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N Korea's future 'fat' leader is butt of S Korean jokes

Recent pictures of North Korea's chubby heir apparent have made him the recipient of various fat jokes in South Korea. But for some North Korean defectors who survived famine back home, Kim's weight is not that funny.

Kim Jong-un is thought to be a little too pudgy for his age

Kim Jong-un is thought to be a little too pudgy for his age

Menacing looking portraits of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung lean against Sun Mu’s studio's walls. The artist used to create propaganda for the Pyongyang regime before he defected to South Korea in 2002. He now makes anti-North Korea paintings that would have gotten him executed back home.

Sun Mu's portrait of Kim Jong-il in sporting gear would have had him killed in N Korea

Sun Mu's portrait of Kim Jong-il in sporting gear would have had him killed in N Korea

Sun Mu was a university student in the north when a famine broke out. The 37-year-old artist says he had to steal food and that he saw dead children and homeless people all over his town.

Aid groups say millions were killed by famine in the 1990s.

"So many people have suffered from N Korea’s bad leadership"

So when he saw pictures of the round face and protruding belly of heir apparent Kim Jong-un, Sun Mu got angry.

"When I saw Kim Jong-un and how fat he is, I felt like I wanted to kill him. So many people have suffered from hunger and from North Korea's bad leadership," he says.

North Korean rulers have always been a bit on the heavy side. But Sun Mu says that their corpulence has never been held against them, even during the famine. He says it is generally seen as a good thing to be fat.

"There aren't many fat people in North Korea," he says. "But there is an idea that heavy people have generous personalities and look warmer."

The great leader Kim Il-Sung put on weight in his later years

The "great leader" Kim Il-sung put on weight in his later years

North Koreans expect some pudginess

Even as people were starving to death, Pyongyang did close to nothing to hide the girth of its leaders, agrees Brian Myers, author of "The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and why it Matters."

Myers says North Koreans even expect their leaders to be a little pudgy. "They realize that the leader has a very important job to do, and that he deserves to be treated very well. So, if anything, they feel a sense of guilt that they are not able to feed him any better."

However, he explains this is true for older leaders generally and there is a limit to how "pudgy" leaders should be. The North Korean propaganda machine is already hard at work giving Kim Jong-un a hero’s background but it might be harder to get around his weight.

Millions of North Koreans have died of undernourishment, according to aid organizations

Millions of North Koreans have died of undernourishment, according to aid organizations

"I think his appearance poses a problem in as much as that he is really too young to be that fat," says Myers.

"When Kim Il Sung took over in 1945, he was still a slim man and this boy is already fatter than he Kim Jong-il was ever portrayed. I do think the North Korean public is going to have a problem with that."

Myers adds that North Koreans won’t be too happy if they learn that during part of the famine Kim Jung-un lived and ate in Switzerland.

Author: Jason Strother
Editor: Anne Thomas

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