By Kim Young-jin
Double-eyelid and other cosmetic surgeries are apparently gaining popularity in North Korea, as tastes among its elite become increasingly cosmopolitan.
Sources in Pyongyang told Daily NK, which reports on the North, that a growing number of women are paying under the table for the cosmetic procedures.
"Double-eyelid surgery and procedures on eyebrows, lips and the corners of eyes are widespread", it quoted a source as saying.
Double eyelid surgery makes eyes appear bigger by creating a crease in the eyelid. As such procedures remain illegal, women pay doctors bribes of around $20 to conduct them in secret.
The report came as North Koreans, especially those in Pyongyang, are believed to be embracing western styles despite the country's ongoing food woes.
A kilogram of rice costs some $14, the report said. Inflation has reportedly soared recently due to poor harvests and a disastrous currency revaluation in 2009. The U.N. believes a quarter of North Koreans are in dire need of food aid.
Despite this, Daily NK said it is becoming common for women to seek the latest accessories, including hoop earrings, which were subject to crackdowns in the past.
"These days they're not cracking down on them, so a lot of women are going around with the earrings", a source said.
Restrictions on clothing have reportedly been eased of late, a move some watchers attribute to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's youngest son and heir, Kim Jong-un.
Analysts say the twenty-something Jong-un is taking on more responsibilities over domestic affairs in a bid to gain popular support as he attempts to take power from his father, who is 69.
Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia reported that the regime is moving to ban non-official travel to China in an apparent bid to block information about the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa from seeping in.
Many goods sold in North Korean markets originate from China.
The regime reportedly beefed up security around its leader in the wake of the "Jasmine Revolution" protests that toppled a series of authoritarian leaders including former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Though the regime controls its people with an iron-fist, increasing amounts of information is reportedly flowing through its borders including news from the outside and American and South Korean DVDs.