Perennially updated government statistics on type II diabetes, ads for hospital cardiac care units shouting for attention from the sides of city buses, and among those announcements’ target audience, the countless people afraid to seek counsel on very real medical risks, long experience having convinced them that every doctor’s go-to treatment is a substantial dose of shame.

The inescapable notion that the primary concern of any new mom is to drop unsightly baby weight and every magazine’s apparent surety that only they have been clever enough to appropriate the phrase “Battle of the Bulge.” Months of international headlines about a desperately ill Egyptian woman dubbed “the world’s heaviest,” accompanied by articles which read as though the sainted BBC had sought to replicate some slimy Victorian newsman’s coverage of Joseph Merrick. (Name doesn’t ring a bell? You may know him as the Elephant Man.)

We, ladies and gentlemen, and those who are both, and those who are neither, have developed a serious obsession. Every society makes a big deal of beauty. Ours makes a big deal of bigness. If our dimensions are expanding, though, they’re not alone: virulent fatphobia is growing right alongside.

Growing, but not taking over — at least not if the Fat Admirers (FA) of the world have anything to say about it. Chubbies, as those of mouthwateringly ample assets are known, are receiving more reverence than ever before from an increasingly open community of adoring “chasers.” Just as labels like queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual and a hundred others can have unique meaning to each individual who claims them, “fat admirer” and “chubby chaser” are not necessarily interchangeable, nor are they mutually exclusive. Representing every shade of gender identity and sexual orientation, those who find themselves drawn to a fuller-than-average figure may consider themselves fetishists or regard their desires as a preference no more deviant or noteworthy than an appreciation of red hair and freckles. Some stand in awe of the hirsute glory of bears and cubs, while others love their lovers silky smooth. What they all have in common, though, is the passionate conviction that bodies condemned by a thin-worshipping society, written off as undesirable or even grotesque, are in fact not merely tolerable, but downright gorgeous.

So where does that leave the chubs? Feeling pretty good, to say the least, especially if they’re chub-for-chub — in other words, chasers with more than a little heft of their own to brag about. Whether we struggle with body image insecurities or are more convinced than anyone that we’re the hottest of hot stuff, the right kind of admiration can be a thrill that’s tough to beat.

The affirmation, it should be noted, goes both ways (no pun intended).

And there’s even better news: in the physical as well as the digital world, chubs and chasers are creating unprecedented opportunities to connect with a community seemingly prouder and more populous by the day. From themed cruises to tailored smartphone apps and exclusive social networks — just one of which claims upwards of 140,000 members and is accessible in half a dozen languages — options abound for those plus-sized guys and admirers who refuse to sacrifice camaraderie for the ultimately insecure security of the orthodox.

Individual attributes and desires notwithstanding, the reality of “chubby chasing” is this: for a phenomenon so often painted as eccentric at best, chasers’ and chubs’ mutual devotion is, at its core, profoundly ordinary. Friendships built on honesty bring a fulfillment encountered nowhere else; love, we hope, gives a new emotional resonance to our lives; even lust and longing can be transcendent. Chubs and chasers seek nothing more and nothing less than to embrace these universal truths. If there is anything that sets them apart, it is only the conviction, both earnest and joyful, that a certain inescapable cliché falls far short of the mark — less, they proudly attest, is not necessarily more.

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