Humans have been imagining words and phrases to categorize others by how they look since the advent of language itself. For men — and particularly fathers — two contemporary examples of this are ‘dad bod’ and the more recent interpretation of ‘father figure,’ both of which are attempts at categorizing dudes by their physique.
From both a cultural and linguistic perspective, ‘dad bod’ conjures up images of rotund men — guys who spend so much time expertly raising their children that working out and eating well have been put on the back burner. ‘Father figure,’ on the other hand, summons visions of a mighty, perhaps heroic papa, one who takes full advantage of his inherited dad strength and nimble reflexes.
So in a sense, these phrases could be used — and often are used — to indicate two opposing body types, ‘father figure’ being much more positive, of course. But some argue that phrases like these — or more specifically, their implications — do more harm than good. As decorated personal trainer Jonathan Jordan explains, “I don’t love the term ‘dad bod.’ It has a negative connotation. As best I can tell, it’s a way to describe a man who’s not overweight, but who isn’t toned or ripped, either. These guys might have once been called ‘average’ or ‘wimpy.’ But think about it this way: According to the CDC, 71.6 percent of adults age 20 and up are overweight or obese, so even having a ‘dad bod’ these days means you’re above average in terms of health. Given our sedentary lifestyle and desk-bound culture, having a ‘dad bod’ puts you ahead of the curve.” Well, would you look at that.
The way we currently use ‘dad bod,’ though — to signify someone who severely let themself go — leaves many men feeling down and even less inclined to put in more effort. “Just like we’ve held women to an unrealistic standard of beauty for decades, that same Instagram-life, FOMO, male-celebrity standard is starting to mess with men’s heads,” Jordan says. “And ‘father figure?!’ Jesus Christ. Good thing George Michael isn’t here to hear this! (RIP, George.)”
Instead, Jordan suggests dropping the phrases and standards so you can simply focus on your own unique body, whatever shape it is. “I’m 110-percent for anyone wanting to improve their health, how they look and how they perform,” he says. “But it’s unrealistic to hold yourself to Henry Cavil standards. It even took Kumanil Nanjiani a year of intense personal training and nutrition coaching to become a ‘father figure.’ What do I suggest for normal guys wanting to drop a little body fat, tone up and look better naked? Three things: (1) Eat better, (2) get in 90 to 120 minutes of low- or moderate-intensity cardio [per week] and (3) lift heavy things. The latter is hard with gyms closed, so I put this program together for my guys using monster bands that you can grab online.”
None of this is to say you should stop calling your own body whatever you want. By all means, say what you will about your own body — heck, reclaim these phrases and show the world that a ‘dad bod’ can be awe-inspiring, too. But if someone else tries to put you down by categorizing your bod, they can suck it.