Every so often the modeling industry experiences a shake-up that opens the door for a new wave of talent, and the launch of IMG’s Brawn division—the powerhouse agency’s first board devoted wholly to plus-size men—is hoping to be exactly that. In the past, niche agencies have been dedicated to male models with bodies larger than standard, but this marks the first time one of the world’s foremost agencies has gotten in on the game.
Until recently, the debate over size within the fashion industry has been focused almost entirely on female bodies. While plus-size stars like Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine have crossed over, booking prestige work and becoming household names, male models (who typically come in two sizes: the logic-defying gym-honed physiques of men like Tyson Beckford and David Gandy or the gaunt rakishness of Saint Laurent's runway boys) have had a tougher time making the transition. Brawn’s first model, Zach Miko, offers an alternative to both types: At 6-foot-6, with a powerful physique and boy-next-door appeal, Miko looks more like a handsome stranger than an austere catwalk model—and in many ways, that’s the point. “I mean, I’m just an everyday guy,” says Miko. “I bartend, I do freelance carpentry, I’m an Eagle Scout, I have bills.” And for mainstream brands like Target, rather than some unattainable Adonis type, Miko represents an affable everyman who’s capable of selling anything.
The women’s industry has done a great job of support and diversity and inclusion. I’m not sure why it’s taken the men’s industry so long to catch up. The women’s industry has done an incredible job of speaking out and supporting and advocating for different body types, and it has empowered millions of people all over the world. Take Ashley Graham, who recently became the first-ever plus-sized woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She, along with other dynamos like Tess Holliday, has been working hard to change the conversation from “this is beautiful” to “what is beautiful?” The women’s industry is getting more and more answers to this new question every day. I think the men’s industry is finally coming along: Men are finally willing to open up about their own body-image issues and their own desires to feel good about themselves and to look good. They now know from the body positivity community and our role models in the women’s fashion industry that it is not considered weak or unmasculine to care about yourself and be proud of who you are. It’s just human.
I hope that with this, guys growing up being of size can now open up a catalog or a website and see someone they can relate to. I want them to see a model and think, He’s kind of like me. That’s a feeling a lot of people of size did not feel growing up. I want Brawn to relate to every man who wants to feel good about their self-esteem and self-image. I want people to look at Brawn and say, “I can do that.” Brawn and Curve [IMG’s plus-size women’s division] are about bringing fashion into reality for millions of people who felt alienated for so long. I mean, I’m just an everyday guy. I bartend, I do freelance carpentry, I’m an Eagle Scout, I have bills. It means the industry is finally opening up to everyone. And I cannot wait to be a part of it.
I grew up hating the way I looked. I felt unattractive and undesirable. This is about opening up what was once an elusive feeling for everyone. Do you know what it would mean to millions of guys to go into a store, try on a pair of jeans, look in the mirror, and say, “Oh, yeah, that looks nice, that fits great!” For so many of us, that was not a reality. Being represented means that people care, it means the industry cares, it means people want you to feel good about who you are. When men have self-esteem issues, it can lead to insecurity and depression, which can manifest itself as bullying, or imposing unrealistic standards which men then project onto women, objectifying them and keeping this disgusting cycle continuing forever. It’s a terrible trend that has led to terrible places for a lot of people. Being able to look into a fashion magazine and see someone you can relate to and being able to think, “Hey, he’s in this magazine. He’s a lot like me. Maybe I can be in a magazine”—it opens the doors for possibilities you never dreamed of before. It’s about being content and happy with who you are, not with what you think you should be.
Modeling gave me an amazing opportunity. For the first time in my life, my size and shape were being celebrated. When I did my first gig, I never thought it would be a big deal. But everyone was so kind and welcoming and warm that I really felt safe to explore how I felt about myself. On the third or fourth shoot I remember coming home and telling my wife, “I feel good about the way I look. I don’t just feel good—I feel great.” For so long I wanted to change, I wanted to look different. After modeling, I realized I didn’t want to change for myself, I wanted to change for other people. I wanted to change for casting directors and producers. I wanted to change so society would find it easier for me to be around. But I liked being the big guy; I didn’t want to change for me. The only issue I had with my body was what I thought other people would think about me. Modeling, along with my beautiful wife, showed me that who I am right now is valid. I feel good about who I am right now—not who or what I want to be in the future, but for who I am, what I look like, and how I feel right now. I really want to help everyone else feel what I am blessed enough to feel today.