Insider’s secret: not every personality I get to interview talks a lot. Some are very measured in their answers, veterans who have gone through so many interviews that they know exactly what you will ask. Some are one-word individuals, still getting to know and occupy the spotlight. Some are very careful, knowing their reach in the industry, they don’t want to offend anyone. Not everyone can be like Kanye West, sure, but it doesn’t hurt to let your thoughts run free.
None of this is applicable to Zach Miko, though. Here’s a man who talks a mile a minute, not of self-praising anecdotes of the modeling life. Not the mixed thoughts of a jetlagged individual. Here’s a man who actually practices what he preaches, and preaches so much of his practice. As the first plus size male model of one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world, IMG Models (the same agency that houses Gigi and Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls, Gisele Bündchen, and Kate Moss), he’s here to change the conversation that fellow IMG model Ashley Graham started.
Preen caught up with Zach in the studio for one project that’s sure to show off his beliefs―being the face of SM Men’s Plus. He’s putting an image to a population often overlooked by fashion’s standards. “They will shop and it will sell out, you just have to put it in the right size,” says Zach of the fashion world that tends to force people to fit into a certain size rather than just making clothing for all sizes.
But the battle is just more about where you can shop and the people you see on posters and billboards. As we talked lengthily to Zach, we found how, as a model, he is indeed so much more.
Who is your favorite late night talk show host?
Oh, jeez, that’s a good one. I love Jimmy Kimmel or James Corden. Or Conan. I used to love Conan, I still do, but I don’t watch him as often especially after his whole debacle with Jay Leno. I was on Conan’s side though.
What’s your go-to outfit when rushing but you have to look good?
I got a pretty big assortment of flannel. I tend to wear flannel a lot because it’s comfortable. Flannel is funny, at least in the US. It can go casual but as soon as you throw a jacket over it you look like you tried [to do] something. And then jeans.
What do you love shopping for?
When you’re as big as [I am], you don’t get to go to clothing stores very often and actually pick something up. That’s why I’m so excited that SM Store is actually doing it [for men like me]. Guys like me are always relegated to shopping online which is fine but you don’t get to try something on and you don’t really know what it’s going to look like. That’s one of my goals in the fashion industry―to just go to a store and [have something in your size]. It’s so simple but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Anyway, I love shopping for suits. When you go to a suit store, they have variety and they will tailor everything for you. Usually what I do when I buy something, there’s a [kink] that doesn’t fit. You just kinda deal with it, so like this shirt you have leave the top button or the other shirt, you can’t roll the sleeves up.
You don’t have problem with the term “plus size” unlike Ashley Graham. But in the long run, do you think it’s better to keep the distinction?
I think right now it’s important to use the term “plus size.” Long-term, I also would love [to have what Ashley wants] and “drop the plus.” I think people should be celebrated for who they are and not just for their shape. In the meantime, I’ll still use the term plus size so people know what I am talking about. There are so many terms for it. I am considered a “Brawn” while Ashley is considered “Curve,” eventually that will all go away though. I don’t have a problem with using the term plus, [even though]
I understand why people have a problem with that term because it does feel like when say “plus” there’s an addition, there’s an “extra.” And there is no such thing as “extra people.” You are who you are but in the meantime, I need people to understand. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a plus size model and people [ask what’s that] and then I explain. It’s doesn’t offend me. It’s just getting people on the same page.
So it’s just telling people that there are many different kinds of models?
Yes. It’s just telling them that this exists. This is a thing. It’s funny when I meet people and I tell them what I do for a living, I kind of apologize. I say “I guess I’m a model.” (Laughs) I don’t know why, but people start to not question it. In a year, it went from no one knowing to people just going “Oh yeah, there’s that now.” We’re pushing it from being a niche thing to being something in the mainstream.
Who’s a harsher critic of bodies: men or women?
Across the board, the pressure is there on both sides. It’s just that there are different types of pressure. For women, there is pressure from both women and men to look a certain way. For men, surprisingly, men also put pressure on others. They make fun of each other but I think we have to get away from making fun of people just to hurt of them. My friends and I still make fun of each other, but nowadays we have to learn where the lines are. What’s funny from just offensive. The thing is people should just stop hurting each other for no reason.
On social media, what’s great with women is there’s been a lot more unity. Men still stay silent about that because they want to act like they don’t care. I don’t know when it became cool not to care. It’s okay to care because you are a human being.
How do women put pressure on men without knowing it?
Women often don’t comment on men’s bodies directly. Some do but there’s a handful of jerks everywhere. (Laughs) However, unlike men who comment on women because of this deep-seated misogyny that needs to be taken care of everywhere, women are still more subtle. [They put pressure on men] when you see who’s on their Pinterest board. They show you how hot this guy is and you see six packs. You think immediately how you’re never going to be that guy. The more men seeing women to being open to men of different sizes will men feel [less pressure].
I feel like men and women have always been open to accepting different body types but it’s just never been cool to say it. I hope to change that.
One thing about the modeling industry you want people to know
Individuality is what’s beautiful. I believe all women of any shape or size are beautiful. As a teenager it wasn’t cool to say that because it’s all about [which model was on the magazine]. What I want to say to both men and women is that it’s all not true. People are much deeper and subjective than we think they are. If you look at any couple, it’s never chiseled abs with chiseled abs. It’s cheesy but people love you for who you you are. They will love your personality and how it’s much sexier than anything. It’s true even in the modeling industry.
So would you say the people we see on the covers right now have a hot personality?
Absolutely. Ashley, for example, is so gorgeous but if you talk to her for two seconds, you’ll see why her career is going so well. She is so smart and funny. She is strong and open-minded. You can’t live on looks alone, even in the modeling industry. It’s impossible to live on looks alone, it might get to a certain point but you’re never going to be a star.
Does the question “Does this make me look fat?” really annoy men?
Yes. Yes it does. It’s a really good question. It’s annoying because 99 times out of a 100, it never makes you look fat. It’s always a mental thing―insecurities you’re projecting on yourself. I get annoyed by it because I wish you could see how I see you. It’s also annoying because you keep telling this person how beautiful they are and they ask you for the 800th time that question and you go like, “Have you not heard anything I’ve said before?”
Coming from someone who [grew up] with insecurities, I totally get where they are coming from. I want people to know that every time you ask that question, it’s coming from you. It’s never going to make you look fat. It’s different from it doesn’t fit. When it doesn’t fit, that’s when you say something. Before anyone asks that question again: No. No, it doesn’t.
Why is the cry for body positivity at such a high point nowadays?
I think the world is opening up their minds on every level. Body positivity is intertwined in accepting who you are at this moment. It’s also the same way with other issues like women’s rights and such―people want to be accepted for who they are. The world right now is allowing people to be who they are. The Internet is also a big factor, people just don’t see their own city but the world outside and how many people and cultures there are. It’s all about accepting people. And the most basic level is accepting your body. Before you can accept anything else about yourself, you need to accept your own skin. It’s the most basic self-acceptance. You don’t have to be super excited about it, just accept and know that what you look like is okay.
Are you scared how body positivity is just a passing trend?
Kind of. But not really. I think it’s just deeper than a trend. A lot of trends come and go, but what I am preaching and what others like me are preaching is being happy with who you are. How could that fade? How could that be just a trend?
What’s one song you have to listen to on a road trip?
There are so many good ones. Whenever I am going on a long drive, I usually end up listening to “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash. It’s only a minute and a half long. When I am in the States, I don’t usually listen to a lot of country music. But when I am driving, I listen to a lot of old-school country music like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
Who is one model you want to work with?
Ashley Graham. We’ve been photographed together for so many red carpet events but not for an [actual shoot.] I am really inspired by her career and how she progressed and it helped me feel good about myself.
Photos by RG Medestomas