It's about time menswear embraced diversity: Where are the plus-size models?

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
Is it time for greater diversity on the LFWM catwalks? [Photo: Getty]
Is it time for greater diversity on the LFWM catwalks? [Photo: Getty]

The fifth London Fashion Week Men’s (LFWM) kick’s off today and it’s expected to be bigger and better than ever.

But while LFWM is fast catching up with it’s female counter-parts in the glamour stakes, there’s one area it is lagging behind – diversity.

Body positivity has been having a real moment in female fashion of late. From campaign’s to encourage designers to make bigger sample sizes for models, to protests by plus-size models against the fashion industry’s fixation on what’s often perceived as unhealthy thinness, the size positive movement has been busy building a ‘fashion for every body’ campaign for quite some time.

Then there’s the social media movements aimed at highlighting the industry’s lack of body-inclusivity which spawned activist hashtags like #effyourbeautystandards and #droptheplus, and outspoken models like Ashley Graham raising the profile of diversity on the runways.

And it seems to be working. The Fashion Spot‘s biannual diversity report revealed that New York Fashion Week (NYFW) had a real plus-size moment with 26 appearances of curvy models occurring. London wasn’t far behind.

But it seems that the conversations surrounding body positivity in fashion are beginning and ending with women. While womenswear designers are facing increasing pressure to offer greater representation of all body types on the catwalk, men’s fashion largely faces little to no criticism for its depiction of one type of male body.

Strides have been made in the female fashion industry in terms of diversity, but the male industry is lagging behind [Photo: Getty]
Strides have been made in the female fashion industry in terms of diversity, but the male industry is lagging behind [Photo: Getty]

A quick glance at any high-profile menswear runway reveals that the male model body type of choice is long and lean, with little representation of shorter or indeed larger male bodies.

Of course, despite the grounds body positive activists have made, female runways are still largely dominated by slim, tall, white models, but at least the women’s fashion industry is beginning to discuss and rebel against these norms.

The same can’t be said for the male industry, but there are some fashion brands and BoPo warriors who are trying to throw a light on diversity in men’s fashion.

Earlier this year, we reported on the pre-LFWM protest designed to campaign for greater representation of all male bodies on the runway.

Organised by menswear retailer, Jacamo, the #FashionForEveryMan demonstration saw a group of diverse male models get together in protest over the fashion industry’s underrepresentation of everyday, real men and called for male models of more shapes, sizes and disabilities to be more widely included in runway shows and fashion campaigns.

Following it’s success, the menswear retailer plan to keep the campaign going.

“Jacamo has always championed inclusivity and encouraged men to feel confident whatever their shape or size,” says Jenni Bamford from Jacamo. “While there’s no doubt that the male fashion industry continues to lag behind the female industry, progress is being made and we will continue to drive this change.”

“Our recent research revealed that the choice of male models used in fashion campaigns had a significant influence on confidence of male shoppers: in response to this we launched a competition to find a ‘real’ male model and have since launched a number of campaigns using the finalists as models,” Jenni continues.

“All men should feel represented on the high street, without any barriers.”

There’s a more serious side to campaigning for greater male representation too in terms of the rising pressure men are feeling to conform to one-type of male body. Just last month we reported on the empowering photoshoot featuring alternative models which aimed to highlight the problem.

10 men have taken part in an empowering shoot to raise awareness about male body image [Photo: Bri Mansy/Alternative Fashion Fest]
10 men have taken part in an empowering shoot to raise awareness about male body image [Photo: Bri Mansy/Alternative Fashion Fest]

The shoot’s organiser, Jane Bellis, CEO of Art & Soul Tribe and Alternative Fashion Fest, has been working in fashion for over twenty years and has made it her mission to highlight the importance of inclusivity in both the female and male fashion industries.

“We’re starting to make strides in the women’s industry, with the likes of Tess Holiday and companies like Simply Be coming to the forefront,” Jane explains.

“But we don’t have any role models for the men, and have few brands that actively represent different body shapes from very slim or short to very large or tall,” she continues.

“It’s crucially important in terms of self esteem and positive body image that the fashion industry recognise this and stop this ‘one size fits all’ mentality when it comes to their marketing.”

Jane is urging male fashion designers and brands to stop thinking solely in terms of profit and realise their moral and ethical duty to society to represent real body types and body shapes.

“Research is showing us that men are just as susceptible as women to eating disorders, self harming, low self esteem, anxiety and even suicide as a result on the pressures placed on them to look a certain way and it’s hard not to point the finger at the fashion and media industry for creating this culture,” she says.

But things are starting to change. The U.S. now has it’s own modelling agency to represent larger-than-average men, and the U.K. has a plus-size male model of its very own. Surrey native Ben Whittaker (aka Ben Whit), 24, was signed to the London-based Bridge Models agency in March as Britain’s first brawn model.

Ben has previously spoken out about the pressures men feel to fit a certain physical mould.

“There is pressure to look a certain way,” he told the Guardian. “You see slim men on television and in fitness magazines. People want to get that look, but they’re just not built that way. I’ve seen young men in the gym putting their body through a lot of stress, and it’s just not worth it.”

He’s right, of course, which is why now is that perfect time to do something about it. The growth of LFWM is proof that menswear as an industry is finally getting similar recognition to its womenswear sister. But designers and brands need to realise that the men buying their clothes don’t fit into one-body type, any more than women do.

So while we’re applauding the strides being made in terms of body positivity in the female fashion realm, we’re hoping it won’t be long before we see the same progress in men’s fashion.

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Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

LFWM: Who to look out for in the June 2017 collections

London Fashion Week Men’s: The designers showing co-ed collections this June

The diversity trend: When will fashion become truly inclusive?