After photos of a slimmed-down Kim Jong-un emerged last year, government officials have claimed the ruler lost weight as a result of worrying about his people and their ongoing food shortages, which have been blamed on the pandemic – while wilder theories speculated that he was using a body double.
But experts believe there may be another explanation for the Supreme Leader’s new svelte frame, saying he just simply can’t get some of his favourite snacks anymore.
Speaking to Metro, North Korea expert Dr. Sojin Lim said: “We know that he has good sources, he enjoys cheese, he’s a heavy drinker, he has access to all junk foods.
“But because of these border closures the way he brings all these foods into North Korea will have been cut. So he doesn’t have the same variety anymore.”
But these changes may also work in Kim’s favour, as he attempts to gain appeal among the people as the shortages continue to affect North Korea.
Dr. Lim, a senior lecturer and co-director of the International Institute of Korean studies at the University of Central Lancashire, explained: “At the same time, he can’t sustain his figure as a fat person because in the domestic environment people are starving.
“If he sustains that look, that will only add to the grievances of people. So tactically it could coincide with that.”
Many people believed Kim may have previously gained weight deliberately to look more like his grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
Dr. Lim continued: “But the leader’s restricted access to fatty foods may play in his favour as he seeks to boost morale while his people starve.
“He can’t access certain food anymore but at the same time losing weight doesn’t mean he’s losing his legacy from his grandfather.
“It also shows people that ‘I’m with you, I’m not taking all this food for myself, I’m like you, I’m also suffering.’
“Because of his cult of personality and propaganda, all of his image is crafted – nothing is natural. It’s not so different from here, with Boris Johnson and his hairstyle.
“Kim Jong-un’s look is more about people at home, not about the powers outside. It’s more about how he can manage inside at the moment.”
North Korean officials warned citizens last year to refrain from publicly discussing Kim’s health, according to sources in the country.
An unnamed insider, who spoke to US-backed news outlet Radio Free Asia, said: "As stories of health problems related to the Highest Dignity's weight loss spread among the residents, many of the neighbourhood watch units here in Chongjin made official statements to the people at their weekly meeting, saying that it is a 'reactionary act' to talk about the leader's health.
"The neighbourhood watch units also said the sudden weight loss is not due to a health problem, but rather that he is suffering in solitude for the sake of the country and people in crisis."