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Patrick Church AW20
Courtesy of Patrick Church

Where are all the plus-size femme-presenting male models?

While the likes of Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee solidify themselves as the new supers, you’d struggle to name a male model of the same calibre

What happened to all the plus-size representation in fashion? After a step in the right direction – with models like Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee, and Alva Claire becoming regular fixtures at brands including Versace, Balmain, Moschino, Fendi, Valentino, and even Chanel – the recent AW23 shows saw dramatic backslide with a meagre 0.6 per cent plus size looks across the fashion capitals. 

Over in menswear, representation is even more scant. Despite efforts from modelling agencies like IMG – which launched its Brawn division specifically for plus-size male models back in 2019 – runway appearances are sporadic, with SS Daley, Marine Serre, and LGN by Louis-Gabriel Nouchi among the few showcasing larger bodies. 

At the AW23 menswear shows, four of the eight brands that featured plus-size models only cast women. As Elsesser and Lee solidify themselves as the ‘new Supers’, you’d struggle to name a male model of the same calibre. Meanwhile, the other half featured the male models that we typically see: burly, moustachioed machos that are far from the genderfluid fashions we’ve become accustomed to on their lithe-limbed counterparts.

“The dial has moved a little bit on the masculine side of plus-size representation, but the intersectionality is not there and there are lots of spaces where that representation can be amplified,” says Ady Del Valle. Having previously modelled for Patrick Church, his experience has mostly been limited to smaller, upcoming brands, making it difficult to highlight the lack of diversity within the little representation that plus-size men are offered. “It’s frustrating and it feels like I’m the only one speaking up,” he says. “Models that are seen as more acceptable because they’re taller or more masculine aren’t affected, so they’re not vocal about it and I sound like a broken record because I’ve been repeating myself for the past six years.” 

For Mina Gerges – a model who has previously fronted campaigns for Calvin Klein and Sephora – the lack of representation hasn’t been the only roadblock as a plus-size person in fashion. After struggling to find fun fashion in his size, he took matters into his own hands, learning how to sew in order to create his own looks. “You notice that something that might be perceived as sexy and fashionable on a thinner body is seen as unflattering or not for you,” he says. “As if femininity is reserved only for thinner people.” 

It’s a regressive mindset that seemingly extends beyond the fashion industry. Look no further than the vitriol that Sam Smith endures versus the adoration Harry Styles receives for their respective wardrobes. While arguments are often made around ‘construction’ and ‘fit’, it’s quite simply thinly-veiled fatphobia – an expectation for clothing to fit larger bodies in exactly the same way that we’re used to seeing on sample size models. “Being fat and feminine on a male-presenting body is a combination of the two worst things that men have been taught not to be, so it doesn’t matter how good you feel or how confident you are, people will judge you because that’s not what we’re ‘supposed’ to look like,” Gerges explains.  

While representation is much-needed, Del Valle also stresses the importance of accommodations for plus-size people working in fashion, including at the minimum, clothes that actually fit them at jobs they’re booked on. “When I look back, it’s just tokenism,” he says, reflecting on shoots where he ended up wearing his own clothes. “I was being hired for jobs as a check mark, but they weren’t thinking about me or somebody who looks like me. So should I take up space because there hasn’t been somebody who looks like me here before, or should I not do it at all?” 

‘Brands might hire somebody who is non-binary, but they’ll be thin and white, or somebody who is just plus-size because the intersection of both of those things is seen as unsellable or too weird’ – Mina Gerges 

Similarly, Gerges has struggled with being seen as more than just a plus-sized model. “I love wearing make-up and more feminine things, but I have to constantly remind people that I can do the ‘boy’ thing too,” he explains. “It’s such a balancing act because some brands just want you for your body, but don’t want make-up because they can’t sell it to guys.” 

As the undisputed trailblazer, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty not only features a range of plus-size models like Dexter Mayfield in its shows but also accommodates sizes up to 3XL (UK 18) online. Yet, in the way that Fenty Beauty became the industry standard for inclusive foundation shades, the same unfortunately can’t be said for its clothing counterpart. “After Savage x Fenty, I remember thinking, ‘This is it! All the other brands are going to follow suit’, but at this point, it feels like people are wilfully choosing not to be inclusive,” says Gerges reflecting on the plus-size progress that he says has “fizzled out.” 

“From a marketing perspective, brands that are trying to be diverse only want to check one thing off at a time, having too many intersectionalities is too risky,” the model continues. “They might hire somebody who is non-binary, but they’ll be thin and white, or somebody who is just plus-size because the intersection of both of those things is seen as unsellable or too weird.” 

Despite some success, Gerges is ambivalent about what’s next for plus-size representation for men and more. “Four years into this conversation there’s been no change,” he argues. “The positive side though is realising that these brands don’t care about us, but what we can do is take things into our own hands and not be dependent on them to make us feel a certain way about our body.” 

On the flipside, Del Valle remains optimistic that the slow progress in womenswear will eventually crossover into the menswear realm. “If we’re seeing plus-size representation for women in our lifetime, then I feel like we will too if we keep fighting,” he concludes. “We’ve been fighting for representation so hard and it would be a dream to have bigger brands pushing for diversity. All we want is consistent representation, just like everybody else gets by simply existing. We’re not a trend and we don’t want to be tokenised, just give us an opportunity!”