When the dad-bod phenomenon went viral last spring, I covered my eyes and ears. And I held my nose, too, because frankly, this trend stinks. Substitute a letter and you get “bad bod.” Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Still, I couldn’t escape it. Friends, coworkers, and media outlets alike peppered me with questions, which boiled down to some version of: As the leader of a brand known for putting guys with rippling abs on the cover, isn’t it ironic/awesome that women actually prefer men with a bulge in their bellies?
First of all, I didn’t believe it. As a 46-year-old man with a demanding job, two overscheduled kids, and jeans that tighten with unnerving ease, I’m fairly certain there aren’t posters of me (or anyone who looks like me) hanging in college dorms around the nation.
Yet it was a college student at Clemson who started the conversation with a blog post titled “Why Girls Love the Dad Bod.” Mackenzie Pearson wrote that her friends are increasingly hot for guys with bodies that scream “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time” because they find this more “natural, human, and attractive.”
Sure they do.
Surveys note that young women also prize walks on the beach and being kind to puppies. But none of it means they’ll ignore the biological imperatives when selecting mates, whether it’s for one night or for a lifetime.
Face it: The dad bod is just a precursor to dead bod, and women know that intuitively. It’s survival of the fittest, people, not the survival of fattest. The most desirable sex partners show maximum fitness, because good DNA always wins, and good parenting is difficult.
Hence: Sexy = Healthy, and always will. Paging Charles Darwin: You’re needed in the operating room, stat, to cut stupid ideas out of the public consciousness!
Back to that dad bod guy. Those eight pieces of pizza he’s eating don’t just bloat his belly; they can pack fat into his abdomen, which forms a toxic wrap around his internal organs. So his allegedly adorable jiggle can cause a host of ugly health problems: inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. A 2008 study of more than 360,000 people found that belly fat doubles your risk of an early death.
So, to me, the term dad bod stinks of something else: an excuse—to exercise less, to care less about my body, because my wife, and maybe even the undergraduate women of Clemson, will love me the way I am, no matter how pudgy I get. That’s dangerous, quite literally.
Men’s Health didn’t say much about dad bods last spring, because a) we try to rise above stupidity, and b) we figured (hoped) the “trend” would be gone in 15 minutes. But this week, the idea has bulged over the cultural beltline again, as researchers from Northwestern announced that, after studying how the bodies of 10,253 men changed over 14 years, they can report definitively that the dad bod actually exists. Noted.
A writer for the Washington Post crunched the dad-bod demographics, and determined that, in the U.S. alone, they number 27.8 million strong. “If dad bods were a state they’d be bigger than Texas,” the Post reported. “If they were a country, they’d be larger than Australia.”
Larger is right. Larger around the middle. Larger in health risks. Larger in the E.R., and larger six feet under.
The dad bod is being heralded as great news for real men and the women who love to snuggle up to guys’ cushy bellies. It’s not. But maybe it’s resonating because it’s permission to live a life of moderation—not to count every calorie or deny yourself every cookie. That’s a message Men’s Health has been pushing for 27 years. Eat well. Play hard. Have fun. But never ignore fine line between moderation and excess—especially as you age, because that damn line moves on you.
The Northwestern researchers pinned a cause to that excessive effect: As guys get older—as their metabolism naturally slows and testosterone wanes, as they juggle demanding careers and kids’ soccer schedules—they tend to jiggle extra lard. I see that trend in the mirror every morning.
I may not have a dad bod, but I often feel like I’m teetering toward it. And I don’t take it standing still; I get moving. A 10-minute bodyweight workout before leaving for the office. Some basketball over lunch. Gotta nip it, quick. It’s way easier to prevent a pot belly than to lose one.
So don’t be fooled, men. If you spot a dad bod in the mirror, it should mean only one thing to you: It’s time to hit the gym.
Death to the dad bod! Kill it before it kills you!
Bill Phillips is Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health and author of The Better Man Project.