Size doesn’t matter

Club Plus Life caters to a plus-size demographic, but it welcomes anyone who may not fit the size mold set by society.

Club Plus Life caters to a plus-size demographic, but it welcomes anyone who may not fit the size mold set by society.

Photo By Todd Upton

It’s after 10 p.m. on a Friday night at Club Plus Life. An overblown music system cranks out dance hits onto the strobe-lit floor. Amid the pressure blasts of stuttering beats and the bursts of flashing lights, plus-sized men and women jostle for space.

The wallflowers have taken over the prom and are having a hell of a good time.

Big love
Out on the dance floor, full-bodied figures are dancing away: bouncing, wobbling and gyrating with zero inhibition. Somebody yells, “Yo girl, shake what you earned! Shake what you earned!”

This is Club Plus Life, Reno’s “first size-acceptance night club,” a night geared toward living larger than life. At the front door, meeting and greeting and, get this, handing out “virgin beads” to newbies, are the club’s promoters, Jean Olsen and Anthony Piersanti. They look like Laurel and Hardy. Olsen is a whole lotta Rosie, with more curves than a bullpen, and Piersanti is scrawny and geeky. They make great, amiable, enthusiastic hosts. And they seem totally in love.

The two met at a plus-size club in Southern California, in what romantic comedy filmmakers call a “meet cute.” She needed a ride to Reno, he needed gas money. They both brought their iPods so they wouldn’t have to make small talk the whole trip, and then they discovered that their iPods had identical content and that they didn’t even want to listen to anything, so engaged were they in their conversation. A nine-hour drive later and they were partners, personally and professionally.

They started Club Plus Life in mid-October. It’s held every Friday night at Neutron, its new location, where, according to Piersanti, they’ve been able to cut the cover charge in half, from $10 to $5.

“We label ourselves a ‘size-acceptance nightclub,’” says Piersanti. “It’s similar in concept to a gay nightclub, a place where you can be comfortable with who you are. Many people of size don’t feel comfortable in a regular nightclub … but even though we cater to the plus-sized demographic, we’d never turn anyone away because it’s all about size acceptance.”

The very tall, the very short, the very skinny and the very disproportioned are also encouraged to party at Plus Life.

Kim Stiles and Mandy Northrop party at Club Plus Life held at Neutron.

Photo By Todd Upton

Living large
At the club, I talked to a jovial fellow named Gary, a sizable hunk of manmeat and self-described “big guy.” He’s been attending the club since its inception and is excited to watch it grow. “It’s not just for big people,” he says. “Everybody’s accepted whether they’re your size or my size or twice my size. It’s just a great time with great people— people with character who aren’t just trying to conform to some imaginary ideal.”

Olsen fondly remembers her birthday celebration at Club Plus Life. The bartenders made up a special cocktail called “Jean’s Booty,” made with dark rum and pineapple and cranberry juices.

“In all the pictures of my birthday, everyone is gagging and grimacing because the cocktail was so nasty,” she says with a laugh.

Piersanti says he prefers bigger women, but he’s quick to point out that the club is about size-acceptance, not a gawk-fest for fat fetishists. It’s neither a place for chubby chasers, nor is it a friendly harbor for scumbags trolling for insecure girls to take advantage of.

“We had a guy who works at one of the swinger bars approach us about hosting a sex party,” says Piersanti. “And we were like, ‘No, you totally misunderstand what this club is about.’”

The club is about big, wholesome fun: dancing and mingling, nothing sleazy or depraved. The women are quick to ask the guys to dance. So far, the club has attracted more women attendees than men, and big girls are the heart and soul of the place. They’re quick to grab a guy off the bar and say “get on out there” as they heave him out to the dance floor.

Being the bigger person
With size-acceptance also comes a degree of age-acceptance, and there are a number of women a few years older than who one might normally expect to see getting down in a club.

Photo By Todd Upton

“As bigger women get older, they get more confident in themselves,” says Olsen. “But with some of our advocacy work, we really want to promote size-acceptance to younger girls, high school and college-aged girls because that’s when they really need help overcoming stigmas and gaining confidence.”

Size acceptance advocacy is the couple’s main focus, and the club was created primarily to be a center for this community. They have other Plus Life projects in the works, including a size-acceptance cruise to Baja next summer and a magazine geared toward bigger women. While admitting that there are already magazines on the market catering to the lifestyle, Piersanti says cleverly, “those magazines think too small. They tend to focus primarily on fashion. We’d touch on a wider range of issues that affect the plus-sized community, like restaurant reviews that focus on how accommodating the restaurants are to bigger bodies.”

“Being a bigger person, when you walk through a crowd, you don’t always get enough room, and you end up bumping into people, and then they turn and give you nasty looks,” says Olsen. “What’s nice about our club is that if you bump into someone, not only do they not get upset, but they perfectly understand and accept it.”

It’s a big-boned bonding experience, helping others break down body-image stereotypes and gain, not weight, but confidence.

“When I was younger, I struggled with my weight, and even though I might have been thinner at times, I wasn’t healthy,” says Olsen. “We want people to realize that you can have a clean bill of health regardless of size.”

All sizes fit one
Going to plus-size clubs in her native Southern California helped Olsen gain confidence. She felt admired and enjoyed the attention, and it changed her attitude about her body image. She says she’s seen Club Plus Life have a positive effect on others already. “Just the other night, we had a girl come by herself. She started out the night sitting alone in a corner, but then we went over and talked to her, and by the time she was leaving, there were 20 people outside waving goodbye to her.”

These plus-sizers do know how to party.

“There’s no pressure to be cool,” says Piersanti.

Everybody just has a good time. This is a group of people who don’t even bother to try to act cool, and there’s nothing more liberating than that.

Nights at Club Plus Life usually start off with Queen’s tribute to big booty, “Fat Bottom Girls” and usually end with a drunken sing-along of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

“Then everybody goes home,” says Olsen. “With whom, we don’t know.”