Plus size representation within the fashion industry has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years: models Ashley Graham, Paloma Elsesser and musician Lizzo have all graced the cover of Vogue, Alva Claire and Precious Lee were included in Versace’s SS21 show, and influencers like Joey Darlin and Sophia Tassew have contributed to an ever-evolving conversation around the normalisation of plus size bodies. Though much needed steps have been taken in the right direction, there has so far been one glaring omission from the dialogue: plus size guys.
This topic came to the fore upon the release of Rihanna’s seminal, sexually charged Savage x Fenty Vol 2 show, which went live in October last year. It was a pivotal moment: by including models of all sizes, ethnicities and genders, RiRi redefined lingerie and what it meant to look good wearing it. She made it seem unthinkable that the likes of Victoria’s Secret was ever considered aspirational.
One of Rihanna’s most remarkable statements with this collection was her venture into men’s underwear – specifically having Steven Green, a plus size model from Kansas City, model size 2XL boxers (near enough breaking the internet in the process.) They sold out within hours and spearheaded healthy discourse around the importance of male body diversity in fashion.
“You can tell a lot about the culture of a business by the way a team operates,” Green says of working on the project. “It was a vibe! Since then, people have reached out to me to share how inspired they are.
“Men have told me how dope it is to see someone that actually looks like them in fashion. It became so much bigger than what I could have imagined, it allowed people to love and believe in themselves. I plan to continue busting open doors and making elbow room at the table for all the fellas my size, so that fashion can truly reflect the world that it serves,” he continues.
Although Rihanna nudged this issue into public consciousness with great casting and products, high street fashion retailers in the UK have been providing the goods for bigger, taller men for quite some time.
Classic British brand Jacamo, for instance, was founded in 2007 and has since established itself as an advocate for men’s mental health and specialist provider of larger sized, fashionable clothes. ASOS and Boohoo have since followed suit, becoming two of the first mass-market retailers to invest in the men’s plus size market.
As a whole, the plus size sector is estimated to be worth around £7 billion in the UK and £18 billion in the US (the only branches of the fashion industry to grow as opposed to diminish over the pandemic, which is no small feat). There is a missed opportunity here for brands to be creative and expand their demographic, which begs the question: why are plus size guys so underrepresented?
Green thinks that a lack of accessibility to fashionable clothing is one of the key reasons it has taken the fashion industry so long to catch up.
“Brands and designers aren’t diversifying their markets and it shows. The world has set the tone of what’s considered desirable and sexy, and ‘brawn’ men aren’t included in that,” he says. “The moment you create standards for what beauty is, you mask what beauty isn’t. This no longer lines up with the world we live in, which is why representation is necessary.”
Briauna Mariah, founder of New York-based modelling agency We Speak, suggests that brand inclusivity – especially when it comes to plus size men – can thinly veil a desire to simply reap more profit from punters. Founded in 2013, Mariah prides herself on challenging industry standards and tackling tokenism.
“We Speak tends to attract more commercial clients,” she explains. “We occasionally see high end brands put out more diverse campaigns, though these are often treated like trends with expiration dates. Without diverse internal voices, campaigns can never truly be inclusive.”
Inclusivity can sometimes feel like a buzzword in fashion. The reality is that fatphobia persists in the industry and is pervasive in society at large, which is intrinsically linked to the lack of representation of plus size men (and women) and can have a knock on effect on mental health.
In 2018, actor Jason Momoa was pictured on the beach and subjected to outrageous criticism for having what others deemed a “dad bod”. Two years later, the same thing happened to Zac Efron after the release of his 2020 Netflix show, Down to Earth.
According to the Mental Health Foundation in 2019, almost 28 per cent of men aged 18 and above felt anxious due to body image issues, while 21 per cent said concerns about body image had caused them to dress in a way that hid parts of their body.
This is why public figures such as Steven Green are invaluable to the movement for wider representation of big, tall men. Whether we like it or not, what we see advertised to us has a bearing on what we deem to be beautiful and socially acceptable. Understanding and accepting plus size models of all genders is vital and sends brands a message that actually, we do want to see this. Sort it out!
David Fadd, a 25-year-old plus size model and influencer based in Essex, tells THE FACE that his journey so far has been instrumental in forming who he is and how he sees the world.
“I was signed three years ago and not much has shifted in fashion,” he says. “The lack of inclusivity at national events like London Fashion Week is appalling, especially considering how much the plus size industry is worth.
“These fashion houses and big brands refuse to accept that true beauty has no set size.”
Fadd also considers why plus size male representation still has a long way to go. “Fashion and beauty have always been synonymous with femininity, ideas that continue to linger even now,” he continues.
“Society teaches young boys and men that expression, emotion and masculinity can’t go hand in hand. As time has gone on, we’ve obviously found that fashion can be for men too, but the industry still favours smaller, thinner ‘pretty boys’ based on these old ideals. This means many plus size guys count themselves out of the equation altogether.”
People often forget that bigger and thinner bodies alike can simply be the result of genetic predisposition. Being able to shop for high quality clothes that fit and look good shouldn’t be a luxury.
Although social media algorithms still favour a certain type of body shape over another, Fadd and others have managed to build a thriving, plus size guy community online which refuses to be sidelined. “I’m so passionate about this and I believe that change can only ever be triggered by conversation. A problem shared is a problem halved.” Slowly but surely, the tide is turning.