The actress and model is fighting sizeism in Japan
Naomi Watanabe is everywhere in Japan. She’s the country’s most-followed person on Instagram, and she cameoed as a tasseled bumblebee costume in Desiigner’s “Panda.” Billboards, magazine covers, and mass transit doors are plastered, Vogue notes, with her face. If you haven’t yet heard of her, now you know.
Watanabe went viral in 2008 with videos where she lip-synched Beyoncé’s “Dream Girls” and “Crazy In Love” while shaking her hips and whipping her hair. Nowadays, she’s posing for photographs with A$AP Rocky, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, and Eva Chen, just to drop a few names, and can count Lena Dunham as a fan. Vogue chatted with Watanabe about her new comedy series Kannasaaan!, a TBS show based on a manga comic about a plus-size fashion designer. It’s an aptly themed show considering Watanabe is the plus-size fashion designer of her own brand Punyus — which loosely translates to “chubby” in English.
“The truth is that most designers, however kawaii, simply don’t cater to larger-than-average women, even when they’re famous,” Vogue writes. “For a recent Fendi party in Tokyo, finding a Naomi-sized garment meant organizing a stylist search squad: ‘We had like 50 people trying to find a product I could fit in! Eventually, we found a floor-length skirt that worked.’” Watanabe says she is currently more than happy to stay on the periphery of the fashion world, a world she compares to a huge, shiny and beautiful pool to dip just one toe into before getting scared and jumping back out.
Japan is a country with narrow beauty standards where the average weight of a Japanese woman is 115 pounds. Watanabe is insistent that Punyus, in spite of what it might be marketed as, is not an exclusively plus-size brand. “I don’t want to discriminate at all,’ she tells Vogue. “If I did a plus-size only brand, I think it would be discriminatory against smaller sized people.”
You’ll likely be hearing more from Watanabe as she embarks on her international tour. Sometimes the revolution comes in the form of a contagiously confident young woman, with double buns and glittery eyes.