One of the biggest complaints we hear from readers about big and tall clothing is the lack of representation in models. Most of the brands selling this type of clothing use models that don’t exactly reflect their big and tall customer. You’ll often see the tall side of big and tall, but not the big side. Today we’re kicking off a series that takes a look at why that is, and what we can do to change it.
During our search, we realized that there were many types of plus size male models out there representing themselves in a variety of ways. We were lucky enough to come across Rikard Olsson, who decided to take matters into his own hands after modeling for Julia Fullerton-Battern’s amazing (and artistically NSFW) photo series, Unadorned by becoming an artistic nude male model. We talk to him about finding the courage to be so comfortable with his body, becoming a plus size male model, and how his work has shaped him personally.
How did you become a plus size male model?
I had a couple of different starts, really. I got the idea to just.. get naked online, really, when I getting into photography and I didn’t have any subjects to photograph. At the same time I was active on an online community where a lot of the guys had pictures of themselves in various states of undress. Naturally, they were all somewhere between slender and chiseled, and I thought the lack of variety sucked, so I took some preliminary shots of myself – took a deep breath, and posted them. To my surprise, the response was a lot more positive than I expected, and that inspired me to do more and get more creative with it. It was part trolling, part exhibitionism, part artistic inspiration, part self-image boost.
Did it take time for you to work up the courage to take the shots and post them, or was the nudity something you were immediately comfortable with? For people of all sizes, being that OK with your body can be difficult.
It’s funny because I’ve never felt comfortable in my body until I started modeling, but I think I’ve always had some exhibitionist tendencies. It was weird seeing my body from an outside perspective – looking at it like an object, like a photographer looking at a subject. That helped me discover it for real, seeing what I actually liked, and what I thought was awful turned out to be largely imaginary.
Beforehand I saw my body as just this thing I was burdened with, something I had to live with and just kind of accept but not acknowledge. Being public about it, getting so many awesome reactions from people and seeing it from this external perspective has made me realize what a gift it is. [I see] how awesome I can look, and how lucky I am to have a body in the first place.
It’s this beautiful, perfectly constructed machine that we pilot like organic mechas and we just spend so much time hating it for no reason whatsoever.
There’s a line between art and titillation, and your work seems to be more about the art.
Bit of both, I think. Like I hinted at earlier, there was a part of me that enjoyed being the “other” amongst a bunch of muscled/skinny guys. I actually kind of liked getting hate messages because for every one of those I got, I had three people tell me nice things. I mean, there’s this unspoken law that the “sexy” aspect of nude photography is this elephant in the room. You can’t outright speak about how a naked body is actually a sexual thing as well (although, obviously not exclusively) and I’ve tried to embrace that side of my work rather than shy away from it. If you find my photos sexy then that’s fine, just as if you only see them as a non-sexual pieces of artful photography.
As for self-expression, I actually think my work has shaped me more than I have shaped it. I can look in my gallery and notice very clearly how each image made me feel when I first snapped it.
Has doing this and becoming more comfortable with your body, and with the way people see you helped you become more confident or sure of yourself in other areas of your life?
Absolutely. It’s reshaped the way I see myself, both physically and as a creative person. I’m no master photographer by any stretch, but the stuff I have made is something I’m incredibly proud of. I mean, I went from literally thinking that I was useless. Nobody was hiring me, I wasn’t feeling good about myself and I wasn’t creating anything that seemed to resonate with people. And then comes this outlet, and I am proven wrong. People I have never heard of being complimentary of my skills and my body? Yeah, that gave me an incredle boost in confidence.
I am absolutely sure that it’s that, along with my awesomely supportive fiancée, [that makes me] do what I do now and be where I am.
I think it shows that sometimes it’s worth stepping outside of your boundaries and trying something different.
Couldn’t agree more. You get so used to accepting. Taking stuff for granted. That way stagnation lies.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
Many places. When it comes to photography Leonard Nimoy was and remains a massive inspiration. His pictures are so artfully composed but still have this playful and living feel to them, and I was very influenced by his Full Body Project series. Most of my early stuff was in black and white, and that was the reason. People who are genuine inspire me personally. It’s hard to really explain without getting into cliches but I love when people dare to live out their own personalities.
Creators, even creators that fail, are my number one influence, I guess.
I also noticed that you’re into pop culture – music, gaming, TV. Do you have any favorites you want to share with us?
Gaming, particular indie gaming, is my second biggest love in life. I would absolutely recommend that more people try to get into it because it’s the most exciting growing art form in the world. The best one I’ve played in years is a little story called To The Moon. It costs less than a subway sandwich but is honestly one of the most gripping stories I’ve ever been told. Other than that the best bands in the worlsd right now are Stepdad and Starship Amazing and the best tv show is Boston Legal.
How did the opportunity to be part of Julia Fullerton-Battern’s Unadorned come about?
Oh, it was nothing much really. She advertised for big people on her blog and I sent off a message, not really expecting much. I hadn’t worked with another photographer at that point, so I was very surprised when she got back to me really quickly and asked if I could come down to London for an interview. I must have done uncharacteristically well because I was cast and went back down a few months later to stand naked in a big, cold building in the middle of nowhere with scribblings all over my skin.
It was about as a big a difference you could get from standing in my room, alone, and running back and forth to the camera. Here I was with two dozen people, lighting, framing and composing around me.
Being part of something on that scale seems like it’d be inspiring.
It was. I went through every emotion in the book in the day I was there from utter fear to total elation. It was a very conflicting experience seeing the finished photo. Before that I was in complete control, and here I really was just the object and had no say in the final product. That made me feel uneasy for a little while, but now that I have more experience working with others I’ve gotten more used to just being the model and trusting the artist. Nobody I’ve had the fortune of working with has given me reason to change that so far.
Follow Rikard Olssen on Tumblr at lesmouches.tumblr.com or at Deviantart by clicking here. This concludes the first article in our series on plus size male models. Keep an eye out for the next installment, as we talk to a man trying to break into the business as a big and tall model.