In December, Calvin Klein featured A$AP Mob — the slim-fit, Harlem hip-hop collective — in the latest installment of its #MyCalvins campaign to promote the brand’s boxers and denim lines. It caught the eye of 32-year-old style influencer and plus-size male model Darnel Ghramm, who immediately wanted to recreate it, a la the recent shapley replication of Kim Kardashian’s signature one-piece bathing suit shot.
So he summoned seven husky compatriots to shoot their Calvins as part of a newly created #WeAreBigAndTall campaign that’s meant to give plus-size male models greater visibility.
Huskiest of all, per usual, was 405-pound Arcadio Del Valle, a rising star in the growing but still limited community of oversized male models. The 30-year-old Boston native — and his 58-inch waist — has been laser-focused on changing the perception of male beauty since his maiden voyage down the catwalk in 2016 at New York Fashion Week, amassing more than 10,000 fans on Instagram in the process. It was against type for Del Valle, who had spent most of his life struggling to conceal his body — namely his large breasts. Now, supported by six of his XXXXXL brethren, he was flaunting them, hoping to disprove the notion that fat guys can’t vogue.
Below, in his own words, is how he got there.
I wish I could just cut my breasts off, I’d think to myself whenever I looked in the mirror growing up. I was bustier than normal guys — even normal big guys — and was always insecure about my body. When I was a teenager, I’d go to school and come right home, figuring nobody wanted me around because of my size, which is why I thought they never invited me to their parties. Another big struggle was finding clothes that fit in the chest because options were so limited. Because I could only shop at stores for older men, I hired a tailor and improvised. But that got frustrating and expensive.
I read a lot of fashion magazines in my teens — GQ, Esquire, even Cosmo. I used to collect them and really wanted to look like the guys in the photos. I now know that there’s no ideal body type, but if fashion magazines are all you see, then the six-pack and strong jaw are all that get engraved in your head.
I definitely, though, didn’t have either of those things.
And so, I was always side-eyeing people at the beach to see if they were gawking or teasing. Lots of folks asked if I was trans. “I’m a dude,” I’d correct, explaining I was just fluffier in certain areas than normal big dudes. I think they figured someone shaped like me would always cover up. Also, I’m gay, so the “no fats, no fems” refrain was hard to hear. Thankfully, that language is becoming more rare.
People assume I’m eating fast food every day and not active, but I move around a lot for a guy who’s 405 pounds: I walk to work, walk home and try to keep my body going as much as I can. It’s a shame that people have it drilled into their heads that being someone of size is unacceptable, unattractive and non-worthy.
Three years ago, however, I had a moment of clarity after seeing plus model Tess Holliday carrying herself with such confidence and beauty. I was struck by a motivation to do the same thing for men and realized the way I was thinking was holding me back — socially, professionally and personally — so I resolved to step out of the shadows.
Shortly thereafter, Volare, an indie big and tall menswear brand, messaged me on Instagram to tell me they liked my look. They invited me to be part of their first show during New York Fashion Week in 2016. I never saw myself as a model — I’ve always had a 9-to-5 as a staff assistant at a family-resource center that helps victims of domestic violence. But my sister and her friends were like, “Go for it, you got nothing to lose!” So I answered yes.
It’s safe to say I was nervous around all these handsome guys when I arrived at the show. Sure, there were a few other plus-size guys, but I was the biggest one. (I’m always the biggest one.) Thoughts kept racing around my head: How will my body look walking down the runway? Am I gonna walk funny? Am I gonna jiggle?
I’ve never worn a bra, but to manage the jiggle, I’ve layered multiple tank-tops and tucked them into my pants as tightly as possible. That way, if I was walking or running for the bus, there wouldn’t be a lot of movement. I’d also always have a sweater to throw over me, which became my security blanket. That’s how it went in my teens and early 20s — finding little ways to avoid bringing attention to my body.
Now all I do is bring attention to my body!
My ultimate goal is to model full-time, and little by little, I’m getting closer. I’m optimistic there could be enough work in the future to fully support myself, and I’m trying to push that to happen. That’s why I take any opportunity I can to represent guys my size. In particular, I’ve been keeping busy since the #MyCalvins shoot. For example, I worked with the “Every Man Project” on a photo shoot featuring a wide diversity of men and have done radio interviews with iHeartRadio and some Spanish channels. I just got messaged about doing Men’s Fashion Week in July, too, so that should be exciting.
After all, traditional male beauty standards are so cookie-cutter, and the six-pack and chiseled face is so repetitive, right?
C. Brian Smith is a features writer at MEL. He last wrote about the very manly pursuit of ceramics.
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