As boys, we grew up under pressure to look and act in a way that oozes masculinity. We're surrounded by the notion that men are supposed to be tough and have a look to match. The idea of acting masculine oftentimes goes hand in hand with having that masculine body we see so often in the media. This body is something that we feel is represented in Calvin Klein ads, which is why we wanted to create our own.
Each of us chose an iconic Calvin Klein ad to re-create, and we bared it all. Our intention is simply to celebrate our bodies, have fun, and remind everyone that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Here we go.
I've always had low self-esteem when it comes to how I look, so doing this was a challenge for me. I had to emulate Mark Wahlberg in his heyday, which was tough because his body is literally perfect, and it's probably the most iconic Calvin Klein ad ever. During the shoot I wasn't really thinking about anything except for how to make my face look more like Mark's, 'cause I knew that my body wasn't going to match up to his at all.
I definitely don't see myself represented in advertisements, whether they're underwear ones or not. The Calvin Klein ads are meant to sell a certain aesthetic and lifestyle instead of just simply underwear, and I think they are successful in that regard. The only bad thing is that it gives men everywhere unrealistic expectations of what our bodies should look like. I'm not saying I couldn't stand to go to the gym a few times a week, but what they're selling is unattainable. These aren't representations of all types of people, and I'd love to see more models of different ethnicities and shapes and sizes. I think that we just all need to be empowered and find the confidence to feel comfortable in our own skin no matter how big, small, or imperfect we are.
My perception of male underwear models is that they're men who happen to look really good when not wearing clothes. That's not me. I've always had body image issues, no matter what my weight was. I'll never forget when I was 8 and my mom lifted up my shirt in front of a mirror and slapped my stomach, making it jiggle. This was when I started being self-conscious of my belly. This photo shoot only highlighted those feelings.
I understand that Calvin Klein is selling a fantasy with their ads. I mean, they certainly aren't selling to me. I thought it'd be nice to try to represent for the bigger guys.
Almost every single male underwear model looks like he was sculpted by someone trying to create the ideal man. The funny thing is, when I look at these ads, I don't even notice the underwear. It's just more like, damn. How do you get that ripped?
The confidence behind my pose was certainly tough to fake. I had a fairly "natural" pose, but a thousand questions popped into my head while I was doing it: How do my arms look? Do I have that line in my stomach? Can you see my flat butt from this angle? How's my package lookin'? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY FACE? I was really afraid that my arms would look scrawny, my legs would look really white, and my stomach would be...awkward.
A great way to feel insecure is to compare your body to that of an underwear model. Or to anyone else, for that matter. You just have to learn to appreciate your own body, which is tough, but necessary. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way.
My pose didn't leave much to the imagination, so my biggest anxiety was showing how I didn't quite have that Grindr-ready torso that I see everywhere on billboards and Tumblr. My arms had to be weirdly splayed out and the weight-shifting felt odd. And I felt really exposed, especially when David, our photographer, said, "Honestly, you're gonna have to be shinier than that." Then I rubbed lotion all over myself. So I felt more moisturized, if anything.
For gay guys — especially growing up — Calvin Klein models represent something two-fold: what you want to look like AND who you want to be dating/sleeping with. For the first part, I never saw anyone who looked quite like me: a tan-skinned Asian dude of slight build who grew up fat and lost weight because he got braces. And in turn, since I desired these beautiful men (and assumed everyone else did) but didn’t look like them, I always thought no one would desire me. It took me a while to get over this, and ultimately I had to remind myself that all bodies are different. Sure, I'll buy what Calvin Klein is selling (the underwear, the men, the resort collection, etc.), but there are always other equally great places to shop, other equally beautiful men to desire.
I was a late bloomer. I didn't hit puberty until the end of my high school career. As a result, I still see myself as a bony, prepubescent child when I look in the mirror, no matter how much muscle mass or facial hair I add to my body. That's why I don't relate to the men in these Calvin Klein ads. I don't see anyone who looks like me. I see an example of what men are supposed to look like.
Look at the model's pose! What is he even doing? Matthew Terry is slanting his whole body to one side — which, for some reason, is MUCH harder than it looks — and he doesn't have a single shred of flab to show for it. I, on the other hand, am praying that both of my morning breakfasts aren't bulging too far out of my stomach. Each of Matthew's abs — and he has SIX of them, in case you were wondering (one for each burger I wanted to eat while modeling) — is visible in this shot, and they're a great reminder that models are paid to look this way.
Here's the thing: The name of this Calvin Klein campaign was called "Steel." Steel! If Calvin Klein made an ad about me, they'd have to call it "Couch." The idea that I'd even try to compare myself to an impossibly good-looking man like Djimon Hounsou is insane. He looks like a mannequin who came to life. I look like a guy who could correctly order Chinese food on Seamless while blindfolded. There's no comparison. But the fact that there was no way I could look like him was totally freeing. I couldn't be Djimon Hounsou, so I just tried to be me.
After it was all over, I started thinking about myself from four years ago. In 2011, I hit a low point: I'd gained so much post-college weight that I had to buy new pants. And I remember telling myself that I needed to make a change. I remember thinking, I just want to look like me again. It was never about being a supermodel, just about getting back to a place where I felt confident and happy. Nobody today is confusing me for an underwear model, and there are plenty of things I could pick at if I wanted to, But when I looked at the photos afterward, I was so happy with the way I looked. I'm no Djimon Hounsou, but I don't need to be. Being Dan will do just fine.
Kevin: I was really nervous at first, but now I've just embraced it. As I've gotten older, I've become a lot less insecure about my body, and this was a great test.
Isaac: While the underwear didn't work any miracles, it felt really nice, and it was quite a change to look in the mirror and not see the usual busted elastic and faded colors. (I should probably start buying underwear more often.) I would like to feel more positively about my body. I actually think this'll be a brute-force way of helping me get used to my body and the way I look.
Logan: Apparently my "model face" is more like "resting bitchface." SORRY, EVERYONE! But in all seriousness, we all have insecurities, and even though I look nothing like Fredrik Ljungberg, I'm (mostly) happy with how I look. Now I just need to learn how to smize. Where you at, Tyra?
Matt: When I first saw my photo, I didn't want to look at it directly. But the more I forced myself to stare at my body, the curves and slopes I only knew as soft flesh with the occasional taut muscle, the more I saw myself. That photo is exactly right. That's what I look like. I'm that tan-skinned Asian dude of slight build wearing damn good underwear. I'm still hitting the gym at least four times a week and taking ballet class when I can, but I'm reminded that I don't have to try to be Jamie Dornan. I can be myself.
Spencer: I've always wanted chiseled cheekbones and cheese grater abs, because I figured a great life would come from looking like a perfectly sculpted model. But it's important to acknowledge that staying in shape and eating right is literally a full-time job and lifestyle for these models. If anything, re-creating these Calvin Klein ads has reminded me to put everything into perspective. My job, unlike Matthew Terry's, is not to sell sexiness, but that doesn't mean I can't feel that way.
Dan: Two thoughts: 1) I have an armpit hair shadow in my photo, which is SO goofy and could probably only happen to me, but 2) I'm realizing I don't even care. This photo shoot was really fun, and I felt so unexpectedly confident during the whole thing. Calvin Klein, if you ever want to do that "Couch" campaign, I'm listening.