A black chair in the middle of a white photography studio, surrounded by lights.

More than a model

Ideal beauty is ideal because it does not exist

In Naomi Wolf’s infamous treatise, The Beauty Myth, she dives deep into the pressure on women to meet standards of beauty that are not only unrealistic, but frequently change, making them even harder to attain. It was first published in 1990 and although in many ways the book stands the test of time, a great deal has changed in thirty years. Wolf could not have anticipated the internet and the way in which it has allowed so many people to reclaim their power, using platforms like Instagram and YouTube to celebrate the vast multiplicity of the human experience.

Most recently, social media was set aflame by the latest Savage X Fenty lingerie launch. The fashion line of singer and entrepreneur Rihanna, the show cast not only beautiful women of all shapes and sizes, but men too. And while we’re now used to seeing curvy women in fashion advertising, it’s only recently that men have come to prominence in the same way. Plus-sized model and fashion blogger, Claus Fleissner has been modelling for five years, falling into the industry accidentally when he was helping to organise a runway show for plus-sized women’s fashion. The sole male model on the runway, he was asked to participate “as a joke” and was astonished at the response. “At 37 and 130 kilos, you don’t think about becoming a model on the runway, I just saw it as a fun experience” he laughs. “I was so nervous, but I’ve seen the videos and the crowd was freaking out!” He was signed on the spot by Curve Model Management and has never looked back, most recently signing with globally respected agency Kult Models. He can also be frequently seen featuring in ‘most stylish’ lists in magazines and online.

A bearded man lies on a white bed wearing blue checked shorts. He is talking on the phone and laughing.
Famous non-fashion brands, such as Premier Inn, connect with their customers by using a wide range of models in their campaigns.
A bearded man stands in front of a windowed building, wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and has a red pocket square. There is a green plant to his right.
Claus models for a campaign for German fashion and sports retailers Lengermann & Trieschmann.

Like well-known activists in the female Body Positivity movement, Claus uses his blog and Instagram as inspiration for bigger men who are looking for resources, fashion tips and recommended places to shop. As a result, he is frequently finding himself being called upon to speak about and for the wider community but is very modest and attributes much of his popularity as a result of his skills in SEO – he’s easy to find on Google. But there is no doubt that he and others are helping plenty of men feel more confident and comfortable in their approach to fashion. “There are more people showing their style who are not this obvious standard of beauty,” he says “But the more people who don’t fit in that box show their stuff, the more people are inspired to do the same – and that’s really amazing.” It’s clear from his own Instagram that he finds genuine joy in style and encourages his followers to “play with clothing, to recognise that they can have fun with the stuff they wear and not to hide under huge black t-shirts.”

His infectious confidence stems from having been raised by “amazing” body positive parents and so he views the negativity of others as very much their problem – not his. “I’ve always been big, even as a child, but I never thought about not going to the public pool because I’m fat. Why? I always thought if people don’t like what they see, then they should look in another direction.” It’s this staunch sense of visibility and economic power that has created such a substantial shift in fashion, with the industry now addressing a demand for stylish looks in larger sizes, rather than just ‘big clothes’. “I always was kind of in fashion,” explains Claus, “But it was always hard to find stuff that I wanted to wear. It’s improved so much in the last five six years and ASOS played a big part in that.”

A bearded man sits against a black background. He is wearing just black shorts and has tattoos on both arms.
“All body shapes and colours have the right to be respected and seen as beautiful” (© Susanne Erler)

However, it is perhaps inevitable that body positivity and health are often referenced side by side, often in the same breath. As a result, although Claus is a model and fashion blogger, he has found himself speaking in the press about issues of physical and mental health. “I don’t think about myself as a body positivity activist, but I am,” he says. “It happens more and more because in the last few years mental health is becoming more of a topic for men. Slowly men are recognising that they need to talk about their feelings.” For World Mental Health Day, he discussed the formative years of body image as being an issue for men too, discussing the early years of life when boys are first exposed to unrealistic ideals. “That’s where men get their body issues as well.”

He stresses that the confidence does not come from the approval of others, but from within; “It’s totally fine when you’re not satisfied with your body, but please ask yourself why are you not satisfied?” And it can be hard to face the comments and disapproval of others, especially in an online world where people feel they can speak their minds to strangers with impunity. And while his immediate community champion his look, style and attitude, he has still had his fair share of negativity. Interviews often draw comments about the cost to health and wider impact on healthcare services, but Claus strongly disagrees and believes that you can be big and healthy. “All body shapes and colours have the right to be respected and seen as beautiful,” he says. “And I think this prejudice that big people are lazy, just eat junk food and don’t want to move is in people’s heads. People who think like this might be willing to say that a big person is beautiful but will still think they’re unhealthy. I think this is the last think that’s going to change.”

Claus is about as far from lazy as it’s possible to be. He holds down a full-time job, works as a model, influencer and blogger, and is supported and championed by his husband, family and friends. “I’m running around most of the time and when it comes to modelling, I can’t just eat junk food because my skin would explode,” he explains. “And when we have a whole day in the studio, I’m changing thirty to sixty times, standing the whole day, doing the posing choreography – you need to be fit. It’s work”

Claus’s blog ‘Extra Inches’ (in German and English) is full of style tips, shopping guides and resources. You can also follow his fashion adventures on Instagram.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard