The Sunday Telegraph
OK chaps, a test. Strip off. Breathe out. Can you still see your penis? Good. What about a six-pack? No? Congratulations, you are in possession of a “dad bod”.
While I’m loath to objectify men — frankly they’re rather lovely in all shapes and sizes — the “dad bod” is the hottest thing to hit the internet since Kim Kardashian’s bum threatened to squash it. So, in the interests of equal opportunities reporting, let’s unpack this.
Technically a dad bod is the imperfect, slightly soft, moderately sculpted body you typically find on middle-aged men. It’s the sort of body that speaks of a gym session on Monday and Tuesday, beer on Friday, then a burger on Saturday backed up with a cycle on Sunday morning.
If it could talk it might say: “Fair play to you David Beckham, but this’ll do me.”
According to Mackenzie Pearson, the US student credited with championing the dad bod in her college magazine, the look makes boys seem “more human, natural and attractive”.
As she says: “The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’”
The dad bod phenomenon fascinates me — mostly because I chanced upon it while multi-tasking a glass of wine with a leftover Easter egg. It’s always encouraging to see men being congratulated on their averageness while you’re self-sabotaging a week of gym workouts and spinach smoothies.
But most compelling are the questions it raises. Because not since Cleo magazine killed its male centrefold has the masculine body been such a subject of discussion.
Social media might be filled to busting with women’s butts (Nicki Minaj, J Lo), boobs (Sofia Vergara, Kourtney Kardashian) and the unedifying surveillance of “post-baby bodies” (Sonia Kruger, Carrie Bickmore, Lara Bingle, Duchess of Cambridge), but in lounge rooms and wine bars, I promise you, it’s all about the chaps.
Of course, this could well be because we’ve reached peak boredom talking about our own bodies, but I date it back to the 2013 movie Enough Said starring the adorable, though sadly no longer with us, James Gandolfini. It’s a middle-aged love story that challenges the ideal of physical attractiveness. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character falls for Gandolfini’s Albert prompting the question: Would you sleep with a man who was significantly larger than you?
Oddly, there was no uniform answer. “There’s fat and then there’s too fat,” said a friend. “I don’t like it when my husband’s tummy pins down my arm when we’re in bed,” she added, only for another mate to chime in that she’d prefer a spare tyre to a MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra). The consensus was that love is love and you feel it regardless, but it’s also rather nice to still be attracted to whoever you’re sleeping with. Another friend, whose husband had recently lost weight, summed it up thus: “I’m not so shallow to say it’s a deal breaker, but equally I’m not so laissez faire to overlook it. I see his fitness as a sign of respect for himself but also a sign of respect for me.”
But back to Pearson because her generation’s reasons for admiring the dad bod don’t correlate with mine. Young girls, she says, like young boys who are softer and a little less ripped because “it doesn’t intimidate us” and “we like being the pretty one”. I’d like to think that in accepting imperfection in others, young women might finally accept it in themselves but this sounds more like dating down so a woman can ignore rather than address her own insecurities.
Rather, I like the dad bod — we’re talking Vince Vaughn or Mad Men’s Jon Hamm or a match fit Russell Crowe, not the I’m-famous-so-you’ll-sleep-with-me-anyway physiques of, say, Jack Nicholson or Gerard Depardieu — because it signifies emotional not just physical health. It says my body is mostly a temple but when the footy is on it’s also a trash can. It says my health is important but so is chilling out with you and enjoying myself and looking after the kids.
In an era when middle-aged men are constantly critiqued for their identity crises, poor mental health, emotional ineptitude and self-disclosed “neutered uselessness”, I believe the dad bod is emblematic of a greater truth. Because most of the middle-aged men I know have a great sense of balance. They work hard but also regularly examine their careers, they parent enthusiastically, enjoy their hobbies and sporting pursuits and they’re quietly adapting to unprecedented social change with grace and good humour. That they squeeze in the gym or a game of soccer is worthy of applause.
Now if we could only get as excited over the mum bod.