Plus-size male model Zach Miko opens up about self-esteem, body positivity

Zach Miko isn't shy of the term plus size.

"I respond to everything," he laughed, speaking to me from Sydney last week ahead of walking in the Iconic Swim runway show.  "I respond to plus-sized as long as were being talked about."

People sure are talking.

Connecticut-born Miko was the first 'Brawn' model to feature in the show, dubbed by many commentators as the most body-positive, inclusive and empowering show to date.    

Aussie plus-sized model Robyn Lawly, public campaigner for better body type representation in modeling, led the runway.

Miko on the Iconic runway.
Miko on the Iconic runway. Photo credit: Supplied.

It's one of the most hotly anticipated swim shows in the world - pretty good for a male model who never intended to be one.

"I had always been a big guy but you have to understand, before the last three years there were no big guy models," Miko recalls.

"I was as likely to become a model as I was to become a fighter pilot."

The first model to be signed to the 'Brawn' division of international agency IMG Models, Miko has appeared in publications like The Guardian, GQ and Women's Wear Daily.

When I asked what the biggest moment has been, Miko's nerves break through.

"I have a feeling it will be tomorrow, when I walk that runway for the first time," he laughs.

"I've been practicing my walk in this hotel room.

"But before that it was when my mum called me because she got a catalogue and I was on the front of it. It was the first tangible proof I had that this was not a dream, or a fantasy."

There's a serious side to the 'dream come true' aspect. Representation is still a major problem in a modeling industry where the average male model has a waist size of 28 inches (71cm). Miko's is 42. The power in his role isn't lost on him.

"I just think what wonders this [job] would have done for little Zach's self-esteem growing up," he says. "You know when I was a kid, the only roles you see a big guy in on television is the villain, or the joke. There was no in-between."

How, he asks, were young men supposed to love themselves, when this was all they had to emulate?

"It's this worldwide 'toxic masculinity' idea from the 1950s that's damaging, and we need to address it from an early age," he points out. 

"Those weaknesses, those insecurities, they make you a person. Suppressing those insecurities is what leads to misogyny.

"If we can change the behviour pattern to accepting and loving yourself, then you're going to accept and love other people. We need to teach younger men from an earlier age to love themselves."

Miko on the Iconic runway.
Miko on the Iconic runway. Photo credit: Supplied.

This image of the future is a far cry from the stick thin models with black rimmed eyes on the catwalk that was the tour de force of the 90s. How have we come so far in such a short time?

"Oh yeah, the 'heroin-chic' ideal," Miko laughs.  "It was a product of the time." That time, he adds, is marked by some brave plus-size women who braved catwalks and shows, even when they were not the "ideal".

"Everything we [plus size male models] have, we have to thank plus-size women in the industry. They opened the door, we just snuck in behind them."

These plus size models include Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, Tara Lynn.

"We wouldn't be anything if they weren't constantly shattering barriers. We've come along and had three years of what they've been fighting for for 20 years."