By Nian Hu
Loosening standards for men while tightening standards for women
What makes a man “hot”?”? If we take a look at the list of the sexiest men alive—a list that includes actors Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds, and Chris Hemsworth—we notice that they all have a similar body type, with glistening washboard abs and rippling biceps.
However, the conventional standard of beauty for men has been turned upside-down with the introduction of the “dad bod.” A term popularized by Mackenzie Pearson in a widely-read Odyssey article published earlier this year, Pearson explains the dad bod asthe dad bod is “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out.” Pearson lists several reasons why she (and all girls, apparently) is crazy about guys with a dad bod.
First, girls crave men with dad bods because fit men make them feel insecure about their own bodies, and “we are insecure enough as it is.” Second, girls want a boyfriend who is bigger so that in comparison they seem skinnier, because “we want to look skinny.” Third, guys with dad bods provide better cuddling, because they don’t feel like “a rock.” Fourth, guys with dad bods love eating, and they are “not scared of a cheat meal.” Fifth, a dad bod gives girls a preview of what the guy is going to look like twenty 20 years down the road—relevant because “girls tend to picture their future together with their guys early on.”
When this article was first released, reception was initially overwhelmingly positive. Men and women alike championed the arrival of the dad bod as a celebration of body acceptance, an appreciation of “curvy men,” and an acknowledgement of the unrealistic social pressure facing men to be buff and trim.
But if we take a closer look at the reasons that women provide for wanting a man with a dad bod, it has much less to do with the man and much more to do with the woman herself. If you look at Pearson’s reasons in support of the dad bod, you may notice that most of these reasons have to do with how the girl feels about her own body.
Reason number one: fit boyfriends make girls feel bad for not being more fit themselves. Reason number four: heavier boyfriends love eating, so they don’t make the girls feel bad for having a “cheat meal” herself. And most disturbing of all, reason number two: the chubbier the boyfriend, “the smaller we feel and the better we look next to you in a picture.”
These three reasons are an indication that the dad bod craze isn’t about male body acceptance. As a matter of fact, it isn’t about the guys at all. It’s all about promoting and reinforcing the notion that there is only one appropriate body type for women: skinny.
Don’t believe me? Then tell me why guys with dad bods—the ones who moan about the unrealistic body expectations set by Channing Tatum and Zac Efron—encourage their girlfriends to eat salads or work out. Tell me why Leonardo diCaprio, poster boy of the dad bod movement, almost exclusively dates supermodels. Tell me why men now have even more of an excuse to neglect their physical appearance, and why women are using this as an excuse to further scrutinize their own physical appearance.
The dad bod movement has nothing to do with making men feel more comfortable in their bodies. Such a goal is irrelevant in a world where men have never been subjected to the same physical beauty standards as women, a world where men are judged on their merit rather than their appearance. No, the dad bod movement has everything to do with making women, as Pearson said herself, feel smaller and look better in pictures. It has everything to do with making women less comfortable in their bodies.
The dad bod, therefore, is not a celebration of male bodies. It is a shrinking of female bodies, literally and metaphorically.
While men are encouraged to fill up the space around them with their loud voices and spread legs and now, thanks to the dad bod, expanding waistlines, women are encouraged to make themselves smaller, speaking less frequently and more quietly, and always, always watching their weight.
The easiest way to see this double standard is by asking where the mom bod is. If young college-age guys are allowed to look like fathers who spend their weekends drinking beer and eating pizza, then are young college-age girls allowed to look like mothers who have birthed three children?
The answer is an obvious no. Stretch marks and jiggly arms are sources of shame, plus-sized women are called things like “tractor-sized” and a “female hippo,” and according to one advertisement women don’t even belong at the beach if they don’t have a flat stomach and thigh gap.
And what’s more, even mothers aren’t allowed to look like mothers. Women inevitably gain weight during pregnancy, and if they aren’t Victoria’s Secret models with the time and money to exercise for 6 hours every day, most women find it very difficult to lose this weight after giving birth. Yet mothers are expected to look flawless immediately after giving birth. Tabloids regularly criticize female celebrities for failing to “get their body back” after giving birth, and idolize the celebrities who do manage to successfully “bounce back” and look as slim as they did before pregnancy. In other words, even actual mothers don’t have an excuse to look like mothers.
And yet, men, who undergo absolutely no physiological changes upon becoming a father, are congratulated for having a “dad bod.”
So let’s stop pretending the dad bod is some revolutionary and progressive movement, because it’s not. As long as women continue to be feel like there is only one body type they can aspire to, and as long as women of all ages continue to be shamed for putting on weight, there can be no gender equality.
In order for there to be true body acceptance, we need to end the double standards. Personally, I see no reason why we can’t celebrate both mom bods and dad bods. After all, I’m sure reason number three (“better cuddling”) is appealing to everyone.