Randy Brooke/Getty Images
Randy Brooke/Getty Images
Men's Fashion Week drew to a close on July 16, marking the end of the first fashion week dedicated completely to menswear in New York.
Along with the crop of spring 2016 collections came, well, an expected question: "Where are all the plus-size male models?"—notably asked by The Cut in 2011 and again last week following the first round of shows in New York.
The lack of plus-size male models is an industry gap to note—but we found ourselves also wondering about a larger body positivity movement for men, considering the push for women has never been more prevalent. (Even better, the wide-ranging call-to-action for more inclusive body representations in women's wear actually yielded results.)
Plus-size and in-between size women have come to the forefront in the industry—with Ashley Graham landing a bikini ad for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Robyn Lawley flaunting her figure in the same issue.
But the problem of sameness, meaning men who are about 6'1" with a 32" waist, has not been as fully addressed in the male modeling industry. This isn't to downplay the importance of the women's movement—female bodies are picked apart in a more calculating, pervasive way—but to widen the conversation regarding body diversity when it comes to the runway and advertising campaigns.
So here's our question: Where's the body diversity push for men? Where are the plus-size men, the short men—and yes—where are the dad bods?
Ralph Lauren Polo
Chris Collins, a Ralph Lauren ambassador who has sustained an 18-year-long career in front of the camera, opened up to E! News about the possibility for more diverse body representations in male modeling.
"You can't name a plus-size guy. It's not fair to say men don't pay attention to these things because they are starting to. You can't point at someone and say ‘That guy is Big & Tall and he represents me.' What the women are doing in that area of the industry is incredible. It's saying beauty doesn't have to be really skinny. There are so many different beautiful people of all sizes and colors. But you need to remember this is all just through the eye of the designer," he said.
"The sample sizes are made for skinny, younger men. I am an older, bigger man. So what you see in the ads [isn't always a fit]: Everything is stitched and cut open. I don't mind it because I'm comfortable in my own skin," he continued.
Collins is 6'3", about 200 pounds and wears a size 34 pant—just two sizes bigger than the larger end of the typical runway size for menswear shows ("I'm still considered a really big guy," he quipped).
In the male modeling industry, Collins is featured as a Big & Tall model, which isn't quite synonymous with the term plus-size in the women's wear industry. For women, size 16 to 30 is generally the plus range and curvier figures are emphasized, while Big & Tall models are still expected to be, well, somewhat ripped.
As we've said, major strides have been made to highlight plus-size women in the mainstream, including the latest Women's Running magazine cover, which features size-18 beauty Erica Jean (the brunette is signed to Wilhelmina Models).
But maybe the tides are ready to turn for men: Last week, it was announced that Josh Ostrovsky (claim-to-fame name: The Fat Jew) landed a modeling contract with One Management Agency, making him the first legit plus-size male model we can recall in recent memory. How far the industry will go beyond an Instagram star's signing, though, remains to be seen.
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Designers Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein (who along with Donna Kang, make up the design trio behind Weiland's namesake line) attribute the continued slim body representations in male modeling to the needs of the designer.
"It comes down to fitting," Weiland said, explaining that the sample sizes that he and Eckstein make are based on their own size. "There are larger male models but they might not necessarily be going on the runway. They could—there's different ways of modeling, it's not just on a runway—there's modeling for Sports Illustrated or weight lifting [ads]," Eckstein added.
Eckstein also notes that breaking from the industry standard might distract the audience the designers intend to reach.
"If we did this fashion show with all sized men, it would [overshadow] the product and that sort of is the complicated part," he said.
So top-down might not be the answer here: Even if designers want to be more inclusive, there are long-held runway frameworks in place—the sample size being one of them. Modeling agents have vaguely cited "demand" as a reason for excluding larger figures from the catwalk, although the rise of the Dad Bod—the new It-Term for men who proudly flaunt fuller, rounder figures—indicates otherwise.
Happily, the change in the women's industry came from—you guessed it—women themselves. Backlash against advertising featuring ultra-thin models has come far and wide: Victoria's Secret was urged to change a tagline for their "Perfect Body" campaign (which featured only skinny, straight-bodied models). Retail Giants, including Target, TopShop and Urban Outfitters, have also come under fire for promoting thin as in or otherwise not catering to plus-size figures.
Courtesy Jason Hetherington/Elle UK
Meanwhile, models Ashley Graham, Tess Holliday and Jennie Runk have remained vocal about the need to celebrate curvier figures in the media and in modeling.
"I've faced criticism my whole career," Graham recently told The Coveteur. "It's come from fans, it's come from agents, and it's come from other models. But I think that it's all a matter of how you handle it and I turned it all into a positive thing. Now the industry has totally changed and it's not as much about size anymore—everyone's really jumped on the bandwagon of not letting size be the defining factor of determining what beauty truly is."
Skorch magazine editor and plus-size blogger Jessica Kane made headlines in April for daring readers to see her bikini photos as normal—not "brave." She tells E! News that even her husband has body image concerns, which are only aggravated by the lean figures featured almost exclusively in male advertising.
"Men have it so hard right now, but I do know that men are feeling the ‘second hand body image boost' when they see their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers feeling good about themselves," Kane said. "The female community is vast and vocal and I hope that men see our example and refuse to be mindf--ked by an industry that makes a buck off making you feel like s--t about yourself. The body positivity movement is vital for all of us."
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Chubstr Founding Editor Bruce Sturgell adds that men do want change regarding the visual body ideals offered in male clothing ads and commercials.
"I talk to guys every day who tell me they want to see more men who look like them in the mainstream. They have the income, they have the interest, but the industry is overlooking them," Sturgell said. "The interest in women's plus-size representation is showing companies that there's a market, and it's only a matter of time before we start to see the same thing happen for men. We're seeing a lot of interest through Chubstr—where we've been spotlighting stylish big men and plus-size male models for quite a while."
Blogger—and proud Dad Bod advocate—Zach Rosenberg agrees that now might be the time for men to create a demand for more diverse body representations by being vocal.
"I think men need to speak up. But problematically, men tend not to. [We] shrug a lot off because historically being ‘a man' entails sucking it up and not showing emotion. So in some ways, men have only found voices in social media when it comes to issues like the treatment of fathers, or supporting cancer research through Movember. I think when men find a lateral purpose like that, they're very powerful," Rosenberg said.
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Collins credits the open-mindedness of some designers, like Ralph Lauren, for giving larger men a chance to wear clothes that make them feel good. But he also contends that the responsibility lies on men to create a demand for inclusive body representations—not just on the designers or modeling agencies.
"We shouldn't rely on what the brands are giving us as what a 'real man' is," he said.