North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have abandoned his trademark bouffant, relegating one of the world’s most noticeable hair styles to the scrap heap of history.

Reports have said that Kim may travel to China this month for a visit that would be the reclusive leader’s first trip abroad since apparently suffering a stroke in 2008. Kim’s trips to China, his destitute and isolated state’s biggest benefactor and the closest thing it can claim as a major ally, have often led to moves that decrease the security threat Pyongyang poses to the economically vibrant region. This would be Kim’s first trip abroad since falling seriously ill.

Kim changed noticeably in April 2009 when he made his first public appearance after the apparent stroke.

His pot belly pressed less firmly against his muddy shade of grey jumpsuit and his hair had thinned. In photos released by his state’s official KCNA news agency in the following months, Kim is seen putting on a little bit of weight and looking more spry, but his hair still remained thin.

Winter then set in and Kim was mostly only shown wearing hats in public until this month when KCNA released this photo, which appears to confirm that the bouffant is gone.

Kim now goes for a short on the sides look with the little bit of hair left on top brushed back.

South Korean intelligence officials have said the small-in-stature Kim wants to pile his hair as high as possible to make him look a little bit taller. He had to forgo his platform shoes after falling ill mostly because he had trouble with balance, they said.

(Pictures. Top – Kim Jong-il appears at an event in September 2003 to mark the 55th anniversary of the founding of the state in a picture provided by the North’s KCNA news agency. Middle – Kim appears in a video frame grab taken from the North’s state TV at the Supreme People’s Assembly in April 2009. Bottom – Kim tours the Huichon General Machinery Tool Plant in a photo released by KCNA on March 11)

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