We need to talk about the Dad Bod

Jon Hamm in Mad Men

Jon Hamm in Mad Men Photo: Zeus/Apollo/FAMEFLYNET PICTURES

Leonardo DiCaprio has one. So does Jon Hamm. Stephen Colbert has always had one, maybe because he is one. It's called the Dad Bod. And it's the hottest male physique right now. 

The term 'Dad Bod' was coined by a 19-year-old university student, Mackenzie Pearson. Although she is not personally responsible for its invention, Pearson popularised the term when she waxed lyrical on this website. Generating over 300,000 Facebook shares, Pearson's piece struck a major cultural chord when she wrote of the appeal of a (frat) guy who looks like he knows what the inside of a gym and a beer keg looks like. A soft man, in other words. So ... basically, the cast of Old School? 

According to Pearson, a DadBod is somehow more "human" and therefore "attractive." Suddenly, and without warning, the internets pounced, declaring the DAD BOD a bona fide trend; a thing, a movement. The ladies at New York Magazine posited that owners of Dadbods, with their squishy tum-tums, were better at sex. GQ told its readers to "drop the weights" declaring that Dadbods "F--ing rule".

Jason Segal: a pin up for the "dad bod" lovers.

Jason Segal: a pin up for the "dad bod" lovers.

Uhmm.

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Can I get a record screech up in here?! It seems that while women have been described as everything from Yummy Mummies, to MILFs, to DUFFs to WAGs to Prawns, to Cougars, (and that's just the last few years) men have been given explicit permission to do ... nothing?

"Hey ladies! Watch yourselves! Gentlemen? As you were."

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio

We've all seen Jason Segel topless. We know Leo still bags models. How exactly is this OK?

Well. Hang on a minute. If we carefully parse this new information, like fingers through chest hair, we might be able to grab hold of some good news.

When the bodybuilder physique hit pop culture in the early 1980s it arrived via the male gaze. Yes, really. Men like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were flexing their biceps in movies about humanoid robots and boxers and soldiers - movies that were geared toward men. Top Gun elevated this shiny, buff torso to new heights, and even though it brought the ladies, its homoerotic subtext was clear.

There's a fairly neat, pop cultural line that can be traced from the Top Gun volleyball scene straight onto the sandy shore of Baywatch and David Hasselhoff's epic attempts at tummy suckage among the coterie of skeletal, silicone-enhanced women and six-packed men. Indeed, the term "hunk" was popularised throughout the 90s, with absolutely zero sarcasm. When Brad Pitt ascended to the hitherto virgin mountaintop of frothing female adoration -- replete with his own ripped torso -- it was because of his face, which, though square of jaw, had classic feminine features.

So if the last 40 or so years have taught us anything about male bodies, it's that women, for probably a million different reasons - both horrible and fascinating - don't care. It's ironic that Jon Hamm's body comes courtesy of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who told the actor not to work out for historical accuracy, because men didn't back then.

Oh sure, we have those super hero franchises. But whether we're talking George Clooney, Robert Downey Junior or Chris Pratt, we know they got the part first, then the body. 

 In her interview with Pearson, Slate's Amanda Hess made an interesting observation. "All the other terms I've heard to describe male bodies are specifically for gay men. Bears, otters, twinks. DadBod feels like something new."

Pearson agreed and so do I. The arrival of the DadBod signals the cementing of a certain female gaze. Those malleable women entering young adulthood -- who are normally under the microscopic focus of men of all ages -- are letting the culture know the gaze goes both ways.

When a man calls another man a "Bear" it still denotes a certain musky, wild power. An otter? He's cute! But when a young woman says a man has a DadBod there is the implicit assumption that when a man hits child-bearing age he "let's himself go."

Put simply, the term DadBod says "Don't worry, slightly flabby non sexual male! This young, fertile female says you're still hot – I mean, for your genre." Which on the surface, seems like a relief, but it's still one heck of a patronising wake-up call. It's the male version of "I like a woman with a bit of meat on her bones", which naive men think sounds heroic, when only the opposite could be true.

The other, slightly good news is that, after maybe thousands of years of Madonna/whore dichotomy, wherein motherhood and sexuality are opposed, men are finally getting some of the same feedback. Certainly, there exists the Yummy Mummy, but this slang term came into existence precisely because of its uniqueness, (which has now unfortunately become mandatory).

Of course there are many fathers out there who are devoted to CrossFit, but DadBod implies that age and children will put a dent in your sexual currency, even if you are male.

However, perhaps the best news of all lies in the use of the first word: Dad. It means that both parents are now visible within society - even to college girls. It means the time has come where men are not just perceived as their occupations, or even as "husbands" but something more nurturing, more, as Pearson said, "human". It means that at long last, the wider culture sees men as more than good for just one or two things, (work and sex). Welcome guys, lads, boys and lovers of all ages because we have news: the girls are in charge now and they say that fatherhood in all of its bloated, greying, tracksuit panted, baby spit-up stained, sexually-redundant glory, is officially a turn-on.