If Male Models Can Come In Different Sizes, Female Models Can, Too

Male underwear models are known to be dudes with chiseled abs, huge biceps, overdeveloped pecs and a bulging … well, you’ve seen the advertising.

But recently, The New York Times reported that underwear companies are beginning to rethink what a male model should look like—the old stereotype may just be “too sexy” to appeal to the average, heterosexual man. Some of these companies have decided to take things in a new direction. For example, 2(x)ist—a company known for featuring male models who are Vin Diesel-ripped—recently hired a fashion public relations firm to make the company seem “not so intimidating.”

Michael Kleinmann, editor of The Underwear Expert, says this switch is happening because straight men don’t want to see male models who have every last hair shaved off and are attractive in an unachievable way. He told The New York Times that the most common feedback he’s gotten from men is that they want to see more variation, such as men with tattoos or men over 40.

But was this move a way to get more diversity in the media (in the sense of body shape) or just a plan to convince another audience to buy their products? Probably the latter. It looks like some fashion companies, including 2(x)ist, are noticing that straight men are getting more into fashion (we’re looking at you, hipster movement) and are trying to come up with new ways to sell to them.

James LaForce, a marketing executive behind 2(x)ist’s switch to the less-beefy male model, says they’re trying to appeal to these men by giving the models a storyline, by making them relatable: “We are giving the models an identity, so they are not just a piece of meat.”

Underwear companies obviously aren’t the first to target the average straight guy in their ads. A common way to do this is seems to be: “If you buy our product, you’ll get all the ladies.” Time and time again we’ve seen advertising that features an average-looking guy who attracts the attention of a woman who looks like she could be a Victoria’s Secret model. (This “average male” idea may also be the reason 2(x)ist stresses it has a strict “no stuffing” policy with its models.)

But this decision to involve models who are less muscular makes us wonder why these companies feel straight men have a problem with the Calvin Klein-style model. The New York Times article noted,

Things have become so raunchy now that the marketing for a sizable niche of underwear brands bears a marked resemblance to gay pornography …

So is it possible that this switch is based on the idea that the straight male customer may be too homophobic to buy products advertised with super-hot guys? Jezebel’s Callie Beusman writes, “… the turn away from objectification employs a bit of ‘no homo’ rhetoric that’s a little troubling.”

Regardless of intention, it’s a good thing the fashion industry will be showing a wider range of male body types. After all, men suffer from body image issues, too.

If advertising can make the switch to showing diversity in their male models’ body types, surely they can do the same with female models. It was just a few years ago that a Lane Bryant commercial featuring a not-super-skinny model was deemed inappropriate by several TV networks, and the overall trend in women’s fashion is still to exclusively feature models who are a size 2 or smaller. But some companies, such as H&M, have recently been commended for featuring models of different shapes. Jennie Runk, a size 12 or 14 model, recently appeared in H&M’s swimsuit campaign, and in the general section of the campaign instead of the plus-sized one. She recently wrote an open letter to condemn the fashion industry’s obsession with what the “perfect” woman looks like, saying,

People assume plus equates to fat, which in turn equates to ugly. This is completely absurd because many women who are considered plus-sized are actually in line with the American average. … Our bodies are built to be naturally different sizes, to denote any of these body types negatively is only hurting all of us, because that’s where you get girls of one body type slamming another to make themselves feel better.

It’s likely women accept unrealistic models as a representation of themselves because, well, they’re used to it. Girls too often grow up seeing hyper-sexualized images of women in the media and are taught from early childhood that good looks are the most important thing about themselves.

Until media represent all types of people, we need to keep pushing to get advertising companies to understand their women customers don’t all have Adriana Lima’s body—the same way not all male customers have Vin Diesel’s rock-hard abs.

Photo of male model by Wikimedia user Tiffany, under the public domain.


Ponta Abadi, a graduate of the University of Oregon, is a former Ms. intern. Follow her on Twitter.