When I met Ghida Younes on the charming terrace of the Albergo Hotel, it was a gray, gloomy, rainy afternoon in Beirut. The woman sitting in front of me, however, emanated every color of the rainbow with her deep-red lipstick, curly auburn hair held back with a boldly printed scarf, and her larger-than-life personality.
It is with this very same energy that Younes imbues each and every one of her paintings of My Fat Lady – or her alter ego, she explains.
We take shelter from the rain underneath a wide awning and order black coffee as she begins to tell me more about the body-positive message behind her art.
Tell me a little bit about your background.
I started my career in advertising with Leo Burnett. I left after 13 years to pursue my passion for storytelling, which took me to New York for a screenwriting course at the New York Film Academy. When I returned to Lebanon, I created and produced my own TV show that was aired on local TV.
When did you start drawing My Fat Lady?
She was born on a hot August afternoon in 2013. I guess that makes her a sexy Leo.
How did the idea come to you?
I’ve always been round and chubby (all the politically correct words to say “fat”), and that was the building block of my personality. Often, people will try to compensate for not having the perfect body by developing other qualities… Mine was humor – and the ability to not take myself or my image too seriously. I believe that I owe a huge part of my personality and who I am today to my lovely sugarcoated body.
In 2013, I had lost quite a bit of weight. Faced with the prospect of losing that physical aspect of myself, I began to fear losing my identity.
That’s when and why I started drawing My Fat Lady, as a sort of therapy. Her moves, poses, and actions are very intuitive and representative of my desires, dreams, aspirations, and everything that I love. Every painting of My Fat Lady is a simple exercise in self-expression that comes out intuitively and unapologetically.
What events or experiences in your own life have influenced My Fat Lady?
Limitations. Boundaries imposed by society and codes that I didn’t fully believe in, but which I adhered to in the beginning based on “norms” and expectations. I grew up hearing things like “no, you cannot wear jeans,” which meant “you don’t have the right body to wear jeans.” Or “if you’re fat you cannot wear a bikini”. My Fat Lady can wear whatever she wants if it makes her feel good, and she indulges from time to time, treating herself to a donut or two – completely guilt free.
How would you describe her?
My Fat Lady loves to celebrate all the deliciousness of life in all its colors. She is fearless and light in spirit. She doesn’t conform to social norms. She loves her body and is so happy in it. She bursts with sensuality and humor in all of her femininity. She is my tribute to women of all shapes and sizes. She is an invitation to celebrate a woman’s freedom in her own body.
What has been people’s response to her?
People love her playfulness, fearlessness, and sensual self-indulgence. Some people say they see themselves in her – including skinny women! I think they see her beyond her fat. They love her fullness and her appetite for life, her confidence and her light-spirited attitude. I think they also love how celebratory she is, of her body and of life in colors.
What does My Fat Lady think of conventional beauty standards?
What is conventional beauty? To have the perfect nose, lips, and eyes? Well, she decided not to have a face. Instead, she expresses herself with her body.
If the conventional beauty standard is to be thin, My Fat Lady tries to prove that there’s more of her to love every time she strikes a pose, and she makes sure her curves are glorified, round, and proud. She’s fat and fabulous. She’s a celebration of voluptuousness and all it represents – sensuality, warmth, vigor, and boundless joy.
If My Fat Lady could say something to the women of the world, what would it be?
Celebrate your body, fat or thin, in all its beauty. When you love it, you make it beautiful. Give yourself the love and everybody will feel that. Don’t spend so much time worrying about what other people think and focus more on what makes you happy. Don’t conform. Appreciate the specialness and the preciousness of being you – imperfect, unconventional, simple, extreme, unapologetic. Whatever shape or form that comes in, celebrate it.