Move over Derek Zoolander, there’s a new male model in town! His name is Zach Miko, and he has officially been signed to the world’s largest modeling agency, IMG Models (who also represent Gisele Bundchen) as their first male plus size model. They created a new division called Brawn, in order to continue their mission of changing the fashion industry’s portrayal of what a model “should” look like.
A couple of years ago they announced they would no longer have body divisions among the female department, and will promote plus size models front and center with the more well-known models people know, such as the aforementioned Gisele. It may seem like a small gesture, but it is already having ripple effects throughout the industry.
We often talk about the inequalities between men and women, but the fashion industry is one area where women are more predominant, and there are certain jobs, such as modeling, where women typically out-earn men. But on the topic of body image and self-esteem, we are lucky as women to have plenty of voices out there standing against the narrow harmful ideals. Women are leading the way with positive body image blogs, movements, ideology and disruptive actions within fashion. It is the men who don’t necessarily have the same level of camaraderie.
The thing about negative body image is that it hurts men as well as women, and with the added stereotypical pressure put on men to “be tough” and hide their emotions which are considered “weak” by some, it becomes harder to develop the type of community empowerment we as women are lucky to be part of wherever we turn.
Thankfully, with the rise of modern feminism including intersectionality and the knowledge that patriarchy hurts men too, we are starting to see more and more men speak out. British musicians Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, actor Chris Pratt, and even Superman himself, Henry Cavill, have all been quite candid about the struggle they faced as public figures to look a certain way.
So why are we only now just talking about this? It’s certainly not a new concept – men being ashamed of their bodies and not feeling like they measure up. We are starting to see more and more dedicated research to male body image which is going to help a great deal. A recent study published in the ‘Psychology of Men & Masculinity’ put to rest any lingering notion that this is not as big of a deal among men, as it is women.
Researchers at Chapman University analyzed the body images of more than 116,000 men, both gay and straight, to see how satisfied they were with their bodies. Between 20-40% of men reported dissatisfaction with their bodies, however there was a higher number among gay men who reported feeling more desire to look a certain way to due media pressure.
Would the visibility of more diverse male bodies in fashion and media make a difference? Obviously we should not whole derive our confidence from an image or from anyone else, but we undeniably live in an age where we are consumed by media images and cannot escape its presence in our lives. So we might as well have some diversity and positivity to look at, right?
Zach Miko, who is an actor-turned-model at the encouragement of his wife, first caught the attention of the world when he appeared in a Target campaign (the first time the store had featured a plus size male model in their advertising) in October 2015. He also caught the attention of Ivan Bart, IMG’s President who decided to sign him up.
“The body positive messaging and size diversity is something that’s relevant and something that continues to be on everybody’s mind. We have to extend the conversation for men,” said Ivan about his decision.
That announcement made the fashion world take notice in a big way. He told Vogue in an interview what a big deal this is and what he plans to do with his newfound attention.
“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 . . . Being represented means that people care, it means the industry cares, it means people want you to feel good about who you are,” he said.
He mentioned the fact that the women’s plus size revolution has changed the conversation about body image in a drastic way, especially with models like Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday being such notable figures in this movement.
“[They have] 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 un-masculine to care about yourself and be proud of who you are,” he explained.
Zach admits he grew up feeling horrible about himself, and as a result didn’t think he was desirable. Sound familiar? That’s because women go through the same thing. So it turns out the system has been designed for ALL bodies to feel abnormal and “not good enough”. It’s about time men’s voices joined the chorus to push this movement even further.
“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. Being able to look into a fashion magazine and see someone you can relate to…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,” said Zach.
Becoming a model and seeing the attention his campaign for Target received made him feel, for the first time, that his body was something to be celebrated.
“I feel good about who I am right now—not who or what I want to be in the future…I really want to help everyone else feel what I am blessed enough to feel today.”
In an interview with Mashable, Zach says his new agency is doing an important thing by leading the way.
“IMG has been at the forefront of changing the conversation about beauty with their message of diversity, inclusion and evolution. This is the first time a major agency is signing a plus-sized man. It shows that [there’s] not only the change in society and the change in the industry, but that these major movers in the fashion community believe in the change. I am so grateful for this opportunity to be a part of […] the evolution of the industry,” he said.
We are happy to be witnessing this evolution and promise to continue using our platform to promote stories like this.