North Korea’s ‘Army of Beauties’ | NYT

North Korea’s
propaganda machine is famously enormous and enduring. It’s primarily used
inside the country to bolster the Kim dynasty’s
cult of personality. But with North Korea
taking the Olympic stage, it is finding a wider
audience internationally. North Korea
is sending 22 athletes to the Games and a
230-member cheering squad. The women, sometimes referred
to as Kim Jong-un’s army of beauties, have arrived
in South Korea in what many are calling Kim’s
Olympic charm offensive. The cheerleaders are chosen
by strict criteria on height and family background, according to reports
from a defector. They often wear traditional
Korean garb and use flags and fans in routines. They have also sported more modern,
worldly looks, including Nike baseball caps and T-shirts. The Olympics will be the
first global appearance for the cheerleaders,
but it is their fourth time traveling to the South. They made their
debut there in 2002 at the Asian Games in Busan. They appeared again at the 2003
Summer Universiade in Daegu. Their last trip to the South
was in 2005, for the Asian Athletics Championships. Ri Sol-ju was one of the
cheerleaders at the time — before she got married. The cheerleaders’ participation
at the Olympics is a rare display from a reclusive country
and will undoubtedly be closely watched.

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