Dad bod hit the big time last year when international man crush Leonardo DiCaprio was photographed in Bora Bora gallivanting with a Victoria’s Secret model while rocking some love handles. It shouldn’t have been that shocking to see. After all, the trope of the overweight dude with the super hot woman has been around forever; just look at any major sitcom as far back as The Honeymooners and The Flintstones to The Simpsons and The King of Queens. Still, an endless wave of think pieces and trend stories followed, which collectively celebrated the male pooch. Everyone thought it was adorable.
As of late, pop culture has attempted to lessen the weight of our body issues with the body positivity movement. The struggle over weight is real for both women and men. As a woman, though, writing about men who have body issues is admittedly infuriating. Women carrying a few extra pounds are subject to gross terms like muffin tops and fupa while men get a free pass with the “adorable” dad bod phenomenon. The pressures men face versus the pressures women face aren’t comparable. As my woke friend says, “It’s like saying ‘all lives matter.’ The standards to which women are held far supersede those of men.” A woman’s struggle isn’t just real; it’s in an entirely different league.
But that doesn’t mean men’s body issues are completely invalid, either. “I used to have terrible self esteem when I became sexually active because I am a big dude,” one man opened up to me. “I would leave most of my clothes on when having sex. It made me an awkward lay.”
Based on the interviews I did with men, some guys might post a picture of themselves drinking a beer, showing off their beer belly with a #dadbod caption, but that doesn’t mean they feel great about it. If they do, feeling great about being out of shape has dangerous, long-term health consequences. It will affect your energy levels, your mood and on and on. It will most definitely affect your sex life and libido.
This is why promoting dad bod as an aspirational trait is complete bullshit. It’s suggesting to men that it’s okay if they let themselves go, because anyone will—and should—love him no matter what shape he’s in. That’s not okay. It’s also not true.
I realize that in saying this, you might think I sound like internet troll and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently ranted, “Being fat is not fine. It never was and it never will be, partly because being fat will kill you.” I also realize that the topic of fat-shaming is trending this week, so let me be clear before you fire off your Jezebelian think piece: fat-shaming is never okay. My point is that just because dad bod is socially acceptable, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to be complacent about your health—and that all women will find it hot.
I don’t expect my partner to have a six-pack, and not every woman is turned on by Adonis, but there is a direct correlation between sweating and having a positive outlook on life and love. Nothing shifts my mood faster than 20 minutes of cardio, because endorphins actually do work. But the “body positivity” movement, hijacked by “love yourself no matter how you look” campaigns, is starting to imply that it’s okay to reach for pizza, ice cream or beer instead of a dumbbell.
Bill Phillips, the author of the most successful fitness book of all time, Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength, says, “Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.” Conflating “body positive” with “dad bod” is leaving little room for self improvement and steering people away from health—mental, physical and sexual (because it’s all connected).
The fact is, we already have a global obesity epidemic: more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2014. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the US. Another fact: obesity is preventable. This week, a study revealed that you can’t blame the fat gene for being fat.
Without trying to be contentious for the sake of being controversial, it seems like the dad bod movement has succeeded simply because men aren’t held to the ridiculous standards women are. Where are the plus-size male models? Where are the campaigns celebrating men’s “curves”? Oh right. They don’t exist, because it’s always cool to be a big guy. That’s why men are dropping dead of heart attacks at alarming rates.
Not every man needs to look like Ryan Reynolds (although that would be my dream world), but confidence comes from taking action—not sitting around. If you’re eating well and exercising, you might still be a big dude and that’s fine. That’s actually great. Attraction varies from person to person, pheromone to pheromone. Some women prefer dad bod and that’s cool; to me, it signals, “I’m married” or “I’ve given up on myself.” If you aren’t an overworked, tired father of three, why do you have dad bod? I always say: Be the body type you want to see in your bed. In other words, the more you respect yourself, the better partner you’ll become.
As one man told me, “I had no self-esteem because I was always shamed about my weight from family, friends, classmates and media growing up. I tried convincing myself that I made a good boyfriend because I had a big heart, but I couldn’t accept my sexual capabilities. It wasn’t until college that I fully accepted my body and my ability to care for myself.”
All of us have flaws we are incapable of changing that we need to accept—our scars, stretch marks, birthmarks, acne, penis size, having too much hair, having not enough hair and having disabilities—but that does not excuse us from pursuing a healthier life.
At its core, body positivity isn’t about the physical. It’s about self-esteem and confidence. It’s about mental health. It’s about taking care of yourself. It will definitely improve your sex life. And at the very least, you’ll be less inclined to lie about your specs on that Tinder profile.
The irony that comes with writing this for Playboy isn’t lost on me, but at least Playboy is striving to evolve with the rest of us.