Cathy Woods weighs 500 pounds, wears a 50DD bra and an XXXXXXL dress. She loves her body. And so does her man.

Bikinis are what Cathy Woods and her mom argue over. Cathy, 35, likes wearing bikinis. Her mother, Ruby Lee Woods, would rather see her in a one-piece, maybe something with a skirt. Cathy doesn't think she has anything to hide: She's 500 pounds and proud of it. She sews her own bikinis and makes matching suits for her fat friends.

"I think it's disgusting," says Ruby Lee, 73. "I can't understand why women would want to show their bodies like that to everybody -- especially when they're as big as they are."

She tells her daughter that just because she's big, she doesn't have to flaunt it. But Cathy thinks she's no different from any other girl wearing a bikini, and if people don't want to see her, they don't have to look.

Phillippe Diederich
Showing skin: Cathy (right) sewed matching bikinis for Francine and her other "fat sisters."
Phillippe Diederich
Showing skin: Cathy (right) sewed matching bikinis for Francine and her other "fat sisters."

Cathy describes herself as a BBW, a Big Beautiful Woman. "Sizes don't matter," she says. She wears a 50DD bra and usually an XXXXXXL dress. Her hips are wider than her 30-inch television set. She turns sideways to get through doors. She can't sit in chairs with arms, and buys two seats on airplanes. When she wants to be weighed, she joins Weight Watchers for a week.

Cathy's an accounting clerk, and she lives with her sister in a large house off Highway 290. Some days Cathy walks the dogs or walks laps in her pool. She doesn't have a regular exercise regimen, she says; showering every morning is enough of a workout. Lifting the weight of her flesh to scrub with her sponge-on-a-stick gets her heart rate up.

"You've got to get all the little creases," she says. "You know how men always want to watch you get dressed? There's nothing sexy about watching me get dressed."

It takes her at least five minutes to dry off. She lays a towel on the toilet, then sits on the toilet to dry her bottom (she leaves the lid up so she won't break it). She puts another towel underneath the fold of her stomach and uses a third towel to dry her hair, arms and the rest of the way down.

Then comes powder. She powders any place where there's skin on top of skin: under her breasts, under her belly and between the fat rolls on her thighs.

She loves her belly because it's soft. But she loves her butt because it's the only part of her body that's firm. She hates her thighs, though, because they're so hard to fit pants over. She has only four pairs, and she hardly ever wears them.

She has plenty of other things to wear. Her closet is stuffed, and one wall of her room is taken up with an overstuffed clothes rack. There's even a hook outside her bedroom door holding more dresses.

She collects shoes and perfumes, and on the dresser she keeps a basket full of nail polish. But she doesn't paint her own toenails; it's too much work. Instead, she lets her boyfriend, Dave, give her pedicures when he visits.

Cathy's father (may he rest in peace) said he'd never marry a fat woman. But he did -- Cathy's mom was 180 pounds on her wedding day. They raised seven fat daughters in Pensacola, Florida. Cathy's the youngest and the largest woman in her family. Cathy's mother now weighs 240 pounds, and all of her daughters are over 275.

Cathy's brother, Carl, used to have a 29-inch waist. The family calls him "little man." Recently he expanded to a 36-inch waistband; they tease him that he's finally getting fat.

Cathy started getting chubby when she was four. In sixth grade she was the last person the teacher weighed, and then she forgot to reset the scale from 190. Cathy can't forget that number; all the kids saw and made nasty comments.

When she was 11 her mother put her on a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. But that diet didn't work, and neither did all the ones she tried later. She dieted because everyone else in her family was dieting. When she was 14 she joined Weight Watchers and lost 48 pounds -- her most successful diet -- but she gained it all back. And more.

Until she was 14, Cathy could shop in any adult section; the dresses and pants were always too long, but she hemmed them. When she had to start shopping in the plus sizes, she started wanting to be thinner.

She thought she needed to be thin to get a boyfriend. But fall of her freshman year, she got one. She met another guy in her sophomore year who she dated off and on until graduation.

"I reckon I fit in with the rest of everybody," Cathy says. She never sat on the bench in P.E.; she was just as active as everyone else. And she was fashionable. She bought jeans at Lane Bryant, and if she wanted something that skinny people were wearing, she made it.

At school there was one other fat girl, Gracie. But Gracie didn't dress like the other kids. She wore fat-people clothes, polyester shirts and pants. The kids made fun of her.

Cathy pointed out to them that she was the same size as Gracie.

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