Why Do We Love The Rubenesque Fashion Man?

The body in fashion is a highly policed object. Because of model culture and “sample sizes,” the larger body is frequently, purposefully, left off the sales floor. So what does it mean when a man transcends the body politics to be a successful “fat” person in fashion?

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time, more so than the rise of Zach Miko or the #AerieMan fiasco. This is bigger than them, literally and figuratively. These are men like editors Andre Leon Talley and Mickey Boardman and designers Alber Elbaz, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Costello Tagliapietra. What is it about these rubenesque fashion men that allow them to be rubenesque fashion men? A few theories.

Perhaps it is tied to their non-masculinity.
All of these men are gay(-ish, as Talley is “not gay“). While half of them dip into bear culture—Van Beirendonck and Costello Tagliapietra—the rest are just large and in charge precious men. Where this gets interesting in terms of sexuality and masculinity is that the larger man is often desexualized in queer culture, seen as unappealing and undesirable when exacerbated by a more delicate “femme” sensibility. Do these men embody that? In some regards, yes. Outside of the bears, there is a sort of limp handedness to the gang, a side-stepping of ones own sexuality. Even Talley’s proclamation that he is “not gay” is a means to remove himself from the realm of desire. Moreover, perhaps since they are not the female bodies on display, they get a “pass” in terms of scrutiny. That’s not right—and reflects some male privilege—but maybe that’s related to the answer.

There is no cultural tie.
More fascinating is that these men are from all over: Elbaz is Moroccan and a longtime Parisian designer; Van Beirendonck is Belgian; and Talley, Boardman, and Costello Tagliapietra are all American—but from very different Americas. Can we tie acceptance to that? Not really, especially since the level of fashion they’re working in is the same level that only recently is forcing too skinny models to prove they are healthy. This isn’t some subterranean level of fashion where plus size love is the norm: this is the opposite.

There is an ownership.
Unlike former fat, self-hater Karl Lagerfeld, these men don’t step around the rotunda but own that they are rotundas. Boardman has repeatedly taken down anti-fat media: “What bothers me is that if serious news outlets make jokes about his weight,” Boardman speaks about Chris Christie‘s body, “You can imagine what the average fool on the street or commenting on blogs or Facebook posts will think.” Talley knows he is large because of the size of his clothing and that has never affected his confidence: “I have never felt less of a person because of my dramatic weight gain,” he said in a Vanity Fair interview years ago. Elbaz sums it up best, truly calling it what it is in a talk with BAZAAR: “I love to eat. I’m fat but I don’t give a damn. Every time I have an idea I’m in the kitchen. I’m in the kitchen a lot.” Instead of tiptoeing around, these men are confronting their larger image, which undoubtedly gets at confidence in the face of the scrawny norm (and is exactly how a poser like Fat Jewish can rise in style circles).

They’re cuddly and cool.
While I have no proof of this, all of these reasons seem to get at these men being warm and lovable, big but nonthreatening. In and out of the halls of fashion, they’re adored because of their talent but also a sweet cool. Like Costello Tagliapietra share with Simon Doonan in his book Gay Men Don’t Get Fat, “this is who we are.” Robert even notes that, “It was only when we let ourselves be ourselves that stuff started happening.”

Perhaps this is a learning moment, a moment to pause, to reflect on the rubenesque fashion man. Why do we love them? Why do they get a fat pass? What is it about the rubenesque fashion man that is so adorable? There doesn’t seem to be an answer but I—We all.—adore them. Here’s to you, big boys.

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