The big source of attention at a military parade in North Korea on Thursday wasn't weaponry, it was the physical appearance of leader Kim Jong Un. The 37-year-old looked noticeably thinner while sporting a new haircut (perhaps a nod to his grandfather) and a tan, reports Bloomberg. Kim also appeared to be more energetic than usual as he smiled and waved to the crowd, notes the AP. The outlet draws a contrast to TV footage from 2018 in which Kim couldn't seem to catch his breath while on a short hike with South Korea's president. “His face is clearly thinner and he is moving much more vigorously,” observes Park Won-gon, an expert on North Korea at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University. As Insider notes, Kim's health has been the source of much speculation in recent years, and the new images add another new wrinkle.
Kim had disappeared from view for quite a while before emerging in June with a thinner frame—South Korea's intelligence service once pegged him at above 300 pounds—but Thursday's photos suggest he has continued to lose weight over the summer. So what's going on? The notoriously secretive regime isn't saying, but the AP story by Kim Tong-Hyung suggests it's not an illness but a calculated PR move as the nation faces problems on everything from US sanctions to food shortages. "It has become crucial for Kim to build an image as a young and vigorous leader," reads the story. Another North Korean expert has a more personal explanation: “He's also a husband and a father of three children who is approaching his 40s, so it isn't strange that he would care about his health,” says Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. (Read more Kim Jong Un stories.)