Zach Miko is 6ft 6in, has a 40in waist, and is the first plus-size male modelsigned to a major agency, IMG, which looks after models including Lara Stone, Freja Beha and Gigi Hadid. Having modelled for Target, one of the US’s biggest retailers, and soon to be modelling for Yours, one of the UK’s biggest plus-size fashion retailers, the 26-year-old’s signing comes at an interesting time in “plus-size” male modelling. Despite the demand, there are currently no plus-size male models on the books of a major agency in the UK. In Germany, there are three agencies dedicated to plus-size male models, but their remit rarely stretches outside Germany (Miko hails from Connecticut). In menswear, plus-size refers to XL and up (higher than a 42in chest), but can stretch to anyone very tall and well built. For reference, the Guardian uses male models with a 32in waist. Coined “brawn” by IMG (and the brother of “curve”, its female division), it marks an attempt to remove the “plus-size” moniker and, the agency hopes, present a more realistic male body shape.
You’ve been signed to IMG as its first plus-size or “brawn” male model. Congratulations. So far, you’ve only modelled for Target and yet your profile has blown up overnight. Why do you think that is?
There are very few [plus-sized male models] in the US. I think it made a splash because Target is a big retailer. But they just put me in the shoot with classically sized male models, so all the fashion blogs were like: did Target sneak a plus size guy into their site? But, yes, it has been quick. The first advert came out in July, the first article came out in September and here we are.
Do you think people would have noticed sooner had it been a plus-size female model in the shoot?
If it was a women’s site, and there had been a non-model in the lineup, yeah, sure.
Why? Do you think people are less interested or aware of plus-size male models, or the lack thereof?
It’s still a very new thing. There is still no definition for it. This whole idea of “brawn” is loosely based on me.
There have been several campaigns to change the way we talk about plus-size models, in a bid to change the way we view “larger” models, including#droptheplus. Is being called a brawn model an acknowledgement of that?
I don’t find “plus size” offensive, but I think it’s the same [as fat] in that plus size has grown to have a negative connotation. Plus means additional, outside; it keeps pushing that label of not being “normal”. If you see the word “brawn”, you think about physical strength and power, just as “curve” suggests sexy and confident, as opposed to “big”.
Why do you think plus-size male models have yet to move into the mainstream industry?
There has been a lot of support in women’s modelling – models such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday have been making huge waves. Seeing someone [like Graham], who would normally be shunned, was awesome. I always had my own body-image struggle. With men, there is still a lot of bravado and false masculinity to get through.
What do you mean?
You’re not supposed to care about how you look. If you have issues, you aren’t supposed to talk about it. It’s considered weak or un-masculine. Which is stupid. It’s about having feelings that make you human. I think, even now with the progression, you still have that 1950s male mentality of men being strong and emotionless.
Do you think your presence in the male modelling world will help things?
If it makes men realise that it’s OK to care about how you look, or even feel bad about it and want to change … I have had [body] issues all my life and that can make you insecure. You project those feelings on to others and that can damage relationships. It creates this vicious cycle. It could all be avoided if you opened up and said I do or don’t feel good about myself.
Is it about how you see yourself or how others see you?
I was between diets and trying to change the way I look for so long. As an actor [Miko is a member of the T Schreiber Studio and has appeared in Limitless], I was told by every casting director that I was too big. But I think I was trying to make other people more comfortable. I have always been a big guy, I was picked on as a kid, and that’s where it came from. We live in a society where “big” and “fat” have become insults, and “skinny”, “little” and “petite” have become compliments. We have come to correlate a negative meaning with “big” and “fat”.
You aren’t exactly big, either.
Yeah. And I think men want to see a normal-looking guy modelling their clothes.
But then there are issues related to being overweight or “fat” in a health sense.
I am a big advocate of health. I just don’t think you have to be a twig to [be healthy]. Other people don’t have a right to project an idea of unhealthy on to you if you have this extra weight. I think labelling people as unhealthy is unfair. You don’t know what their health is. People think I’m a slob and that I don’t take care of myself. But I do. For starters, I cycle every day. But you do start to internalise that [feeling].
Were you interested in fashion growing up?
I grew up appreciating fashion, but I thought if it wasn’t available in my size I wasn’t allowed to wear it. I wore my father’s hand-me-downs. I’d be a different person today if I had been able to put on any clothing. Size has been such a barrier between people for so long.
There’s clearly a market for plus-size male models. Do you think they will ever break into the mainstream or high-end market?
That’s my biggest hope. The average waist size in the US is 39in. Most stores stop at 38. Immediately, half the population don’t have access to these clothes. They’re cutting off such a giant marketshare. But the fashion industry is about money.