Last week IMG Models introduced Brawn, the first-ever plus-size men’s division at a major agency, and signed certified lumbersexual Zach Miko to its roster. The news made me so happy. But here’s the thing: I don’t follow the fashion world, and the only male model I can name is Lucky Blue Smith—and that’s only because BuzzFeed convinced me to follow him on Instagram. I doubt I’ll notice when Miko lands his next campaign.
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Still, the announcement made me think back to middle school, when I shopped for jeans in the husky section at Sears and drank chalky SlimFast shakes for breakfast. My middle-school self would be giddy that the fashion world was sending a message (however softly) that clothes for people who look like me aren’t an afterthought.
After years of gender studies classes, I’m fully aware the word brawn has ties to masculinity and the expectations society places on men. But I’ll take it over stocky or husky any day. Brawn represents a strength and a confidence that I yearned to have about myself and my body as a teen. It’s the male equivalent of curvy, a body type that’s still idealized and idolized but slightly more realistic and closer to the average.
I know that Miko is hardly an ordinary guy. At 6 feet 6 inches, he’s a full 8 inches taller than the average American male, but his 40-inch waist is a little more familiar (and statistically closer to the average man in the U.S.). Even as a giant with high cheekbones, Miko is a guy many men can look at and think, “Hey, I look a little like him,” or “So that’s how that sweater will actually look when I wear it.”
And that’s a really powerful thing. Men might not admit it, but they think about their bodies a lot. One-fifth of straight men and 25 percent of gay men report being unhappy with the way they look. (That number more than doubles to 54 percent for women.) And much like women, men say they feel pressure from the media to be attractive, which is why body positivity is a much-needed movement.
One model and one division at a talent agency won’t change the way men think about themselves. (After all, talk about the dad bod fizzled after a few weeks, and we were back to six-pack abs in six weeks.) It’s a baby step—albeit one done in slightly larger jeans.