Skip to main content

There Are So Many Problems With Winston Duke Being Told He’s ‘Plus-Sized’

LAGOS, NIGERIA - NOVEMBER 6: In this handout image provided by Winston Duke, Winston Duke attends the Black Panther tour at Lagos Continental Hotel on November 6, in Lagos, Nigeria, (Photo by Sama Kai/Winston Duke via Getty Images)

In an early January 2023 episode of Live With Kelly and Ryan, Winston Duke discussed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and recently dipping his toes into the world of modeling (truly a blessing for us all). He was one of the few non-toxic, high-profile men who joined the Savage x Fenty Volume 4 show a few months prior. That show was actually Duke’s modeling debut, and in what I guess is a gross right of passage afforded to people entering the space, he received some weird reactions to his body. After Duke responded to Kelly Ripa’s question about whether anyone had reached out to him since the show with a firm “no,” the 6’5 actor told Ripa and Ryan Seacrest,

—but I’ve now been crowned the face of the plus-sized modeling movement […] I had no idea, apparently I’m plus sized. […] So I’ve been running around telling people to watch how they talk to me because I’m the ambassador for plus-size modeling now. Unofficial ambassador.

As Duke was telling the story and explaining similar tweets he got after a 2019 Esquire cover shoot, he was smiling and making light of it, even adding at the end, “so I’ve just been going with it. I’m a plus-sized guy. I’ll take it!” Duke is no stranger to thirsty fans and has told the story of ripping his pants during an impromptu wrestling scene during the audition process for Black Panther many times, so he is obviously comfortable talking about his body.

Winston Duke is seen during Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4 presented by Prime Video)
(Kevin Mazur, Getty Images for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4 presented by Prime Video)

However, it doesn’t sit right with me that someone would go out of their way to say that to someone—not online, and certainly not in person, as Duke’s recounting of the Fenty story suggests. I can’t imagine going up to someone and saying some equivalent of, “you’re positive representation for fat people.” The person(s) was probably trying to be nice; however, labeling another person plus-size in this way still perpetuates anti-fatness. Doing so insinuates that those whose size falls outside the strict boundaries of model sample sizes or “regular sizing” (which is ridiculously limited and not reflective of the average person) are an aberration. It suggests that being barely on the cusp of the fashion world’s definition of the ideal body is what more people should strive for and that being plus-sized is wrong.

It also gives me the same whiplash I felt when the “Patrick Stump is no longer fat” discourse hit my high school during the Fall Out Boy hiatus. This comment about Duke doesn’t seem as malicious as those in the early 2010s, but neither Stump nor Duke is a plus-size person, and in any case, it’s rude to ascribe labels to another person’s body.

This is not a reasonable metric, but I thought back to December’s “I need a big boy” trend on TikTok, inspired by SZA’s SNL song, and if Duke would fit in with that trend. Many people said yes, but the answer is more complicated. Everyone agreed that no one was referring to super-toned men using the sound to trend, but when it comes to having some sweet yams or broad shoulders, that’s a bit iffy. This question about “What type of big boy?” in SZA’s SNL song and the issue of body dysmorphia among men resulted in an impromptu debate between comic Stavros Halkias and political commentator Hasan Piker on the HasanAbi broadcast.

The world ‘plus-size’ in fashion

Don’t get me wrong, while I understand the non-fatphobic animosity for the designation, “plus-size” has its uses. When I need to get clothes in stores or online, it acts as a spotlight to let me know what section (other than clearance) I need to head to. However, the fashion and modeling world has never really had a standard for—or even a grip on the reality of—what plus-size means. I’m going to discuss clothes designed for women because they make up most of what I purchase. The term “plus-size” typically denotes the opposite of “average” or thin—terms which are frequently lumped together, even if they aren’t the same—but the average size in the U.S. in the mid-2010s was 16-18. In most retailers, regardless of who they service, 16 starts at XL.

With the exceptions of some small businesses and a handful of high-profile companies (like Fenty, but also ASOS and Parade), “plus-size” models on the runway wear a size 8-10 and occasionally 12-14. Even over the last few years, as the “slim-thick” look was popularized by influencers like the Kardashians (who helped make BBLs one of the most accessible, dangerous, and popular body modifications of the last decade), modeling has just “adjusted” to a “trendy body type” by asking thinner models to wear temporary silicone butt, hip, and breast augments.

This is not a sponsored post by any means, but I’ll say this is why I fell in love with Universal Standard. Not only is 18-20 the companies’ size medium, but the models vary in shape (and age!), and most of the item pages will tell you what size the model is wearing so you get a better idea of what it will look like on you. Also, for the extremely tall and short people, they give you the model’s height!

There’s no consensus, and with the fatphobia thrown at even the most beloved, high-profile women for just existing and being fat, plus-sized, or however they choose to identify, I don’t think there will be. And this Duke conversation reminds everyone one that, while women and femmes may bear the brunt of these unwarranted remarks about their size and shape, men get these labels assigned to them, too. There’s just less at stake for them, and Duke has the charm to make the story seem like less of an issue than it is.

(via People, featured image: Sama Kai, Getty Images)

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.