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Into the Night

Plus-Size Club Figures on Fun

At a Culver City bar, it's girls' night out for big women and the place to be for the guys who love them.

April 01, 2002|LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Club Curves in Culver City is more or less a standard nightclub. There's a big, beefy guy checking IDs at the door, dim lighting inside, a DJ spinning R&B and hip-hop jams, and a roomful of men and women doing what men and women do in places like this: checking each other out, dropping their best pick-up lines, sipping cocktails and getting their groove on. But there is one distinction. The women here are big. You could call them BBWs, for big beautiful women, the popular acronym many use to describe themselves and one another.

Shadoe Gray, 37, an entrepreneur and freelance computer consultant, and her business partner, Michelle Wilson, 32, an administrator for the city of Los Angeles, BBWs themselves, opened the club late last summer after two years of market research. While other groups such as Big Difference, Ample Images and Mor2Luv host social gatherings locally, they don't happen on a regular basis or at a fixed location, Gray said, making events hard to follow.

"We have just opened the doors to big girls to go out and not wait every three months for an event," she said. "They don't need to wait for a big event to party. It's not fair."

Club Curves, which operates in the former Bar Azure on Sepulveda Boulevard, was a little slow to take off. "Initially, a lot of people did a 'Let's wait and see,'" Gray said. But word has obviously gotten out, primarily via the Internet (the club has a Web site, at www.clubcurves.cc), where there is a vibrant BBW community. About 200 people pack the house each Saturday night and a second night was recently added--Friday evenings is now karaoke--and they hope to open Club Curves every night. Gray has even been fielding calls from BBWs and club owners around the country asking her to open in their town. "There's definitely a need," she said.

Terri Harris and her friend Lynn Solo, both 34, drive in nearly every weekend from Rancho Cucamonga. "This is a place where you can be free and do what you want and not worry about stigmas other clubs put on you," said Harris, at the recent monthly pajama jam, a.k.a. lingerie night, especially popular with men. "For myself, coming to this club has made me more open about who I am and expressing myself to anyone. Before, I would not go to clubs. Now I don't have a problem going to other clubs and being the only fat girl."

Gray hears this sort of thing all the time. "There are women who have never had the nightclub experience," she said. "A lot of full-figured women are married. Men will marry us but not go out in public with us. [The women] have never had that type of social interaction where a guy would ask them to dance. But it's not all that way. A lot of the women who come here have no self-esteem problems."

Take Kelli Payne, 28, of Long Beach, who was at the club recently for the second time. (On her first visit, shortly after the club opened, she met someone whom she dated for several months.) "I've been big all my life and I've never let it stop me from doing anything. Just because you're big doesn't mean you can't flaunt it like the little girls. We just have more of it."

A common misconception about BBW gatherings is that the men too are big. While there were perhaps more big men on average at Club Curves on a recent Saturday night as compared to most other clubs, there were plenty of thin ones too. There were tall men, short men, men in flannel work shirts and others in stylish sport jackets. And, like the women, they were a racially diverse group. It would, in fact, be impossible to generalize about the men here, except to say they like and, in many cases, prefer big women.

"I have a definite attraction to girls who are a little larger," said a slim, handsome 38-year-old Costco employee from Los Angeles, who, like nearly all of the men here, did not want his name used. "In truth," he added, "I think a lot of guys do. But they're not willing to admit it for fear of being harassed by their buddies."

Among some BBWs, there is a concern that a place such as Club Curves further marginalizes a group that is already marginalized. "In a way we are doing that," Gray admitted. "Unfortunately, the way society is, that is sometimes how you have to make a change."

"Some people might fall into the trap that that's the only place they could meet someone," said Linda Ramos, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. to Advance Fat Acceptance. "And that would be a problem. But, overall, it's a positive reinforcement."

"I think it's a really positive step in the right direction for large women and those who like them," said a rugged 37-year-old construction worker from the South Bay. And while thinner women are certainly welcome, "the funny thing is," Gray said, "they don't get any attention."

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