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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Food, Friends at the Fatness Club

In the spring of 1991, Misha Privezentsev ran a personal ad saying he wanted to meet "plump girls."

"It turned out to be fate," said Marina, 27, who answered the ad. Marina, who weighs 120 kilograms, is now married to Privezentsev, 21, who himself weighs 122 kilograms.

Perhaps prompted by the success of that ad, Privezentsev placed another -- this time soliciting interest in an entire social group for "fat" Muscovites. Over 150 people answered the Moskovsky Komsomolets ad, and the Fat Club was born.

To an English-speaker's ear, the name -- transliterated, not translated, into Russian as "Fet-Klub" -- has an almost in-your-face ring to it. But for some of the club's members, the name's foreign sound has the opposite effect, obscuring and somehow glamorizing its literal meaning.

"Klub dlya tolstykh (club for fat people) sounds unpleasant somehow," said Tanya Bulekova, 17, a public nutrition student.

Nonetheless, the club is all about facing up to fatness, getting over "complexes" about weight and creating a comfortable and fun social atmosphere for its members. The Fat Club is not about dieting.

"If someone wants to, then let him, it's his own private business," said Marina Privezentseva. "I tried for a long time, and now I want to show that you can live just as well being plump."

The club's roughly 50 members usually meet in smaller groups on a weekly basis. At a recent Sunday meeting, one such group whisked through administrative details, set out two cream-filled, chocolate-covered cakes, and got down to its favorite activity: chatting over tea.

Photos were passed around of club members at a country picnic, relaxing and baring round stomachs to the sun. The Privezentsevs reminisced about their first date (Misha proposed on the third).

So far, there have been no more weddings in the group. But, Privezentsev insists, at least one is in the making, and the club is determined to eventually see all of its members married off.

Some members downplayed the importance of meeting plump peers. "Some plump person, if he was teased a lot in school, may feel uncomfortable in society," said Katya Mashova, 21. "But I'm not that way. I associate normally with fat people, skinny people, whomever I want."

Others disagreed. "There are some thin people who think a fat person is not a person," said Sergei Nazarov, the club's vice president. "For now, fat and thin people cannot live together in harmony."

But he was jolly about his own build -- "You will know me by my voluminous figure," he said when arranging a meeting with someone on the phone -- and said the club was open to anyone, regardless of girth, who "wants to hang out with plump people."

"We are very happy, humorous people," he said. "We are always kind, we never mean any harm to anyone, and we like to eat very well."

When not eating well, the club crusades to advance the cause of the kilogrammically-endowed. Privezentsev's favorite project is "Miss Ponchik," a beauty contest he says he dreamed up to provide an arena for "success for large girls." Ponchik, or "doughnut," is slang for a plump young woman.

Over 100 contestants have already signed up to vie for the crown. Privezentsev said he is planning two divisions: "fat and very fat," since some weigh just 85 kilograms, "the skinniest of the fat," while others are "like Marina, or even bigger."

Privezentsev said the club had also helped convince Nikolai Ptichkin, the chubby son of composer Yevgeny Ptichkin, to open a men's store called Tri Kita, or "three whales" ("You can get a belt there as long as you are tall!"). Also in the works is Pyshka, (a flattering term for plump women from the word for a soft, freshly-baked roll) a clothing store on the fashionable Novy Arbat.

Back at the meeting, debates broke out over whether obesity is hereditary, linked to eating habits, or both.

For Sergei, who says 17 percent of Russians are overweight, it's simply a national tradition. "Russians have always been very hospitable," he said. "You have to feed your guests, and you feed yourself too."