As an army of male models hit the runway in New York this year, history was being made, but also wasn’t at all. What women’s fashion shows had struggled with for over half a century seemed to be silently poisoning the male modeling industry. In each finale there was a pattern, the same tall, slim model while nary a larger male model ever hit the catwalk.
Whether it’s in the gym or on the runway, men of all shapes and sizes are pressured to fit certain rigid definitions of a ‘good’ physique. For men who fall outside of those parameters, which are usually either thin or muscular, the fashion industry has few options for them. Like women, the pressure to fit into strict body categories can be frustrating and the lack of body diversity isn’t much better for men either. Currently there’s only three plus size male modeling agencies in the world, which are all in Germany, according to an August 2015 article from The Guardian. From pay to size, fashion is one of the few industries where men are limited.
Breaking into plus size fashion has been an uphill battle for women, and one that men are beginning to face. Since starting in 1943 for women, it took until 2010 for a women’s plus size fashion show to be included in New York Fashion Week. While men’s fashion week has been ongoing for years in Europe, New York is just at the starting line. Although women’s plus size representation is improving, with social media stars such as Tess Holliday, men’s plus size presence is still minor. There are a growing number of plus size male fashion bloggers, however like women’s fashion, hitting high fashion runways still seems to be reserved for the thinner male models. Waiting 60 years for a plus size male model to walk for a high fashion brand will stagnate the industry by leaving millions of plus size male consumers, and potential profits, by the wayside.
For some men, the idea of a perfect body starts, not just in advertisements, but in the gym. While at CrossFit, personal trainers are attempting to break the physique-centered workouts for a more holistic one. At a CrossFit gym in Syracuse, New York, personal trainer and coach Michael Elliott’s class has been moving nonstop for an hour. There’s no posters of CrossFit-ers with rippling muscles, no mirrors, just an open gym filled with men and women of all ages trying to reach their personal best.
For Elliott, being a personal trainer for the past decade has been the destination on the long road towards weight loss. “When I discovered CrossFit I discovered working out for performance. More getting pleasure working out for the performance than the aesthetics,” Elliott said.
Elliott played an assortment of sports growing up, from football to soccer, which helped him shed the pounds. Yet as he continued focusing on performance rather than aesthetics, Elliott noticed that his physique gradually improved. “A lot of it is working out for performance as opposed to aesthetics. If you look at a CrossFit-ers body compared to other gyms, the aesthetics come along [gradually],” Elliott said.
Elliott has clients who visit the gym almost everyday, yet some get frustrated if their muscles aren’t as defined as they would like. “I tell clients all time-whatever your goals are you need to take a long-term look at it, ” Elliott said. He encourages them to make a year-long plan instead of trying to get fit quickly, since it’s more difficult to sustain. Also, focusing on their diet as opposed to just workout routines is crucial. Although most of his clients are focused on weight-loss, the older clients don’t see physique as crucial, but instead work towards health and longevity, Elliott said. “The shift in mindset to working out for performance as opposed to aesthetics-It’s more fun…it’s not as stressful. And I think it’s healthier overall,” Elliott said.
Six-pack abs and a superhuman like-body are the dreams of some, yet Jeremy Scher who participated in his first body building competition in November, realized that reaching the peak of physical fitness comes with a price. Scher was motivated to enter the world of bodybuilding after moving to New York City. “I felt like I would be more comfortable with myself as I was meeting new people, if in my head I was as attractive as I could be,” Scher said. For Scher, that meant decreasing his body fat, having a flatter stomach, and also educating himself on healthier eating habits.
He began training in January 2015, gradually increasing his workout and diet regime as the months progressed. Yet as his physique improved, his personal life started deteriorating. Training for the National Physique Committee bodybuilding competition required working out 12 times a week once the competition was near and meticulously weighing his food.
Despite looking his best, Scher couldn’t enjoy NYC life, since his everyday routine was strictly regimented. “I basically couldn’t go away…Even if I went to visit my parents…I was showing up with a suitcase [of food],” Scher said. He had even started working from home to make training for the November competition easier.
Scher didn’t place in his Men’s Physique division, and doesn’t want to compete again due to the unhealthy habits he witnessed. “A lot of them look very starved, [and] they’re not necessarily happy. [Some] of them hadn’t been drinking water for days,” Scher said. “It became purely about the body at the expense of everything else. I felt really out of place.” Moving forward, Scher plans on focusing on his health and wellbeing. “What makes life worth living, [such as] meeting people and relating to people and challenging yourself in a meaningful way and being fulfilled was lost at the expense of pushing yourself to fit what this committee had essentially deemed the ideal physique,” Scher said. The focus on a muscular physique and fashion often extends into male modeling-specifically fitness models.
As a fitness model who got his start through the popular bodybuilding site BBPics.com, Zach Herrington, still thinks that there needs to be more body diversity in fashion. Even though fitness models can find consistent work, Herrington has witnessed that bigger muscles isn’t always better in the industry. Herrington’s build is larger than non-fitness models, and realizes that it’s challenging for men with bigger builds to break into high fashion. “It’s harder to get the more high-end editorial work [as a fitness model]. [The industry prefers] very skinny, young, European men,” Herrington said. After a year-and-a-half in the industry, he’s rarely interacted with male models who could be considered plus size, and believes there’s a need for them too. Yet, for now they will have to face the proliferation of and preference for thinner models.
For former FORD model Matt Cadigan, the slim look that’s associated with modeling was easy to maintain. Cadigan, who is 6’2”, balanced playing baseball in college during the school year with modeling in NYC in the summer.
Although Cadigan had a naturally athletic build, some of his friends had to work out five times a week to keep in shape. “My booker was pretty straightforward. If you weren’t really staying in shape, [then] you just wouldn’t be getting good reviews at castings. And then [the agency] probably wouldn’t be calling you to go to as many [castings] if you weren’t representing them well,” Cadigan said. His booker also gave him a list of exercises to do as well. “They said I could stand to gain muscle, but it was never a focus for them. I think they want you kind of trim. It’s easy if you have that body type,” Cadigan said.
Even with his already slim figure, the days leading up to a photoshoot, Cadigan would cut out carb-heavy foods so that his cheekbones and overall body were more defined. Although being a high-fashion model at a major agency is the penultimate goal for most male models, even models themselves may always see room for improvement. Cadigan preferred having more muscle on his lower body, yet his agency didn’t want him to alter his size. His agency never wanted him to gain weight, since he might not be able to fit in a designer’s clothes at a casting.
Cadigan, who went on three to five castings a day, didn’t encounter that many larger models. There also wasn’t as much discourse surrounding male body diversity when he was in the industry. “It could be that women’s fashion and clothes is a much larger industry, that there’s more opinions. The top male models make a small fraction of what the top female models make. Also, women are probably more prone to wanting to model. There’s a lot of guys who want or aspire to model, but it’s probably more prevalent with females,” Cadigan said.
Although thinner male models make up the majority, just having the physique doesn’t guarantee a thriving career. Cadigan decided to leave the industry after one and a half years due to the lack of financial opportunities. Historically, male models make much less than their female counterparts. In 2013, top model Sean O’Pry made $1.5 million, while Gisele Bundchen made $47 million, according to a July 2015 Fortune article. While most models aren’t making millions, that pay gap can definitely be applied to up-and-coming male models as well. According to the Bureau of Labor’s 2012 report, an average model makes $9.02 an hour, and unemployment is common. Lower pay and lack of size diversity discourages some men from even considering to enter the world of modeling, leaving model scouts to find new faces.
Former model, owner, and founder of the CNY Mode modeling agency in Syracuse, Stephanie Burghardt scouts for male models in a wide range of ages for numerous categories. Her agency has about 20 male models ranging from commercial, runway, print, fitness, and also teens.
A commercial model at CNY Mode, Nelson Pabon decided to start modeling eight months ago for fun, not financial gain. As a commercial model, Pabon is aware that he appeals to the everyday man, and takes pride in it. The 5’10”, 210 lbs. former college quarterback says that he has never been overweight, and tries to go to the gym regularly. He appreciates the flexibility that comes with being a commercial model, from age to appearance to size. “You can do a lot more than a high-fashion model,” Pabon said. “[As a high fashion model] you typically have to be perfect, [and have] no blemishes…[For] a lot of people, their window is only so long.”
“In commercial modeling, they’re looking for someone who is not necessarily fit…but someone who is more representative for what their brand is,” Burghardt said. From local bank commercials to hot dog ads, commercial modeling may not be glamorous, but it is plentiful. “Commercial modeling is more lifestyle,” Berghardt said. “You can be contacted by a company such as St. Joe’s [Hospital] or Wegman’s [grocery store] where they don’t want a beautiful, glamorous model.” Burghardt has never had a client request a commercial model of a certain weight. The average, everyday look is more essential, she said.
At some modeling agencies their commercial divisions often include larger male models, Burghardt said. However, unlike plus size female models, men aren’t placed in a separate category. Although this may be seen as more inclusive, many bigger, prospective male models are unaware that agencies even accept a range of body types.
Like Cadigan, Burghardt has observed that men are sometimes more hesitant to try modeling than women-especially if they’re larger. “I’m sure there are men out there that would make great commercial models, but they don’t come forward because they think they’re too heavy and that there’s no place for them in [the modeling industry],” Burghardt said.
Like runway models, commercial models need to sustain their look and weight as well. If a commercial model is booking shoots with their current weight, Burghardt discourages them from undergoing drastic weight loss or gain. One of her commercial models lost 18 lbs. in order to get more work, but Burghardt is waiting to see if clients prefer it.
“She’s basically selling your look, and there’s always a different angle for every customer and what they’re looking for,” Pabon said.
Yet overall, the fashion industry is still easier on men than women regarding their weight, Burghardt said. When asked why there’s a preference for thinner male models, Burghardt says that it’s often a designer’s preference.
“Unfortunately it’s the industry. When fashion models are working with high-end, retail, the clothes are made to fit a longer leaner [body]. The industry has always been beautiful people sell the product. It’s changing and they’re starting to go towards average people, but it will always be that way,” Burghardt said. “As far as [high] fashion, they will always use the more glamorous people to sell their product.”
Although larger men may have opportunities to enter the modeling industry through commercial divisions, breaking into the runway or editorial divisions is close to impossible due to the size and height requirements. If runway size requirements were broader, then Pabon said he would definitely consider stomping on the runway.
Despite the profusion of thin male models currently on the runway, it won’t take as long for plus size male models to reach the catwalk and major fashion advertisements, Burghardt said. If the success of the plus size female market transfers over in both stores and on the runway to plus size male models, then larger models may not only be restricted to commercial modeling. “If you start advertising with plus size models then customers will think they can look good in the clothes too. They’ll feel accepted,” Pabon said. Bridging the gap between high fashion and plus size male models may seem like a treacherous journey, but if the rise of female plus size models are any indication, it starts with taking a bold leap.