This is why you've never seen a plus size male model
In March 2016, when IMG Models signed Zach Miko as their first ever plus size male model, the fashion industry and the media heralded it as a turning point. At six foot six and with a 42-inch waist, Miko seemed to bring a breath of fresh air to a field dominated by men that are either impossibly waifish or super stacked. And with models such as the beautiful Ashley Graham making their impact felt in the female fashion industry, it seemed only right that men’s fashion finally had a male equivalent. Big changes were afoot.
But two years later, while the prevalence of plus size models such as Graham has increased, there still seems to be a distinct lack of male plus size models. Despite the claims of progress, Miko is still the only plus size male model - or “brawn” as it is officially termed - listed on IMG’s talent portfolio, and Ford Models, Storm Model Management and Next Models NYC - three of the most influential agencies in the world - have none on their websites. So with the average US man having a waist size 38 to 40, are men being left out of the equation in the age of body positivity?
When "London Fashion Week Men’s" opened in January 2018, it was lauded by organisers as: “a celebration of discovery and the creative diversity that has made London an international hub for menswear.” The event saw hundreds of male models take to the catwalk over the course of three days. And while the designers may have been diverse, a diversity of shape and size was distinctly lacking. That said, Rottingdean Baazar who did break the mould by featuring a number of plus size male models, including one in a "We Do Big Sizes" shirt. At New York’s fashion week, which ran from 5 February to 10 February, the story was similar.
But it’s not only in ‘high’ fashion that this is an issue. While movements such as #effyourbeautystandards have pressured high-street retailers to adjust their presentation of female bodies, using bigger models and even using plus size mannequins in shop windows, the same does not seem to have happened for men. To take one example, Nordstrom’s ‘Big and Tall’ range, which caters for taller men with larger waist sizes - a category Zach Miko fits into perfectly - still uses images of men with perfectly chiseled abs, to sell its clothes. And this lack of representation has not gone unnoticed by the public:
That’s not to say there aren’t some exceptions, however. Bridge Models are a London-based modelling agency specialising in curvy models, and in 2016 they launched the UK’s first men’s division for bigger models: “We felt it was time for men to be equally represented in the fashion industry. The body positivity moment has seen some great achievements over the last decade, but it seemed hypocritical to promote diversity and not include men in that discussion,” Charlotte Griffiths, their director, told Four Nine.
Griffiths also brought attention to the crucial role of brawn models in promoting a healthy body image, particularly for the everyday consumer: “With the rise in body dysmorphia issues in young boys we need to be ahead of the curve and show that men come in all shapes and sizes and the 21st Century Man wants to experiment with fashion and would like to have more options on the high street that fit well and suit a variety of styles.”
But from this comes the question of what actually constitutes a “plus size” male model. The term is already contentious, with many arguing that it creates an unnecessary distinction between “normal” and “large” and in doing so does more harm than good. Looking at many of the men on Bridge’s books, you’d be hard-pressed to call most of them ‘large’, but the agency explains on their website that part of their remit is not only to represent the 'XXL' body-type, but also to cover the ‘gap’ between the catwalk and larger plus size.
So does this mean that can we expect to see more plus size - or should we say, real size - models on the catwalks, billboards and magazines in the future? Well, there has already been some shift, with ASOS and boohooman.com among the brands to now use brawn models on the websites, albeit in categories separate from the main collection. But British model Brett Morse told the BBC that he believes things are heading the right way: “I’ve only been involved really for a year and already it’s increasing month of month. I’m getting a lot of work, but also there’s a lot more models already.”
With an upsurge in body positivity movements, a growing appetite from consumers to see models that represent them and more people than ever willing to stand up and say “hey, we can be fashionable too”, the shift towards real-size models in both men’s and women’s fashion is long overdue. But given their conspicuous absence from the world’s fashion weeks and the fact that most of us - let’s be honest - probably couldn’t have named a single plus-size male model, it’s clear that although times may be changing, they’re probably not changing quite quickly enough.