There are a few questions in life that seem to always leave us stumped, resulting in us obsessively rehearsing our answers or even delivering clichés in an attempt to save face. Common examples that come to mind are the textbook, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or even something as simple as “How are you feeling?” There’s one question, however, that takes a bit more thought, as it often molds the first impression someone has of you: “How would you describe yourself?”
When I posed this question to 24-year-old Black, queer, plus-size influencer Thaddeus Coates, he didn’t even hesitate before delivering an unexpected but visceral response: “I like to describe myself as 100 percent pure sunshine.”
Seconds after divulging one of the most original and self-aware responses to a question that is often answered robotically, the Gen Z social media phenom beefed up his intro, adding that he’s “very bright, very vibrant, good vibes and a great time." Coates also made it a point to highlight his passions surrounding the themes of body acceptance, Blackness, queerness and body positivity — and his insightful words that followed proved that these passions run deep.
Thaddeus Coates is known for his effervescent social media presence and retro-meets-futuristic aesthetic. While there’s a high chance you’ve seen him before, it’s likely you know him by his online persona — an empire he’s built under the moniker Hippy Potter, a name that has made him a widespread Instagram sensation. We’re talking 57,000 followers and counting.
So, why Hippy Potter? Flashing an infectious smile, verified with his signature gap, he says: “I was in history class in grade 11 and I was sitting with my friends and I wanted to change my name on Instagram to something cool and I was obsessed with Harry Potter at the time.”
After adding that everything about the franchise’s ethereal universe was “just so magical,” he says that he could deeply relate to its title character and namesake Harry Potter.
“So, I went with Hippy Potter. ‘Hippy’ was directly from the Tumblr era,” he adds.
With this niche brand, Coates has gradually built a following that now spans over 65,000 supporters across all of his social media accounts. These fans look to him as a voice pushing a new era of change in body acceptance. Coates is passionate about body acceptance including the male perspective, which is often overlooked and disregarded in the current movement.
At just 24, Coates boasts a fully-realized outlook on outward image, perception and body acceptance, one that he describes as “quite beautiful.”
“I feel like my journey is ever-changing and ever-growing,” he says before adding, “I just kind of fell in love with myself.”
Standing 6-foot-6, this confident advocate says that though he is known for being the poster child for “love the skin you’re in,” this level of comfortability has been and continues to be a journey that he’s had to work on to maintain.
“I felt like growing into myself and being comfortable in my height and my stature and still being able to feel like I’m able to express the full range of my personality is something I’m always actively practicing,” he says.
Throughout this sometimes wavering sense of belonging, Coates holds a steady belief that he is nothing short of worthy. Verbalizing this self-affirmation, he tells me, “I love who I am and I love how I am and I love how I walk and I love how I talk” — all things he says he “had to fall in love with” before he could expect anyone else to.
This outlook, that he dubs “a duality that I’ve managed to blend seamlessly,” has led Coates to push for plus-size male representation in commercial fashion by simply existing. Throughout his burgeoning career as a model, the already-accomplished figure has appeared as the leading face in campaigns for the likes of American Eagle, Target and several more recognizable brands. And, above all, he’s proudly celebrated his identity as a Black, queer plus-size man while doing so.
While mentioning that he deliberately chooses to “put emphasis on me being a Black, plus, queer model,” Coates critiques the outdated heteronormative and white-centric images of men in the modeling space. He stressed that this “model image” needs to change and is the reason why he so boldly flaunts his queerness, Blackness and size for all to see.
“I just feel like that’s a realm we don’t discuss,” he says of this deliberate choice to wear his layered identities on his sleeve. “I’m a very big guy, but I’m not going to hesitate to express how happy something makes me feel.”
As one of very few recognizable plus-size male commercial models in the Gen Z space, Coates emphasized the importance of taking your faith into your own hands as opposed to waiting for when others are ready to receive you. For Coates, that meant landing his first major campaign with American Eagle on his own — without the backing of an agency.
“I did American Eagle by myself and then I signed to Bridge [modeling agency] in 2018,” he says. “I did American Eagle again two times after that, and then I did Target for the first time.”
— Thaddeus 💫 (@ItsHippyPotter) July 26, 2018
His drive and fervor for providing authentic male plus-size representation, he says, is motivated by shifting the narrative that men who don’t fit the conventional “fit and muscular” model mold aren’t worthy of being seen on public platforms.
“Men are left out of the conversation because I feel like people don’t expect men to talk about how they feel,” he says. “I feel like it’s society. It’s always a ‘man up’ kind of thing.”
Coates says this archaic perspective that “male silence equals power” sets the fashion industry back and causes men with promise to shy away from reaching their true potential.
“From such a young age, men are taught to view self-worth and self-vulnerability in such weird ways,” he says. “It’s really important for us to understand that there are layers. It’s not all just one monolith. There are many stories and they can all exist.”
This theory has been proven and intensely studied with research from Harvard Medical School showing that boys are, in fact, said to be more emotionally expressive than girls, even from infancy.
A related study, conducted by Dr. June Gruber and Dr. Jessica Borelli and published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, further outlined that a shift in boys’ expression of emotions happens when social messages on what is “right or wrong” come into play. This antiquated take, the study states, “might very well have a longer-term impact on their emotional development.”
“Boys grow up in a world inhabited by a narrower range of emotions,” Dr. Gruber and Dr. Borelli write.
This luckily wasn’t the case for Coates, who says that a sense of emotional pride was instilled in him from childhood, thanks to his father’s transparent and affectionate parenting style. The influencer adds that this approach helped him realize in his times of self-doubt that it’s completely warranted for him to be exactly who he is at all times.
“My father was really pivotal in me feeling like I can be big and goofy, and big and joyous and big and fun,” he says. “I think it’s really important for us to show boys and men that it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to smile.”
Coates adds, “Once we view vulnerability as a tool of power instead of weakness, then that’s the key to try to start a whole new conversation.”
In addition to showcasing his passion for size-inclusivity through modeling, Coates directly reflects these images and motifs through visual artistry and graphic design. In fact, he has built a collection of artwork that showcases plus-size men in ways that he believes they deserve to be seen. On his Instagram page @hippypotterworld, Coates brings those images to his audience to further shake up the narrative around men like him.
“Art has been something that I’ve always been deeply connected with and art is what I was doing primarily before [modeling],” he says. “More recently, I’ve thought to put more of myself into my art, and that would be the narrative of body positivity and diversity because I haven’t seen that a lot in art.”
Coates only recalls seeing caricature-like images of plus-size men in visual media. These depictions of “dopey bigness,” he says, not only misrepresent him and men like him but are also downright offensive and insulting. Determined to change this stereotype, Coates created his own lane in an effort to push the needle forward.
“I want a husky male lead that’s smart and funny and that’s the leader of the story instead of the comic relief,” he says.
Self-acceptance can be reached in a myriad of ways, with arguably one of the most common being self-expression through clothes and fashion. It’s an industry that Coates has become quite familiar with given his already extensive résumé in clothing campaigns. So, how does the sunshine king keep his drip on 100? It’s simple: He frequents a few retailers that offer affordable, yet fashionable, options for men who just happen to be plus-size, thus not sacrificing comfort and fit for flare and luxury.
“Asos is a go-to,” he begins while detailing fashion suggestions for plus-size men. “You have to buy the chinos. The chinos are true-to-size.”
He warns, though, that while the chinos are the real deal, “some of the other stuff is wonky, so you’ve got to be careful.” He reassures, though, that “If you want a good pant, go to Asos.”
ASOS Design Plus Slim Chinos in Black, $24 (Orig. $32)
Three other brands he says are fully worth the investment are American Eagle (his go-to cargo pant brand), Wrangler and Lee, which he specifies “has a thread that really stretches around your thighs.” Lastly, for sweats, he says the two holy grails for all body types are Nike and Champion.
Champion Big & Tall Fleece Joggers With Taping (Up to 6XL), $36 (Orig. $48)
Though these brands have size-inclusive options, accessible clothing options for plus-size men — as well as adequate representations of plus-size male images in the fashion and modeling spaces — have yet to reach respectable levels in the industry. However, Coates stresses that this instability in supply and demand should not be the sole factor in determining one’s self-worth. Instead, he offers a bit of advice that seems a bit healthier: embrace the journey.
“Body acceptance means being honest with yourself and giving yourself amnesty and room to grow,” he said.
A post shared by Thaddeus Coates (@hippypotter) on Jul 10, 2020 at 6:40am PDT
Using the analogy of watering a plant to describe this personal journey, he added, “Your plant isn’t automatically going to be this beautiful, luscious plant. It’s also enjoying the process of it getting there and knowing that each stage is important and every stage is valuable.”
Concluding this necessary take that can be universally applied, the 24-year-old size-inclusive icon-in-the-making says, “Every size that you are is important — and your mental [state] should be just as strong as that.”
And for those who believe (whether they say it or not) that plus-size individuals aren’t deserving of being seen, Coates had one thing to say: “Big guys can be fly, too. Clothes should make you feel cool and sleek. Everybody should be able to feel like that. Everybody deserves to feel like that.”
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