In early June, those who watch North Korea started to notice something unusual: The nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, appeared to have lost a large amount of weight in a short period of time.
Observers appeared to agree that if Kim’s weight loss came about as a result of an effort to get healthier, it seems likely to improve his position, but if the dropping of weight is in connection with some type of illness, it was likely to have the opposite effect. One outlet even notices that the relative tightness of Kim’s wristwatch indicated that there had been a significant change in his weight.
Now, the North Korean state media has weighed in on the change.
Reuters reported this week that state media in the country has quoted an unidentified resident of the capital city of Pyongyang as being “heartbroken” over the recent appearance of the leader.
"Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people's heart so much,” the man told state broadcaster KRT. "Everyone is saying that their tears welled up.”
CNN also reported about the “unusual interview,” and stated that “it is unlikely the segment did not receive some sort of official blessing, given that all media aired in North Korea is approved by government censors.” However, the news network also reported that the interview only aired on television once, indicating that it may have “slipped through the cracks.”
“Minimally, someone decided that Kim’s visible weight loss would be the elephant in the room — the now palpably much slimmer elephant in the room — if they DIDN'T mention it, as everyone is talking about it. You can't not notice it,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea specialist, told Voice of America about the North Korea state broadcast.
“There is a big difference between how his dad looked in his final years — clearly shrunken in a not good, ill sort of way — and the new svelte Kim Jong Un. From what I've seen he looks better than before,” Foster-Carter added in that VOA interview.
The controversy comes amid reports that North Korea is struggling to feed its people. Another expert told VOA that Kim’s weight loss may be meant as a signal by the leader that he is “tightening his belt.”
In the spring of 2020, Kim did not appear in public for an extended period, leading to rumors around the world that he was ailing or even dead. Kim, however, soon re-emerged on the public stage, silencing the death rumors. But it was neither the first nor the last time that Kim went a lengthy period of time without appearing in public or on camera.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.