Naomi Watanabe is a Japanese actress, comedian, fashion designer and body-positivity advocate. She rose to fame in 2008 for her imitation of Beyoncé Knowles, after which she was given the title “the Japanese Beyoncé.” Being twice the size of an average Japanese woman her age, Watanabe uses her comedy and confidence to fight fat shaming and promote body positivity. With 8.9 million followers, she is Japan’s most followed Instagram account.
Raised in Ibaraki, north-east of Tokyo, Watanabe was raised by her Taiwanese mother who spoke to her in “broken Japanese.” When she was 15, she shocked her mother and Taiwanese relatives saying she wanted to become a comedian. They urged her to go to university and get married, but she joined a training school for comedians at the age of 18.
Watanabe launched her own fashion line called Punyus (loosely translated to "chubby" in English) in 2014. The current collection includes sizes from extra small to a 6X large. “My concept is not to have a concept. I don’t want customers of my brand to be limited by a stereotype that people who are fat should wear this type of clothes or that,” Watanabe told The Financial Times. In September 2018, the brand held its first shop outside of Japan as a pop-up in Taipei, and counts with an international e-commerce website. Sales have increased steadily.
In 2018, Watanabe joined the ranks of Time magazine’s list of the 25 most influential people on the internet. She is a brand ambassador for makeup brand Shu Uemura and has collaborated on two collections, the latest in July 2019.