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Dad bod: what is it, and why is everyone suddenly talking about it?

Seth Rogen in Knocked Up.
Seth Rogen in Knocked Up.
Knocked Up

The term "dad bod" was virtually absent from American conversation until April 30, when a 19-year-old Clemson sophomore named Mackenzie Pearson penned a story in the Clemson Odyssey titled "Why Girls Love the Dad Bod." Her argument was counter-intuitive, suggesting that women are more attracted to men whose physiques reflect "a nice balance between a beer gut and working out" than they are to hunks with washboard abs.

But, somehow, the idea caught on, and the story quickly began to go viral; it was only a matter of time before dad bod was being discussed by New York Magazine, GQ, the Washington Post, and more.

Google searches involving "dad bod."

The implications of the "dad bod," it turns out, hit on something. Responses to Pearson's assertion that women "don't want a guy that makes us feel insecure about our body" — and her theorem that standing next to a guy who's physically fit is enough to do exactly that — began appearing online almost instantly. Some people debated whether having a dad bod should be a source of pride or shame, while others expressed concern about what role dad bod plays in our views on male and female body image.

Here's a brief guide.

What is a dad bod?

"Dad bod" is a male body type that is best described as "softly round." It's built upon the theory that once a man has found a mate and fathered a child, he doesn't need to worry about maintaining a sculpted physique.

If human bodies were cuts of meat, the dad bod would skew more marbled rib eye than filet mignon; or, if human bodies were sea mammals, dad bod would be more like a grazing manatee than a speedy dolphin. The dad bod is more mudslide than mountain, more soft serve than sorbet, more sad trombone than clarinet, more mashed potato than skinny fry. The dad bod is built for comfort.

Essentially, the dad bod is the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ of human body types. And while the idea of worshiping a body type, especially one as openly low-effort as dad bod, might strike some as strange, even alarming, there are people out there who believe the dad bod is sexy.

Can you show me some examples of dad bod?

Yes. Jon Hamm is considered to have a dad bod:

Jon Hamm, dad bod possessor.

And Don Draper, his character from Mad Men, definitely has a dad bod, too. Notice the lack of lift in the pecs and the lack of structure in his shoulders:

Mad Men.

Seth Rogen also has a dad bod, as seen here in Neighbors:

Neighbors.

But Hamm and Rogen's dad bods are Hollywood dad bods. They're made for film. And like nearly everything else in Hollywood, even dad bods are glamorized. Real-life dad bods may be less appealing:

(Roc Canals Arboli/Contributor/Getty Images)

Your mileage may vary:

Can you spot the dad bod in this bunch? (TASSO MARCELO/AFP/Getty Images)

Is there a mom bod? Do people also think mom bods are sexy?

The world has yet to see a celebration of mom bods that mimics society's newfound celebration of dad bods. In recent years, the major trend stories involving "mom bods" have generally focused on how famous moms have lost weight right after giving birth.

InStyle, a popular fashion magazine, has on its website a 13-photo slideshow titled "Star Bodies After Baby." It features the likes of Heidi Klum, who lost 25 pounds within six weeks of giving birth, and Jennifer Lopez, who lost 50 pounds after giving birth to twins. The message is simple: these moms are amazing for having bodies that do not suggest they've recently brought another human being into the world.

Building on this notion, The Daily Show aired a segment on Tuesday, May 12, that highlighted the double standard between the way we judge men's bodies and women's bodies:

Basically, to have a dad bod is to be exalted and praised, and to have a mom bod is to live a life full of shame.

So ... is dad bod just another tool of the patriarchy?

It's a valid question. And the answer is: Maybe?

I don't think Pearson was trying to institute some kind of new world order of fat men when she wrote about dad bod for her student newspaper. But her piece does exemplify society's deeply ingrained double standard for judging men's and women's bodies.

From The King of Queens (on which Kevin James is married to Leah Remini) to Seinfeld (on which George Costanza dates many attractive women) to movies like Chef (where writer, director, and star Jon Favreau cast Scarlett Johansson as his friend with benefits and Sofia Vergara as his ex-wife), pop culture is full of instances of beautiful women throwing themselves at slovenly men. This praise for dad bods is life imitating art.

The dad bod craze encourages men to be complacent and suggests we applaud them for their unworked bodies. Meanwhile, women are consistently told they need to be skinny and toned to attract good-looking men.

Pop culture's clearest recent example of this unfair mandate is the plot of a 2013 episode of the HBO series Girls. "One Man's Trash" (season two, episode five) centers on a two-day tryst between Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, and a doctor named Joshua, who's played by Patrick Wilson. The episode famously drew backlash for suggesting that a woman who looks like Hannah could conceivably date a man who looks like Joshua.

Slate's Daniel Engber couldn't shake this idea. He wrote:

In sum, the episode felt like a finger poked in my guys-on-Girls eyeball, or a double-dog dare for me to ask, How can a girl like that get a guy like this? Am I small-minded if I’m stuck on how this fantasy is too much of a fantasy and remembering what Patrick Wilson’s real-life partner looks like?

The response to Dunham's "fantasy" and the relative acceptance of shows like King of Queens or movies like Neighbors (where Seth Rogen is paired with Rose Byrne) says a lot about dad bod. Flip the roles that Hannah and Joshua play on Girls, and you have the foundation of the dad bod phenomena.

As Brian Moylan writes in Time:

While a man is valued for his warm and fuzzy demeanor, a woman is valued as a sexual object. And the women in question don’t look like they’ve ever entered an all-you-can-eat Buffalo Wing contest like their Dad Bod brethren.

Why is dad bod considered sexy? My dad is not sexy.

Right. But, like, someone else's dad could be sort of sexy. Brad Pitt is a dad. So are David Beckham and Christopher Meloni, and plenty of people find them sexy. But perhaps that's beside the point.

What Pearson was getting at in her column about dad bod is the idea that guys with dad bods are approachable and nonthreatening. She posits that because standing next to a perfectly sculpted guy can be intimidating, men with dad bods can make women feel less insecure. She also explains that men with dad bods are more fun and make better dinner partners because they aren't overly concerned with their calorie intake, and that when it comes to long-term relationship potential, it's easier to picture what they'll look like in the future (when they ostensibly stop going to the gym).

"To put it another way, a dad bod isn’t attractive because of what it looks like, but because of what it says," Peter Holley, a human with a self-proclaimed dad bod, wrote in the Washington Post. "A dad bod says I have a job, responsibilities and enough money to nod approvingly when someone says 'guacamole is extra.'"

Some men just want to watch the world burn. Holley would like to see it smeared in guacamole. And it appears that many women (I actually know the lovely young woman who's dating Holley) would be willing to spoon him while it happens.

Do all dads have dad bods?

No. Not all dads have dad bods. For example, David Beckham is a dad who has not let his body succumb to entropy. He models underwear:

(MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

There is no rule that all dads must have dad bods. Conversely, there is no rule that only dads may have dad bods. In fact, Pearson seems to imply that men who are not yet dads but who have dad bods are the men she finds most attractive.

Are gay men attracted to dad bods?

Most of the literature concerning dad bods is aimed at straight men and women. But gay men might have actually been down the dad bod road before anyone else. In 2013, the Cut wrote about the "Rise of the Daddies" — men like Anderson Cooper, Alan Cumming, and Tom Ford and the younger men who find them attractive. Granted, these "daddies" do not have dad bods.

How do I know if I have a dad bod?

Here's a nifty quiz that will help you figure it out.

Why isn't dad bod the symbol of a passionless life?

Well, according to some people, it is.

BroScience, the hugely popular gym bro satire YouTube series (even I'm not sure what these words mean anymore), produced an episode that proclaims dad bod is "worse than Ebola":

"He's good at nothing but mediocre at everything," says Dom Mazzetti, the BroScience host. "He doesn't do anything enough to do anything with passion … He is a human Ugg, the sweatpants of people — something offensively unattractive, but comfortable and easy to use."

Though what Mazzetti says is satirical, you can't help but feel that Pearson's manifesto touched him on a personal level.

Is dad bod evil?

No.

Dad bods existed long before 19-year-old Pearson deemed them sexy. As long as beer flows freely and cheese and dough are in ample supply on this Earth, they will never cease to exist. But when the dad bod craze ends and the dust settles, there will be one constant that remains: American men still won't be held to the same standards of weight and beauty as American women are. And in its own softly round way, dad bod has helped us see this.