Women's fashion boasts plenty of plus-size stars, while the men's industry has only beefcakes and scrawny geeks, says Alfred Tong. In the current climate of gender equality, when something happens in women's fashion there necessarily has to be a men’s equivalent.Often, all that’s needed to make it acceptable to heterosexual men is to prefix it with the word: man. Hence, man-bags, man-scaping, man-dresses, mewlery, meggings etc.
So where are all the famous big boys? Will we see anyone with a 38-inch waist during London Fashion Week, Britain's biannaul men's fashion festival, which starts today?
It’s not like there isn’t a ‘market’ for it. There's no shortage of big-boned lads out there in search of role models. But, alas, the fashion industry, contrarian thing that it is, does not work that way.
Mark Simpson, coiner of the terms ‘metrosexual’ and "spornosexual" says, “Part of the reason why there are no plus-size male models is that there are no politics behind it. It’s not a controversial issue in the same way that it is for women.
Men are objectified all the time in the media, but it’s not called ‘objectification’. There’s no male equivalent of feminist ideology.”
In 2013, when the designer Rick Owens showed his S/S14 womenswear collection using muscular and plus-sized sorority hip-hop dancers, many of whom were black, some commentators were moved to call it the most provocative fashion statement of the decade. And by the standards of high fashion it probably was. As we look forward to London Collection: Men it’s hard to see how any men’s fashion show, even one performed by, say, a naked rollerblading Ray Winstone, could attract that kind of hyperbole.
In a way, there are plus-size male models, except they’re muscular, says Mark Simpson, “David Gandy is probably the world’s most famous male model, but if you looked at his BMI he’d probably be classed as overweight. Muscle is denser and heavier than fat. BMI is hugely misleading in that respect. He was considered too bulky at the start of his career”.
Even when magazines do try to showcase different body types, they find that agencies only have either classically good looking hunks like Gandy or skinny, teenage boys. Wiliam Selden was photographing a story for i-D with the stylist Simon Foxton, when he ran up against the conservatism of the modelling industry.
“We wanted a very diverse casting," says Selden. "I'd just shot Boris Johnson, who cuts quite a fine figure in a suit, so we thought a bigger bloke would be good. I realised that no model agencies had a plus-size men's division. We were after someone masculine and sexy, like a rugby player, as I’m not really sure anyone really likes skinny teenage models.”
Not that there isn’t controversy when it comes to the representation of men’s bodies in the media. There was a considerable furore in America when baseball star Price Fielder graced the cover of ESPN magazine's 6th annual, ’Body Issue’, naked except for a baseball bat. Andrew Shanahan, founder of online weight-loss magazine ManVFat says, “People were asking whether he was a suitable role model, despite the fact that he is a successful athlete. He’s a big guy and looks fat, but he's in good condition.”
Shanahan faced a similar issue when deciding who to put on the cover of one of his publications. “There was considerable pressure to put an aspirational image on the cover. But I think men of that size feel invisible and found it reassuring to see someone like them.”
He speaks movingly of men who simply want to stop wobbling when they walk, and for whom the aspirational six-packs of established fitness titles like Men’s Health are irrelevant to the central aim of losing weight and getting healthier.
While male eating disorders are on the rise, men generally still have nowhere near the same fraught relationship with food that many women have. “There’s still an attitude that having a big appetite is seen as being masculine. You get praise for having a healthy appetite,” says Shanahan. “Being big still equates to having a big personality, whereas it’s smaller, skinnier men who are associated with being weak and scrawny.”
Perhaps the final word belongs to casting director Simon Lewis, founder of Cast and Elect, who has scouted campaigns and shows for Calvin Klein, House of Holland and Agi and Sam. “Men don’t really care that much," he says. "You can be fat and still get girls. Women are under much more pressure to look a certain way. Most men don’t need to be made to feel good about the fact that they’re fat. As long as they can see their dicks, they just don’t care.”