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When Bigger is Better - Men Who Like to Date Big Women

KEITH Ridley is one of the most eligible bachelors in Washington, D.C. Young (27), handsome and successful (he is president and general manager of the family funeral home), women gravitate to the 1993 EBONY bachelor like bees to honey

"Sometimes," Ridley says, "I'm amazed by how many and how often sisters make their romantic interest clear."

More often than not, however, Ridley doesn't share their interest. It isn't that the women aren't attractive. Many are. In fact, says Ridley, most men would consider them gorgeous. But Ridley isn't most men.

From the time he was an adolescent, Ridley has been attracted to one type--and only one type--of sister. Large size. Full figured. Abundantly endowed.

"The only thing a thin woman can do for me is introduce me to a |woman of size,'" says the University of the District of Columbia graduate who prefers that phrase to terms like "overweight" or "heavy" to describe large-size women. I've never been attracted to thin or even average-size sisters. I need a woman I can hold on to. Truth be told, my ideal woman is a size 20."

Ridley, who is currently involved in an exclusive relationship with "a beautiful woman of size," is far from alone in his attraction to full-figured women. Though experts say they do not represent the majority, a substantial number of men prefer full-figured women.

Big Beautiful Women, a national magazine for large-size women, recently published a cover story, "Big Beautiful Women and the Men Who Love Them," in which men attracted to and/or in love with large-size women sang their praises.

Interestingly, say researchers, fewer Black men than White men view a thin body as the ultimate--or only--standard of beauty. "Though the average Black and Hispanic man prefers a thin woman, research indicates that Black and Hispanic men are more tolerant, more accepting, of larger-size women than White and Asian men," says Dr. David Allison of the Obesity Research Center at Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

In fact, in his recent study on the ethnic differences in men's preferences for women's body shapes, Dr. Allison found a small but statistically significant difference between ethnicity and preference.

"When we analyzed the |personal advertisements' [for romantic partners] men placed in a number of newspapers and magazines, Black and Hispanic men were more likely to request fat women than were White and Asian men," says Dr. Allison. What's more, says Dr. Allison, "Black men more frequently said that weight did not matter."

Similarly, in her recent study on the weight-related attitudes of Black women, Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika, an associate professor with the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine, found a higher tolerance for larger-size figures among both African-American men and women. Specifically, Dr. Kumanyika found that:

* Only about half of the overweight Black women in her study who had ever tried to lose weight reported that their boyfriend or husband liked the idea.

* Only about one-third--36 percent--of severely overweight women said that their husband or boyfriend even thought they were very overweight.

* Although nearly all the overweight women perceived themselves to be so, a substantial number--40 percent--considered their figures to be attractive.

"Our findings suggest that the social environment of Black women is less negative about obesity than might be commonly assumed based on data for White women, and that being overweight is not necessarily synonymous with being unattractive," says Dr. Kumanyika, whose study was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Bottom line: "Being thin isn't as central to the self-esteem of Black women as it is to White women," says Dr. Kumanyika.

Nor, apparently, is it even attractive to a number of Black men who, like Ridley, say they prefer women of size. That's music to the ears of millions of American women, 60 percent of whom wear a size 12 or larger.

Rozalind Darby, for example, is engaged to a man who not only doesn't buy into the thin-is-beautiful ethos of American society--an ethos, she says, was shared by other men she dated before her engagement--he admires her size-14 figure.

"Before I met Dennis," says Darby, a 32-year-old educational coordinator for a Maryland youth organization, "I dated a man who hassled me about my weight. Not only does Dennis not complain about my size, he tells me how much he likes the way I look."

Actually, Dennis Ferguson, a 33-year-old accounting clerk, says he loves his fiancee's size. In fact, it was her size that first attracted him to Rozalind when they were introduced by mutual friends at church. "From the moment I saw her," says Ferguson, "I started trying to find out who she was. I loved her eyes and her size."

Like Ferguson, Reginald Broddie, 35, an administrator for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, is not attracted to thin women. "I love big-boned women," says Broddie who has been happily married to a woman of size (14) for five years.

But, emphasize Broddie, Ridley and Ferguson, their attraction to women of size goes far beyond the physical. All three men say women of size have a different attitude--about themselves, their relationships, their lives.

"Women of size tend to be very stable emotionally," says Ridley. "They put their emphasis on family and on keeping the relationship together and strong. And, unlike many thin sisters, women of size don't come with an attitude that says, |I know I've got it going on so what can you do for me?' They are less concerned with what's in my wallet and more concerned with what's in my heart. They are very down to earth, very real and, most important, very clear about their commitment to making the relationship work through the bad times as well as the good times."

Broddie agrees. "Women who have meat on their bones seem to have a different way about them," he observes. "They are more fun to be with because they aren't wrapped up in the superficial."

Such as? "Such as the way they look and what size dress they wear," says Broddie. "Before I got married, I dated a number of small women and their appearance often dominated their life. If we went out to dinner, it was always, |I can't eat much because I might put on weight.' I remember planning a trip to the Bahamas with one young lady and in the two-week period before we left, I saw the craziest person I've ever seen in my life trying to starve herself to lose weight. Things like that rob everyday pleasures of their joy. With my wife, it's not like that. When we go to the islands, we go to enjoy the whole experience--the beach, the food, each other."

Equally important, says Ferguson, is the refreshing lack of vanity he has found in full-figured women. "Thin women often have an arrogance about them that full-figured women don't," says Ferguson. "That is a very attractive quality."

So is being in a relationship with a man who appreciates you the way you are. "You can't put a price on that," says Darby, expressing the sentiment of numerous women. "It's such a welcome attitude."

It is an attitude that is particularly welcomed by Black women, many of whom are full-figured. (According to experts, in the United States, the prevalence of obesity among Black women is approximately twice that of White women.)

But the bigger-is-better perception isn't just a man thing. Like many men, many women prefer a man of size. "I was attracted to my husband's stature from the first time I saw him," says 33-year-old Vernessa Broddie, a habilitation plan coordinator, of her husband who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 265 pounds. "Men of a certain size and stature have a commanding presence. a certain self-assurance about them."

Darby agrees. "When I first met Dennis, the first thing I thought was how handsome he looked in his clothes," she says of her fiance who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 210 pounds.

As the loving relationships enjoyed by these, and many other couples like them, make clear, more men and women are feeling free to express their love for and attraction to people who interest them, whatever their size. As Ridley puts it, "Good things come in all sizes. Just make mine a size 20."