Initially, I sat down to write a blog post about some of the male underwear models who didn't fit the typical six-pack-with-no-body-hair image of an underwear model. I wanted to write about some guys who had some rolls, body hair, or acne who were beginning to stand out as the faces of new campaigns and underwear lines.
What I found, instead, were four campaigns (one of which was a parody) primarily by indie brands that seemed to showcase a few guys without six packs for a single photo shoot. Locating the models' Instagram handles would likely take a Freedom of Information Act request, and finding their pictures in product listing pages that aren't directly tied to this specific campaign is quite rare.
As I leaned into my research about plus-size male underwear models, I realized that I wasn't asking the right question. Rather than asking "who are the plus-size models I need to know about," I should have been asking "why is it so rare to see plus-size men as underwear models?"
Shifting my focus to this new question, I noticed that there were two recurring trends at play:
- There's a huge misconception that bigger guys aren't a profitable market for fashion brands
- Misogynistic ideas that men are somehow impervious to body image issues, unlike women
To be honest, I'm not sure why I didn't ask this question sooner. As someone who regularly blogs about topics like underwear and fitness, I've reflected before that one of my biggest challenges is to find images to use that are inclusive of a variety of body types. If I can find an image or GIF of a bigger guy, it's usually because they're being portrayed as a punchline. I've been seeing on stock photo websites and Giphy for months and months that there just aren't very many photos of plus-sized, or even what we'd usually call an "average" guy, floating around for easy access.
Are guys profitable?
The first and most common argument I've seen against using bigger men in advertisements is that since women are statistically more likely than men to be primary spenders, it's more important to cater advertisements to women than to men.
More recent reports even highlight than men are fashion's fastest-growing consumers.
In a nutshell, the notion that it's a waste of time and money to market to men of diverse bodies doesn't match with trends in how men are buying clothes. And, obviously, it's not just skinny, muscular guys buying clothes. Some of the most well-dressed men you can find are plus-sized guys. Personally, I'm a big fan of The Big Sartorialist, "the papa bear of men's fashion," when it comes to seeking out inspiration for formalwear; for less formal looks, you can turn to guys like _king_of_kings_25 on Instagram.
Plus, by suggesting that men of all body sizes can't be profitable– especially in a market like the underwear market– we're overlooking a pretty significant detail: the vast majority of men wear and need underwear.
Underwear is essentially a necessity. Some guys may argue with me on that point, and that's cool, but I believe only 3% of men report regularly going commando. 97% of guys are buying and wearing underwear, and they're buying pretty regularly. That's why subscription services like The Underwear Expert and DailyJocks have become so popular.
Does Body Image Affect Men As Much as Women?
Men seem to be more prone to ‘atypical’ eating disorders and substance abuse than women (Burlew & Shurts 2013).
Men tend to be quieter about their body negativity, seeking treatment less frequently or holding off on treatment longer than women due to shame (Brennan, Lalonde, & Bain 2010; Burlew & Shurts 2013).
Of course, men care about their body image. While it may often manifest itself or be discussed differently than body image issues for women and non-binary folks, it's still there and it's still a major issue for many men. Eating disorders are on the rise for men, and there's an incredible amount of pressure to have low body fat and defined muscles.
For example, I'm 6'3" and weight around 190lbs. I have about a 31 or 32-inch waist (depending upon whether or not I've had carbs in the last 24-hours). By most visual standards, I'm fairly thin. And yet, it only takes a few minutes of scrolling through Instagram to start to feel bad about myself or the slice of bread that bumped me up to a 32-inch waist. I can't scroll for more than a few seconds without seeing tanned six packs with clear skin and pecs like cinderblocks. Sure, somedays I can view it as aspirational motivation to hit the gym, but most days it just makes me feel bad about myself for not looking a particular way.
That's one reason why I'm a huge fan of Jamakings on Instagram. He's another influencer to keep an eye on as a bigger guy who has a good eye for fashion and who speaks out about body acceptance.
"Love Your Body" photo series by @jamakings on Instagram.
It's naive to assume that brands shouldn't hire plus-sized men to model their underwear because men don't care as much about body image. We do, and seeing diverse bodies represented can feed into the tendency for men to have more positive perceptions of branded advertisements.
Where are the Plus-Sized Underwear Models?
Underwear is not an article of clothing that doesn't matter just because it's not often seen. Different cuts, colors, and even fabrics are going to look and feel better on different bodies. By not showcasing a variety of bodies in different styles of underwear, brands are doing a disservice to consumers. They're also perpetuating the idea that bigger guys don't want to feel sexy, invest in fashion, or ever feel insecure about their bodies.
While, statistically, more guys may indicate that they're more concerned about comfort than fashion when it comes to their underwear, big guys/ guys with stretch marks/ guys with binders/ guys with body hair still want to feel good about what they're wearing. I'd also argue that showcasing more diverse bodies as underwear models would be more likely to drive higher sales for underwear brands for the very reason that it will appeal to the mentality of practicality that many guys cite as their motivation for purchasing underwear.
Hazy lighting with oiled, muscular bodies may be tantalizing for some, but it doesn't tell me if the underwear is comfortable for all-day wear or if I can wear them while working out. If I saw a guy with a body like mine being able to say "wow, my genitals aren't being crammed into scratchy fabric and I still look great," that'd be a big selling point for me. In most of the underwear reviews that I've written, in fact, the main factor keeping many brands from getting a perfect score is the fact that they focus on being traditionally sexy and not on fitting well or being comfortable.
So, my question remains: where are the plus-sized underwear models?
If you know of a brand or model who's making waves, please let me know in the comments below!