Representation & Desire: A Plus Sized Male Model

Model Zach Miko. Photograph: Leonardo Corredor

Plus-sized female models are making inroads in mainstream fashion, and while this representation isn’t without its problems, it is telling that the question of plus-sized male models has only recently entered the conversation with the signing of Zach Miko as Target’s first ever plus-size male model.

Zach Miko via Target.comMiko is white, 6’6, with a 40 inch waist and signed to IMG, one of the top modeling agencies in the world. While Miko is not the first plus-sized male model, he is the first with a major agency and the first signed on to a major mainstream retailer like Target. He may also be the first being touted as “plus-sized” as opposed to “big and tall,” though IMG is advertising him as “brawn.” These distinctions are important, and they tell us a lot about the state of body acceptance in Western culture and the different gendered expectations that come with it.

Similar to “curvy” as opposed to “plus-sized,” “brawn” is meant to evoke a burly, lumberjack type man. He is not as mainstream as the 8-pack sculpted bro seen on the cover of Men’s Health, but he still has a certain level of desirability and romanticism stamped on the image he evokes. In the same vein, “curvy” evokes a hyperfeminized bombshell babe like a 1950’s pin-up girl with an hourglass shape. Jes Baker, the fantabulous body positive blogger for Militant Baker, overviews the positive-side of this representation, as well as its limits in her article, “Why the Hourglass Figure is the Only Version of Plus-Size That We See:”

“We’re seeing the start unconventional bodies and their value, but still defining that there is a “right” way to have that body. Our junk must bookend our midsections, or else it’s wrong. This is a problem, y’all.”

Like the hourglass shape is the “right” way to have an acceptable plus-sized body for a woman, the “brawn” is the right way to have an acceptable plus-sized male body. If the brawny guy does not have the hard body of the mainstream male model, he will at least be over six feet tall and probably chop wood or perform some other similar masculine-coded activity. And to be clear, this representation does not fall on the shoulders of Miko. He is speaking up about diversity and representation, including the problems with deeming certain types of bodies healthy or unhealthy, as well as sharing his personal struggles with body image, something men are often conditioned to speak little to nothing about when compared to women. Consequently, I think what Miko is saying and representing is important and brave and what we need to hear, in addition to other stories.

If you regularly read our site, you know how we feel about representation—representation is personal and political. Seeing a model, even one who may be only slightly off the beaten path like Miko, is important to expanding what society deems desirable and valuable. We all, to some extent, want to be desired, or as Miko puts in an interview with The Guardian:

“You’re [men] not supposed to care about how you look. If you have issues, you aren’t supposed to talk about it. It’s considered weak or un-masculine. Which is stupid. It’s about having feelings that make you human. I think, even now with the progression, you still have that 1950s male mentality of men being strong and emotionless.”

Wanting to feel desired and caring about our physical appearance are exactly that—things that make us human. I did a little research on this, and by a little, I mean I asked my own “man of size” partner. Like Miko, he is over six-feet tall, white, and was bullied as a kid. He said of Miko, “he’s not plus-sized.” Additionally, Miko even agrees that he is “not exactly big.” Both comments highlight the difficulty of affixing labels to these various representations.

Fortunately, with the Internet, finding more diverse communities is a little easier than it once was. For example, Chubstr is a great site for the plus-sized man who is interested in fashion and style. Chubstr essentially acts as a curator for men’s clothing and accessories for men of size, in addition to providing articles and images about men’s style for the “plump,” “fat,” “chubby,” or “men of many sizes.” Chubster also promotes a community of support around this representation. A similar resource is Fitbay which seeks to show how clothes look on non-models. For more on Fitbay, WWAC writer Cathryn Sinjin-Starr reviewed her experience using Fitbay last year.

To extend this so-called “research,” what about you, readers? What are your thoughts on plus-sized male models? Do you have any alternative resources for the plus-sized guy? Please share your thoughts, stories, and resources in the comments section.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik