusiastically as he waved and smiled
Kim Jong Un is pictured in 2018. The dicator is believed to have lost about 44 pounds
Kim Jong Un poses with young people this week. The photo opportunity was part of the Pyongyang Youth Day celebrations
Kim Jong Un wore the same white coat on April 12, 2020. The fabric appears to be tighter around his waist and there is no apparent gap between his neck and chin, appearing larger
In an effort to quell the rumours, the apparatchik has told state media that Kim is eating less “for the sake of the country” as he struggles with famine, and says the despot is healthy.
However, there are reports that Kim may have gotten a gastric band to help ease his cheese-fed weight problem.
Others have argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for the leader to shed some pounds.
State TV even spoke to someone who said his ‘starving’ condition ‘broke the hearts of our people’ in a highly unusual broadcast about two months ago.
Experts believe this was a cynical attempt to gain sympathy for Kim, whose country is gripped by an economic crisis triggered 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 and sounded the alarm in a country with a dying 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 about succession and stability.
Known as a heavy drinker and smoker, the leader has long been obese, and his weight seems to be steadily increasing in recent years.
But he looked noticeably less overweight around June in photos published by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency and on state television.
Kim’s personal life is normally taboo for the North Korean state media and Pyongyang has never even confirmed how many children he has.
Pictured: Kim Jong Un’s watch band featured in North Korean state propaganda this week seemed to betray his weight loss, compared to photos from December 2020 and March 2021 showing his watch band loosened to accommodate his thicker wrists . Photos from this week showed more of the strap after the buckle, and didn’t look quite as tight
Kim looked much taller in his white coat at a gathering in June 2020
But KCTV aired a clip in July of an unnamed resident of the capital claiming that everyone in the country was “heartbroken” at his “starving” condition.
“When we see our respected general secretary looking gaunt, it breaks the hearts of our people the most,” he said.
“Everyone’s talking about their tears welling up right away.”
Last year it was estimated that he had gained another 20 pounds, bringing him to about 305 pounds.
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out that his recent weight loss was unlikely to be 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 that the regime wants the world to think its people love caring for their leader, to the point where they would cry at his gaunt 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 cite his weight loss this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border controls,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of 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 experiencing the same food shortages that are currently afflicting the country.”
The regime may have wanted to emphasize from the outset that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or his posts may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.
“The bottom line is that the North Korean regime has received word 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 designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the benefit of the regime.”