Sue Sweeney's red curly hair would be her crowning glory, if it weren't for her sassy personality. In her 40s, Sweeney is a people person. She has to be, because she runs the Rhode Island branch of the country's largest personal introduction service, Right One and Together Dating.
On the lookout for men who would like to meet her full-figured clients, she attended an event called the Big Shots Dance. "I weigh 212," she says, "and I was the tiniest woman there! There were women up to 600 pounds, dancing, even wearing latex. Not spandex ... latex.
"It was kind of a different experience," Sweeney says.
Yes, but a different experience that so-called "women of size" or "big, beautiful women" (as many prefer) are having more and more these days. In Los Angeles, Club Curves, the only full-time bar for BBWs, has opened its second location and is cutting the ribbon on a Vegas casino for BBWs and their admirers in the fall.
Started in 2001 by two women with experience in trying to crack mainstream clubs, Club Curves was created as a permanent party location for full-figured women. According to the founders, the club provides a "safe environment" for many women who had previously never been to a nightclub for fear of being outcast or ridiculed or who want to be around those who like their look. Similar type dances, such as the one Sweeney attended, are given occasionally by various organizations around the country with names like More2Love, Big Difference, and Ample Images. In Atlanta, a club called Hipsters even has a motto: "No skinny chicks (unless they know Big is Beautiful)".
BBWs and the Men Who Love Them
Like many BBWs, Sweeney isn't especially looking for slender men ("I don't like to feel I can put them in my pocket or break them like a stick," she says). But she says she was surprised at how "normal" the men were at the Big Shots Dance. "Average," she sums up. "They were nicely dressed, preppies, every sort. I guess I expected dorks and geeks."
Rodney A. Battles can explain that, if it needs explaining. Battles is the author of the book Night Games! A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Nightclub and Bar Scene. "I have spent years in clubs, and I think a man considers it a successful night out if he gets a couple of slow dances, while women want to be noticed. The amount of attention they get tells them if the night has been successful."
In a club for BBWs (he's been to one), Battles says, large women are more likely to ask men to dance. "They are more comfortable being the initiator, and men like that. It levels the playing field. The men won't come looking for Barbie Dolls because they know Barbie Dolls won't be there." (Interestingly, although they are welcome at these clubs, skinny women don't attract a crowd.) In what he calls a "normal" club, Battles contends that a man would look at a Barbie Doll with no hope of speaking with her all evening before he would talk to a larger woman who might be a riot and a great dancer.
Sweeney laughs at that one. "My son is a part-time bouncer at a club, and he said a lot of guys like bigger girls but that it's like riding in a station wagon -- you're more comfortable but you don't want your friends to see you."
So It's Up to the Woman
"We like women to break the ice," Battles reiterates. "Men in clubs are scared to death." He advises, however, that larger women wear provocative, though becoming, clothes, "Nothing hoochie." A woman, he says, should be classy in manner and style and professional, a good girl who knows how to be bad. "A lady in the streets," he chants lest his meaning be lost, "and a bad girl in the sheets." He also says he believes clubs that cater to larger women encourage them to be uninhibited on the dance floor, "bumping and grinding," he recalls of his one visit to such a club.
"You have to find the place within you that's special," Sweeney advises her voluptuous sisters. "I always wear beautiful clothes, makeup, jewelry. You'd be surprised the women I see going out in sweats. And my skinny friends ask me, 'Why do the men always talk to you?' Well, if you perceive yourself as OK, others will, too. In fact, a lot of women in the club probably don't even see themselves as overweight."
"Men," advises Battles, "if you go to such a club and a woman asks you to dance, dance! If it's a slow dance, make it a good slow dance. Ask her to dance back. Offer to buy her a drink. Women are just looking for a normal man who wants to have fun -- no matter what size they are."
Sweeney herself is dating a personal trainer. "People look at us a little funny sometimes," she giggles. "I once asked him why he was with me, and he said he wanted a woman with personality, humor, intelligence, and those were more important to him than body size."
"If I can't admit that at age 43," her boyfriend told her, "I never will."