Dissecting the ‘dad body’
Social media trend throws spotlight on men and body issues.

A curious trend has appeared on social media: men are showing off their mostly-average bodies and tagging them as #DadBody or #Dadbod. At the heart of the trend is the claim that women prefer men with bodies somewhere in between flabby and sculpted. It appears to have originated in an article published by Mackenzie Pearson in The Odyssey. This claim has sparked a fierce debate on body image, double standards between genders and men’s health.

Manhood: the good, bad, ugly and normal

This “dad body” idea seems to conceal many other blurred concepts about the male body. It’s almost as though some men are using it as an excuse to embrace their inner (and outer) Homer Simpson, a befuddled, out-of-shape buffoon who is blissfully unaware of his own incompetence. The hashtag has also been used to shame men about their bodies on social media.

While promoting poor health isn’t the wisest move, it’s not dishonest to say that the “dad body” phenomenon isn’t all bad. Many of the images shared are of normal men, men without six packs or Popeye arms. These are men who are comfortable with their physiques.

In part, I’d compare the “dad body” trend to the “mom body” one we’ve seen in recent months, where moms frustrated with being hounded in the media about regaining their post-baby bodies have shared images of themselves revealing their pouched post-baby bellies and stretch marks. They’re owning the way they look, and it’s empowering.

There is pressure on men to be physically perfect, although this pressure is very different to that experienced by women. Women are faced with a constant barrage of noise telling them to be "flawless", while men often get away with just being ordinary. I would like to point out that society can judge men harshly on the way they look, too.

Beer babies

You see it around the braai. Men joking about their beer babies as they pat each other’s bellies. It’s amusing in a sense, but also revealing. Men are expected to accept these kinds of comments in much the same way they field remarks about receding hair. It’s something men grow up with.

The archetypical father on TV has, historically, been slightly useless and down-trodden. Dads being openly belittled and insulted. This trend veered to the left recently as dads kicked against the stereotype; why should it be acceptable to mock fathers, they asked, when fatherhood and motherhood have become more unified as roles: parenthood.

As a father, it does become harder to remain physically active. Cramming gym sessions or other kinds of sporting disciplines in between looking after children, working and, well, life, means that many men do lose some of their younger shape. Unless they never did any activities like that before, anyway.

What’s interesting is that the trend isn’t limited to describing actual fathers, it’s labelling men whose bodies aren’t tuned with piano-wire tautness as being like dads. Being like dads, only without the kids.

Teens and self-image

A good dad should encourage his children to be healthy and physically active, so the glorification of laziness in front of your kids isn’t perhaps the best way to go about that. On the other hand, a dad who is without body issues can help his kids to be less self-conscious about their shapes.

Some men are extremely self-conscious about their appearance, indeed, recent years have seen a spike in teen boys engaging in eating disorders or harming themselves with steroids in order to help them get what is supposed to be the perfect body.

“Dad body” isn’t all bad, then, if it allows men to show their kids that it’s alright to have a regular, normal or average body.

What do you think? Are men under pressure to be body-perfect?

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