Interview: Laura Wells and Jesse McNeilly Talk Men’s “Plus-Size” Modelling

Laura Wells is one of Australia’s most successful “plus-size” models, empowering others by loving and embracing every curve she has to offer. And that’s great, at least for the women around the world who are progressively taking a step in the right direction when it comes to welcoming body diversity and acceptance.

But Laura and her fiancé, fellow “plus-size” model and Johnny Bigg ambassador Jesse McNeilly, are well aware that we’re only tackling one half of the issue. We’re talking about men’s body image pressure here, which is rarely brought to the forefront because there’s so much focus on women’s bodies.

We sat down with Laura and Jesse to chat about the label “plus-size” across the men’s and women’s markets, why male body image issues are important, and how they stay confident in a cut-throat industry.

Jesse McNeilly models for Johnny Bigg

Photo courtesy of Johnny Bigg

theFashionSpot: With so much focus on women’s bodies in the media, do you ever feel like body image issues for men can get forgotten?

Laura Wells: Definitely. You basically only ever hear about body image in terms of women, but body image for men is a huge problem as well. It’s just as bad, but I think it’s not noticed because women’s fashion is seen within the media a lot more.

When we are looking at men’s fashion realistically we are only looking at thin male models in high-end fashion, or you go to the other extreme and you see extremely ripped, buff guys. But there’s nothing really in between that that showcases normal men. In the media we see a lot more female plus-sized models, but you really don’t see that anywhere for men.

Jesse McNeilly: Totally. I think it fits into the category of “as a man you shouldn’t cry or talk about your feelings.” If you’re a man’s man, you don’t sit around talking about a type of shirt or a colour that looks good on you, because that’s not the way our male culture is built.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, it just creates a window for brands like Johnny Bigg to really capitalise on that. When you walk into one of their stores and you see other guys your size and they look good wearing the clothes, it makes you want to buy it.

tFS: Do you think the “plus-size” label differs for the female and male market?

LW: It’s generally on par. Plus-size models are, realistically, average-sized people but they are plus-size in terms of modelling because they are 4-6 sizes bigger than the standard models. However, there is the same problem with the word “plus” in modelling because when the public hear “plus-size model” they automatically think of a plus-size person. It’s quite hard to get your head around the person that they expect to see because realistically they are an average size.

JM: The label for women has a stigma and the label for men barely exists in this market because it’s new ground. It differs culturally because there’s a different culture within men’s and women’s fashion in the modelling world.  As a woman you express it, it’s a part of who you are, but for men not so much.

tFS: Do you feel like the men’s fashion industry can be discriminative towards body shape? How so?

JM: Yes. I don’t have abs, I mean I do suppressed between a layer of fat, but it really doesn’t keep me awake at night. I am exposed to these issues through media and things like magazines and TV and can see how it would affect people.

Movies are a big one, there are actors that are paid a lot of money to get into that shape. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think in a lot of instances it can be an unrealistic expectation. Being the face of Johnny Bigg has been great. You know that guys just like you are walking into the store and seeing people who look like them, and they look good!

tFS: Some people would say that Jesse isn’t any larger than your average Australian male. Do you think that the “plus-size” label is appropriate for him?

LW: Plus-size model label, yes, that is appropriate. Plus-size man in general, no. He’s an average size, just the same as me really. I am definitely a plus-size model but I am an average-size woman.

tFS: If you could say anything to someone who is struggling with their appearance due to their body shape, what would it be?

LW: People contact me about problems with body images and I always ask them to find something they love that has no relation to their body. For me I love being outside, I love being in the ocean and I really want to protect that. I feel really happy when I go and do something.

Even if it’s just picking up a few pieces of rubbish off the beach or telling someone about what the can do to help the ocean. That for me makes me feel amazing about myself and it has nothing to do with my appearance. Love yourself and know that you don’t have to be anything but yourself.

JM: Relax. It’s not the end of the world and you know when you’re older, fatter and uglier it’s not going to matter. What matters is how you spend your day and doing what you love. Worry about what you can achieve and not how you appear.