Plus-Size Male Models Are Here, But Is the Fashion World Ready?

Zach Miko. Photo: IMG Models 

Just this past July — at what may have been the peak of dad-bod appreciation — my colleague Kayleen Schaefer penned an insightful think-piece on the lack of body diversity in the male modeling world. “Unlike women’s fashion, which has made real strides at showing non-willowy bodies on the runway and in advertising campaigns, men’s fashion won’t be cuddling up to doughy types anytime soon,” she wrote.

But suddenly, that seems to be changing. News broke Tuesday that IMG Models — arguably one of the most well-regarded agencies in the biz, with names like Kate Moss, Karlie Kloss, and Joan Small in its roster — had launched a new ‘Brawn’ board, which would exclusively rep “plus size” male models. 

“The body positive messaging and size diversity is something that’s relevant and something that continues to be on everybody’s mind,” IMG president Ivan Bart, who, himself, identifies as a ‘brawn’ man, told WWD. “We have to extend the conversation for men.”

So far, IMG has signed just one brawn model: New York-based actor and comedian Zach Miko, who did the press rounds last year after being featured on Target.com in Mossimo Supply Co’s big and tall collection — and once worked as Vince Vaughn’s fit model. Standing six-foot-six with a 40-inch waist and a 36-inch inseam, 20-something Miko is five inches taller and eight inches wider around than the average svelte male model. (Meanwhile, the average American man is 5-foot-9 with a 39.1-inch waist.)

Throughout his career, Miko insists that his size has proved mostly problematic. “I was told on countless auditions and callbacks that ‘we like you so much but the lead woman is 5’2”’ or ‘we thought you were so great but the other guy is 5’7”,’ he told There Are Giants in October. But recently, things have been looking up. “As soon as I truly embraced being the ‘big guy,’ I have never been working or auditioning more,” he says. “Thank god lumberjacks became cool again.” 

By ‘lumberjacks,’ Miko is referring to members of the so-called ‘lumbersexual’ movement, the more overtly masculine successor of the whole metrosexual thing — and defined by Urban Dictionary as “a sexy man who dresses in denim, leather, and flannel, and has a ruggedly sensual beard.” And if that’s what IMG is trying to tap into with its Brawn board, the agency is certainly onto something. 

But even bearded, burly men often end up being translated into fashion as toned straight-sized models, albeit with tattoos, man-buns, and beards. See, for example, Alex Libby, the scruffy, long-haired male model currently starring in Abercrombie & Fitch’s comeback campaign. 

That’s not to say that the tides won’t be turning soon. Models are hired based on demand. So if the cultural demand is there, brands will respond by hiring models who reflect that. 

Dan Michel, the associate fashion editor at Men’s Health — a publication known best for featuring rippling six-packs and bulging biceps — says the mag is open to hiring more ‘brawny’ men. “We’ve always shown our readers how to dress their best no matter their body type, whether they are 6’ 6” like Zack [Miko], or 5’4”. We’ll continue to do so because we want our models to be a reflection of our readers.” (So maybe short dudes have a chance at editorial greatness, too?)

Considering the amount of press Miko received for his Target stint — how many other commercial website models wind up on Good Morning America? — IMG and its Brawn board may actually be ahead of the demand curve, though only time will tell whether the models on it actually get any work. 

As Gene Kogan, an agent with DNA model management told Yahoo Style, “If there was a strong demand for plus-size male models, believe me, we would be scouting for them.” Well, 10 years ago, no one could’ve imagined a size 14 woman wearing a string bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated — but times have changed. Will the fashion industry be as forthcoming to big and tall men as it now is to women of varying sizes? If it does, it may take years — but as recent history has taught us, anything’s possible, even in fashion.  

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