LANGFORD, B.C. – Brendon Williams freely admits his paunchy belly and bushy-black chest don’t qualify him as typical chiselled male-model material.
But the man from Langford, B.C., has gained international exposure after a daring series of boudoir birthday poses landed him a starring role in an anti-image advertising campaign with American Eagle.
It started as a husband’s private birthday gag for his wife Amanda, and resulted in him playing a feature role in an advertising campaign supporting underwear for regular people, Williams says.
It has also been a huge confidence boost for the 29-year-old father, who says he hasn’t always had the strongest body image but is completely comfortable lounging at home in his briefs.
“This has actually improved my self esteem,” says Williams in a bedroom interview at his suburban Victoria home, wearing only his underpants. “Not so much that I think I look better on the whole, but I think it’s more that I don’t have to be concerned about my flaws as much. I don’t think I have the greatest body in the world, obviously, but this has made me go a little bit easier on myself.”
The would-be professional golfer who earns a living playing online poker says he flew to Los Angeles last month for a photo shoot with the U.S.-based clothing chain for the launch of its (fictitious) Aerie line of comfortable underwear for men.
Williams, who says he’s a practical joker and not an actor, played a character named Doug in the ad, which runs almost two minutes.
“Oh yeah, I’ve always liked being in my underwear,” Williams says in the ad while sitting on a couch in nothing but underwear. “It makes me feel more free.”
While the line of underwear was a hoax, the brand says the ad’s message is all too real — that men should accept their bodies as they are.
Williams knew from the beginning the ad was a gag but it was clear to him American Eagle was sincere about the faux campaign’s body-positive message, he says.
There are three other underwear-clad men and a woman in the ad. Each character talks about being comfortable with themselves while doing house and yard chores. Just one man appears to have the stereotypical model looks.
The company announced it would forego retouching its male models in its underwear and swim images and used its history of April Fool’s hoaxes to raise awareness around body diversity.
Williams bends to touch his toes in one scene and the word Flexy is written on the rear of his white briefs.
“Healthy body image to me is loving who you are,” he says in the ad. “The real you is sexy.”
He auditioned for the ad over Skype.
“I told them I’m not an actor, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Williams says. “I was really uncomfortable, but I got the job done. And now to be in an actual underwear commercial and see that it’s been in Times Square, it seems fake really. It doesn’t seem real.”
His underwear adventure started with a joke for his wife’s birthday, giving her a set of campy boudoir photos.
The pictures show him relaxing on a bed, stretching in a bubble bath and gazing into the distance out of a window.
But it backfired because his wife loved the gift and the photos created a sensation online.
Williams, who weighs about 220 pounds and is six feet two inches tall, says he still can’t believe the adventure since the photos were posted on Facebook and viewed and shared by thousands.
“I saw some boudoir photography done by a friend and I thought it would be a funny idea if I had some photography of myself done in that same way as a birthday gift,” he says. “I thought (my wife) was going to laugh, but she truly, genuinely enjoyed it.”
At one point, Facebook removed the photos after complaints about nudity, but the photographer simply cropped the photos and reposted them.
Williams said he’s also noticed people appreciated his willingness to celebrate himself, even though he may not fit the image of a person who poses in public.
“I’ve seen a lot of people comment that it’s nice not to see a hairless guy with a six-pack for once,” he said. “Obviously people do enjoy that, but that’s maybe not reality for everyone. I’m a pretty normal looking guy and I think that’s what people enjoy.”