Plus-size model Zach Miko: ‘Men want to see normal-looking guys modelling their clothes’

With a 40in waist, hes the first plus-size male model to sign for a major agency. He explains how fashion needs to rethink its attitude to size and why the term brawn indicates strength and power

Zach Miko is 6ft 6in, has a 40in waist, and is the first plus-size male model signed to a major agency, IMG, which looks after models including Lara Stone, Freja Beha and Gigi Hadid. Having modelled for Target, one of the USs biggest retailers, and soon to be modelling for Yours, one of the UKs biggest plus-size fashion retailers, the 26-year-olds 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.

Youve been signed to IMG as its first plus-size or brawn male model. Congratulations. So far, youve 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.

Plus-size model Zach Miko. Photograph: Leonardo Corredor

Do you think people would have noticed sooner had it been a plus-size female model in the shoot?

If it was a womens 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?

Its 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 dont find plus size offensive, but I think its 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.

Miko: Plus means additional, outside brawn suggests strength and power Photograph: Leonardo Corredor

Why do you think plus-size male models have yet to move into the mainstream industry?

There has been a lot of support in womens 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?

Youre not supposed to care about how you look. If you have issues, you arent supposed to talk about it. Its considered weak or un-masculine. Which is stupid. Its 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 its 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 dont 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 thats 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 arent 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 dont think you have to be a twig to [be healthy]. Other people dont 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 dont know what their health is. People think Im a slob and that I dont 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 wasnt available in my size I wasnt allowed to wear it. I wore my fathers hand-me-downs. Id 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.

Theres clearly a market for plus-size male models. Do you think they will ever break into the mainstream or high-end market?

Thats my biggest hope. The average waist size in the US is 39in. Most stores stop at 38. Immediately, half the population dont have access to these clothes. Theyre cutting off such a giant marketshare. But the fashion industry is about money.

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