Can Plus-Sized Models Send a Wrong Message?


Last Updated on February 5, 2022

Plus-sized models — both male and female — have made headlines lately, but it may be time to consider how this can be a good and potentially dangerous thing.

It appears there may still be hope for my as-yet non-existent modeling career. Heaven help all of you.

Let me go ahead and say it upfront lest there be any doubt: there is almost no community on this planet in which I would not be considered at least “plus-sized.” Some might choose to refer to it as overweight. Some might call it obese. Or just plain fat.

Believe me, I’ve heard it all.

As much as I might wish none of those names would apply, I could hardly deny that any of them would, particularly if I happen to be in front of a mirror at the time.

Late last week, we learned one of the world’s largest talent agencies hired an actor/musician/comedian as its first plus-sized male model. IMG, the agency in question, also launched its first board devoted wholly to plus-size men, which it is calling “Brawn.”

I would say the model they hired is a good-looking guy, but you can better judge this for yourself:

I don’t consider this guy “fat.” I asked a few friends and the word that came back most often was “beefy.” The way they said it, it seems “beefy” is a good thing.

The introduction of Brawn and this model come on the heels of Sports Illustrated featuring a plus-sized female model on one of its annual Swimsuit Edition covers. Yes, she might be what some would refer to as “curvy,” or a myriad of other adjectives, some of which might be considered at least somewhat flattering and others of which wouldn’t be classified that way at all.

I happen to think she’s beautiful.

I applaud both these models.

It can’t be easy in this society to walk in front of a camera as a model if you know you’re not a size zero or whatever the male equivalent of size zero might be. We’ve been programmed to believe that only skinny, physically fit people can be attractive.

It’s not true, but I think for many people, it just seems true.

Since I’m “plus-sized” or whatever other cutesy name you want to call it when you don’t want to call it “overweight,” it’s nice to see people who look more like me modeling clothes I might consider buying.

Not everyone looks like those slender models that look like a sudden gust of wind might be just enough to knock them on their butts.

Not everyone looks like they eat only protein bars for every meal of their lives.

Not all guys have a 28 waist.

It’s nice to see that at least some retailers apparently recognize these facts. It’s easier to imagine how clothing will look on you when the model has a build closer to your own.

But for me, that’s where the appeal ends. And here’s where I trip over a big old pile of mixed feelings on this issue.

People are lauding both stories for their ability to help people who have extra meat on their bones feel more “comfortable” with who they are. They are delighted by what appears to be a slow movement toward acceptance of body image — particularly self-image — among the more overweight among us.

I’m happy to see that some people see beauty in people who have extra padding. I’m even happier that there are apparently people who are more interested in the person inside than the physical appearance. That makes me feel there may still be hope for our society.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want that to cause me to “settle” for the way I look. When it comes to body self-image, I don’t want to feel like there’s nothing wrong with being overweight. (And to be fair, I don’t think plus-sized models are directly trying to send that specific message.)

I don’t walk around, you see, searching for someone who’s popular because of their size, then morph that into a reason to be comfortable with mine. That’s because in the grand scheme of things, that sort of association is meaningless. I don’t want to find an excuse not to get in better shape. I don’t want to be “proud” of being overweight and then be able to turn to a “bigger” model who’s popular and rationalize that as some sort of justification.

Ideally, we should all be proud of the individuals we are, or at least be proud of the good we can find within us. But talking ourselves in being proud of being bigger than we should be is a different matter. The more important consideration than one’s appearance is one’s health. While I apparently have some very good genes and haven’t suffered any negative effects like high blood pressure or diabetes commonly associated with not being “svelte,” I don’t want to lose that sense of an inner push to do something so that I can say 10 years from now that I still haven’t seen any sign of either condition.

If either were to develop, I can’t turn to an illness and say, “You have to go away: look at how society has started accepting ‘bigger’ people now.”

Sure, it’s my choice whether to figure out what works and what doesn’t as I try to get healthier or to not make any such effort.

If there’s a chance some campaign for “acceptance” of someone’s unhealthy size — or even a size that is unhealthy for many but not necessarily all people — could do harm by motivating them to not get healthier, there’s something wrong with that.

Let me be clear: I applaud these models and I applaud the effort to be inclusive to demonstrate that not everyone looks “tiny.”

On the other hand, I don’t see anything particularly unhealthy in reminding people who are potentially in an unhealthy condition that they are, in fact, potentially shortening their life or hurting their health.

I realize there’s a fine line between what’s referred to as “fat-shaming” and encouraging people to get healthier. That is to say, there’s a definite point at which motivation can turn into ridicule when concern can more closely resemble bullying.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that line is different for everyone, which means someone’s always going to get their feelings hurt when someone else might not.

For me, it comes down to the object of one’s pride: if your pride is focused on the outside, your physical appearance, that might just be a sign that you should spend a bit more time working on the inside instead.

How do you feel about the issue of plus-sized models and body self-image? Do you see this only as a good thing, or do you see the potential for sending a potentially wrong message?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • This is but one small drop in a world filled with “wrong messages”. It’s simply another one. The entire fashion industry is built upon them. It’s not the job of that industry to educate anyone about health. In the end they are just trying to make money, and this is expanding their target demographic. They cannot very well do so by launching a clothing line “For Fatsos”. So they come up with more palatable terms. I don’t really read more than that into it. As far as being concerned about bad and unhealthy examples go, that ship has sailed a long, long time ago.

  • I can see your point about sending the wrong message. Being a male who is sporting a nice beer belly, I do not think too much when I see a beefy guy in an ad. I do not give it a second thought. Marketing from different magazines and advertisers has certainly changed what we see in terms of women though. So, when SI did release with a curvy model, I noticed. I too think she is beautiful!

    I do not think that giving the wrong message for the curvy model would happen. Yes, she is curvy, but I would not say she is fat. She looks healthy and like she will not blow away in a stiff breeze. Thus, I can see having advertising with curvy women as a good thing as that’s what we see in everyday life. Not too often do we see the perfectly symmetric body… not sure we see it too often in print that is actually “real” and not digitally edited.

    Seeing curvy or beefy models in ads might actually help the public who can now relate to those individuals. I am sure that the beefy guy from your post as well as the SI curvy model both work out and that’s what we need people to understand. Just because they are beefy or curvy, we all need to lead an active lifestyle to extend our lives.

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