The Dadbod: a Celebration of Mediocrity?

In recent weeks, the internet has been awash with articles about that so-called ‘dadbod’ -defined by the aptly-named McKenzie Pearson as being ‘a nice balance between a beer gut and working out.’ Despite my initial assumption that this was a physical manifestation of the Electra complex, the men to whom this term is applied are generally in their twenties and thirties -they may be old enough to be fathers, but most are not yet (in her Youtube video, Pearson cites young men at her university as an example). This term seems to run in parallel with the usage of words like ‘curvy’ or ‘real’ for women with similar figures, although there is quite a lot of controversy over why there hasn’t been a larger ‘mumbod’ movement (not to mention whether it should be men or women who spearhead this).

Naturally, it remains to be seen whether this is just a case of women “saying the right thing”, but plumping for something else. For starters, the dadbod is as ill-defined as the average British man’s abdomen: does the dadbod simply entail somebody that is slightly soft-around-the-edges, or someone who has fully ‘let themselves go’? Is the lack of effort considered attractive? Or, is it simply that this is now ‘normal’? There hasn’t yet been a similar movement towards ‘healthy-but-not-gym-going’ bodies, as a recent BBC article pointed out.

The media would have you believe that the rise of competitive fitness culture, in particular, the trend for body-building amongst young men, is somehow linked with a desire to appear attractive to the opposite sex. I have never believed this. Competitive muscle-development in men, like competitive slimming amongst women, is resolutely aimed at one’s peers. As Pearson mentions in her article, it’s important for many women to feel like they’re the centre of attention, that they can enjoy a decent meal with their other halves without being judged. Men, on the whole, aren’t that taken by the stick-thin supermodel look, either -not least because there is an expectation that these kinds of women may only wish to talk about their current diet plan.

We live in a sedentary, yet highly-consumerist, culture where weight-gain is increasingly seen as an inevitable part of ageing and where expensive and time-consuming activities such as visiting the gym, are seen as the best way of controlling this, rather than simply taking the logical step of spending less money on food, alcohol (or at least, the same amount on higher-quality produce) and transport. Most men start eating more as they reach their teens, not just because they are growing rapidly, but also because they play more sport and tend to be more active whilst socialising, too. However, I can’t remember any of my friends thinking “right, time to cut the calories” as they headed off to near-horizontal lives at university.

The danger is that the dadbod, described as ‘the average guy’, will serve to further normalise fat in our society. Up and down the country, twenty-something men, who always felt a little bit guilty about their nascent paunches are breathing a sigh of relieve (unbuckling their belts, to do so). I certainly don’t want anyone to feel bad about the way they look, or the not-so-skinny genes that they may have inherited, but love-handles at 25 often lead to a pronounced overhang by 30, and possibly heart disease at 45. Whilst many of my generation may have associated so-called ‘beer guts’ (whether beer is just a more masculine scapegoat than cake is debateable) with their fathers, as they grew up, the dadbod can been seen as part of a wider trajectory of younger people becoming increasing overweight and obese. What will dadbod look like once he actually has kids and is too knackered to do anything other than collapse on a sofa and demolish a packet of chocolate digestives, once he gets home from work?

Dadbod has coincided with the rise of ‘normcore’ in fashion and the ‘new boring’ movement (if you can call it that) in music -all of these seem to celebrate a triumph of comfort and convenience over studied effort, for a generation that are fed up with being told to try harder. Indeed, the Guardian recently picked up on the emerging phenomenon of dadcore, which describing M&S Blue Harbour as the acme of this particular aesthetic. But, is this really any different from the fashion industry’s attempts to rehabilitate the ‘geek-chic’ look a decade ago?

I should probably come clean. Unlike most of the people writing about this topic, I do not have a dadbod, nor am I ever likely to. I am one of the small, apparently invisible, demographic of naturally-thin men. I’ve never sought to be thin and will happily eat more than the mere eight slices of pizza recommended to perfect the ample contours of the dadbod. I often get comments along the lines of, “Just you wait until you hit 30/50/have kids…” – but, the fact of the matter is that none of my close relatives are even slighty overweight, regardless of their age. Perhaps I should  be worried – whilst the pop-cultural icons of my mother’s generation (John Lennon, David Bowie, Mick Jagger etc.) were all lean and slender, this is no longer so. Women have apparently moved on, first to the muscle-bound frames of Daniel Craig and David Gandy, but now on to the likes of Seth Rogen and Chris Pratt. Indeed, neither the dadbod and nor the bodybuilder were widespread physiques amongst young men 30 years ago.

Whilst societal ideals for, both men and women, are subject to change. Everybody has heard about how, during economic booms, it’s the skinny girls who get the modelling jobs, whereas more curvaceous ladies tend to be favoured during harder times. Maybe this is true for men too? Perhaps the dadbod is a fertility (or, at least stability) symbol for our times? I’ve certainly never bought the idea that either sex has to look ‘stick-thin’ to be attractive, because if that were the case, there wouldn’t be any fat people at all.

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