A plump woman in a cherry red bikini revealing generous rolls of flesh stares at the world. She strikes a seductive pose, with one fleshy thigh perched high on the curve of a loop of vine leaves and a bunch of purple grapes dangling from a chubby arm. She is called My Fat Lady — and is the central theme of a series of watercolours by Lebanese artist Ghida Younes.
Younes celebrates women in all shapes and sizes. Through each of her paintings — recently exhibited at the Fann A Porter gallery in Dubai, UAE — she seeks to foster “body positivity”. Her Fat Lady is adorned with summer flowers and fruit. The uninhibited and seemingly fearless figure frolics with confidence in every painting.
Created in the summer of 2013, My Fat Lady is Younes’s alter ego. The character emerged from her personal experience with weight loss that year, she says.
“I was losing my curves and afraid of losing my identity. I had always been plump, and humour was an integral part of my personality. As I shed the kilos I was mostly worried that I might not be funny anymore, and that the change in my body might change my character. So, I started painting the fat lady, injecting humour in every pose, glorifying her curves and loving fat,” Younes says.
Painted in vibrant hues using gouache on paper, the works reflect her joie de vivre. In one frame, she is hanging upside down, tied to a string of bright balloons; in another, she is soaking in a bubble bath in a giant flute of champagne. She is seen swaying on a floral swing in one work; in another, two vine leaves cover her breasts as she bites into a red apple.
Born in the Lebanese village of Deirkoubel, the 48-year-old painter has always had a strong association with food. So much so that the first word that she uttered as a baby, Younes says, was bonbon (candy in French). But back in 2013, working as a creative director for a TV show, Younes wanted to shed the kilos she had piled on over the years.
“I was 85 kilos. My weight had started affecting my health and I decided to lose the excess,” she recalls. She learnt to cook healthy meals and shed 20 kilos over time.
But as an ode to her lost curves, and to help her cope with her feelings, she started painting. “My Fat Lady is the fat woman I was and who is still in me even with a few kilos less. I started living all my pleasures, dreams and jokes through her. I believe that each one of us has a fat lady persona hidden inside. The lady who loves to have fun, eats a whole doughnut and does not regret a single bite,” she says.
The Fat Lady is drawn with exaggerated curves, her hair tied in a high bun, wearing bright bikinis and clearly having the time of her life. The series showcases her free spirit and the fact that she does not take herself or her weight too seriously. Being plump does not make her any less agile. She pole dances and swirls a hula hoop around her thick waist in some of the paintings.
A self-taught artist, Younes started out as an Arabic teacher and then worked as a copy writer in Leo Burnett in Beirut from 1997. She left the advertising agency in 2010 to pursue a screen writing course at the New York Film Academy.
After the course she returned to Beirut to turn producer on a television show. It was during this time that she lost weight and started painting. The first of the series was the lady in a yoga position followed by one in which she is applying nail paint to her toes, resting her foot cheekily on a pile of diet books.
The series was first displayed in December 2016 as part of an exhibition at The Artist’s Corner in Beirut, followed by one at the Tawlet Restaurant, Beirut, and at a women’s rights exhibition in Kuwait. The paintings were on show at the Dubai gallery till the end of 2018. Younes hopes to take her paintings to other countries, including India, in the future.
Like her creator, the protagonist has a mind of her own. “She decides what she wants to do. I feel I have a created a character who has a story to tell and I see people relate to her,” Younes says.
The subject and her unapologetic indulgences spur conversations at exhibitions. Everyone loves the fact that she is round and proud. “A visitor told me that she wants to get one of her overweight daughters to the gallery because she wants her to see how one can be comfortable in their own body, no matter the shape or size,” she says.
Younes’s art hopes to break the stereotypical image of hourglass bodies showcased on social media, magazine covers and television commercials. Her Fat Lady is a tribute to the female form.
“People are amazed by her flexibility and humour. She makes them laugh. Some of them feel empowered. I think what they love about her is her freedom of being and her love for the simple pleasures of life,” she says.
Tessy Koshy is an independent journalist based in Dubai