For a Day, ‘Dad Bods’ Made Us Obsess Over Men’s Bodies Like We Do Women’s

The phenomenon has kick-started a new conversation about body image, from which guys are often excluded.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

May 2, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

There are plenty of terms people use to talk about women’s bodies: bikini body, beach body, pregnant body, curvy body, hourglass body, pear-shaped body, yoga body, and the list goes on. Victoria’s Secret even went so far as to propose the “perfect body,” which it retracted after protests. The trope remains: Nearly any place, activity, object, or even type of fruit can serve as a modifier for the female figure.

Men don’t enjoy quite the same range of vocabulary to describe their physique. But after an article celebrating a particular kind of male body type went viral on Thursday, men are embracing a new way to identify their form: “dad bod.”

The phrase has long circulated on college campuses, but Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson took it mainstream when she wrote in a recent essay for The Odyssey: “The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. 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.’ ”

Not surprisingly, the idea that a desirable body doesn’t take much effort to maintain—in fact, it’s made all the more attractive with the addition of beers and pizza, by Pearson’s reasoning—resonated with more than just college bros. In the short time since Pearson’s month-old article spawned an Internet frenzy on Thursday, dozens of articles, from GQ to The Washington Post to Business Insider, have attempted to explain the strange phenomenon by posing the question: What is the dad bod?

“A dad bod is a guy who is not incredibly chiseled, but at the same time, is not unhealthy. He’s not overweight,” Pearson explained in an interview with Slate on Thursday. It’s a welcome new way to think about men’s bodies, which are often portrayed in action figures, comic books, and superhero movies as ripped and bulging with muscles.

Research shows that 18 percent of 16- to 22-year-old males became extremely concerned with their weight and physique by the time they reached adulthood—of those, more than 7 percent were very concerned with muscularity and were using potentially unhealthy means to achieve their desired physique, according to a 2014 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Pearson says the “dad bod” phenomenon has helped kick-start a new kind of conversation about body image, which men are so often left out of. “I’ve had a surprising number of men and boys contact me saying, ‘I’ve had trouble with my body image. I’ve been insecure about my body because I’m a bigger guy. I’m a thick guy,’ ” Pearson told Slate, adding that guys have started proudly tweeting photos of their non-toned beach bodies. “They’re reaching out and saying, ‘This really helped me with my self-confidence.’ ”

While it’s great that heterosexual young men have found empowerment in this new body-image movement, it’s worth noting that despite the range of terms used to describe women’s figures—from bikini body to pear-shaped body—there’s still no equivalent to describe a healthy but unsculpted woman’s phsyique. Pearson suggests the word “thick,” but it doesn’t have quite the same positive or lighthearted connotation as “dad bod.” Instead, women are fighting to erase words like “plus-size,” which often carry a harmful stigma.

And while the so-called “dad bod” can be a source of pride and acceptance, a mom’s body is often characterized in the opposite way, with jokes about “mom jeans” long serving as a punch line. In recent years, social media has banned images of breast-feeding, sending a message that mothers’ bodies aren’t acceptable for public consumption. When women do show off their stretch marks, it can be considered revolutionary. The one type of mother’s body that's deemed desirable in pop culture is also inherently sexualized: the MILF.

Dad bods, we salute you. But isn’t it about time we celebrate the mom bod with a similar kind of glory?