Living large 

On a summer night in June almost every seat in the bar at the Ramada Inn in Warren is taken. Bowls of chips, half-full glasses and left-over name tags garnish the tables.

Everyone in the room is huddled in a conversation of some sort, and it seems like a regular night at any bar. The only noticeable difference is that everyone probably weighs more than 200 pounds, except for a few men who might be FAs (Fat Admirers). Over the noise and music, a man with a microphone announces that the line-dancing lesson is starting.

"I never imagined I would dance at a party," the woman next to me says. "I was insecure. But I never stop dancing at our parties."

Her name tag says Kimberly Zager, and she is the director of a local Big Beautiful Women (BBW) social club called More To Adore. Through its strong Internet presence, the club draws people of size and FAs from all over Michigan, Windsor, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and other parts of the Midwest. And its parties are a haven for those people of size who otherwise wouldn’t get out of the house.

Zager, a Michigan-born steelworker in her mid-20s, moves with confidence as she leads the way through the crowded bar toward the line-dancing room. On her way, she welcomes incoming guests to this More To Adore party and explains why she, her roommate Carrie Galloway and two friends founded the club last February.

"In New York they have a bar just for big women," Zager explains. "In Detroit we have nothing. Most of the people here found out about us online. They walk in and ask what’s your screen name? So we are really trying to get the word out."

And the word is that the sad, depressed fat people in TV commercials for dieting programs and miracle drugs are nothing like the upbeat dancing men and women at this More To Adore event.

"The stereotype is that fat women are lazy, that we are desperate, and that we will go after any man that will pay us attention. That isn’t true. The women who come here feel good about themselves. They go swimming without wearing a T-shirt over their bathing suits because they can without worrying about anybody snickering."

More To Adore’s mission is to provide a comfortable social environment for BBWs, Big Handsome Men (BHMs) and their admirers. The majority of guests at most of the social club events are women, and the term BBW gained its popularity because it is also the name of a popular magazine for women of size.

More To Adore events draw about 50 to 75 people. They are open to people of all sizes and do not require a membership fee. For about $15 per person, guests can attend parties, large-size lingerie shows, dances, indoor beach parties and holiday events. There are also plans for an exercise class in the fall.

Zager says she hopes to work together with the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) to unite all the BBW clubs in the Midwest, including More to Love in Michigan, Living and Loving Large in Fort Wayne, and Plumpers and Colossal Cuties in Chicago.

Regina Williams is an Ann Arbor-based writer, speaker and the chairperson of NAAFA’s Michigan chapter, which is now in its 20th year. She contributed an essay, "Conquering the Fear of a Fat Body: The Journey Toward Myself," to the 1998 book Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity, edited by Ophira Edut. NAAFA does support social clubs, Williams says, by announcing their activities. She also agrees that they do provide a service to people of size. But she has concerns about making social clubs a primary focus in the community. "People (in the size community) really don’t want to face the issues," she says. "They want to put a Band-Aid on it. They don’t want to confront it. We are hoping to collaborate with the social clubs in the area to host an end-of-summer beach party and a fall hay ride. But we are restructuring our chapter to address some of the very real issues that tend to get ignored within the size community.

"They will say that this is the only time fat people will get out of the house. And that’s true, and that’s great. But my vision for NAAFA is not to create a hiding place for fat people. I want to give you what you need to get out there, take control and really live your life to the fullest."

Williams has organized some NAAFA meetings and discussion groups. But she says more people turn out for parties than more serious functions where they can talk about subjects like fat discrimination in the workplace and the way the media either portray or ignore people of size.

It might seem as though America is ready to make room in its skinny beauty standards for women size 14 and over. There are plenty of signs of hope, beginning with Oprah’s sexy sprawling photo on the cover of Vogue. Revlon hired its first large-size model, Emme, who appears on the E! cable network. After Camryn Manheim of ABC’s "The Practice" accepted her 1998 Emmy Award "for all the fat girls," she wrote her hit book, Wake up – I’m Fat! And Rosie O’Donnell has gained a faithful following with or without her Chub Club.

These days we see more full-figured celebrities, more attractive images of people of size and better plus-size fashions than ever before. But as Williams points out in an interview, there are plenty of economic reasons for companies to cater to women who are tired of walking the perimeters of a weight-obsessed society wearing tent blouses and polyester pants held up by elastic waistbands.

The fashion industry has come a long way with national chains such as Lane Bryant and other plus-size clothing stores. But that doesn’t necessarily mean attitudes are changing.

"We are still inundated daily with diet commercials, fitness infomercials, the newest miracle weight loss pills, etc.," Williams says. "I truly believe that retailers merely see an opportunity to capitalize on a market that has virtually been ignored."

Williams’ words are those of a strong, self-assured woman. In fact, it is hard to believe this is the same woman who has suffered so much emotional pain because of her weight. She was teased in school and spent her nights baby-sitting while her friends were out on dates. But it is even harder to imagine a better spokesperson for people of size. She has been fat – her word – all her life.

As a teenager, Williams’ discomfort with her body turned into intense self-hatred. Later on, feeling undesirable and unloved led her into bad relationships, one with a crack addict.

In her Adios, Barbie essay, Williams writes, "I admit, I joined NAAFA to meet Mr. Wonderful (hasn’t happened yet). But I stayed to join the fight against the rampant discrimination against fat people in this country … I’m a fat black woman. I’m all of the things that society dumps on. And I will no longer apologize for my weight, my race or my gender."

While NAAFA struggles to raise the political consciousness in the size community and American society in general, Zager has slipped off her shoes and learned to line-dance.

Her organization’s mission might not change the world, but it is changing the social lives of the people who attend its functions. Some come from as far away as Texas as well as other parts of the Midwest.

"Our purpose is to show people that just because you are big doesn’t mean you have to sit at home on the couch and have a pity party," Zager says. "You can get out and dance and meet people, just like anybody else.

"We are not a fat acceptance group like NAAFA. We don’t promote being fat, we promote being happy. If you’re fat and you know you’re going to be fat, then it’s time to just accept yourself for who you are."

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