Kim Jong-un is softening his image, literally.
The North Korean dictator has appeared in a recent spate of state media-issued photos looking larger than his former, slimmer self — sparking whispers of health fears for the 32-year-old.
In one particular image dated June 1, Kim stands in a grassy field surrounded by three uniformed officers. The leader, dressed in an oversize pinstripe suit and Panama hat, is years older and visibly pounds heavier from the young dictator frequently photographed visiting factory farms and linking arms with giggling schoolgirls.
Kim's image has been the subject of much fanfare of late. From (unfounded) rumors that his gravity-defying hairstyle would soon sit atop the heads of all North Korean men, to his ever-diminishing eyebrows, Kim's image has become somewhat synonymous with the various news reports that emerge from the reclusive state — often eccentric and bloated.
This photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting a newly constructed nursery and orphanage in Wonsan on the North Korean east coast, 01 June 2015. Photo via Rodong Sinmun/EPA
Photos of the leader sometimes provide the international community and media with the only proof of Kim's wellbeing when suggestions of his ill health routinely crop up. During times that Kim has disappeared from public view, reports have emerged claiming he had everything from a broken foot to gout from eating too much imported cheese.
Indeed, the leader's love of fine wine and food has been the subject of many rumors concerning his health woes. Some news reports have attributed his weight gain to his lifestyle, while others have suggested Kim's vices have led to high blood pressure and diabetes.
"We know that his health is not so good and, in the future, if he is taken seriously ill then there is the possibility of instability or even a coup by elements of the military," Toshimitsu Shigemura, North Korea expert and professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, told The Telegraph.
"And because the Kim family bloodline is so important in North Korean society, they may very well look to Kim's older brother, Kim Jong-nam, to be a figurehead for the new regime."
This undated picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a fish farm under the North's Army Unit No. 810. Photo via Rodong Sinmun/EPA