Thursday 27 October 2016

What Katie Did Next: In which I chase me some chub in the form of a Dad Bod

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Leonardo DiCaprio never really did it for me - too rosy-cheeked and fresh-faced for my liking. He reminded me of a pug dog, a cheeky little scamp. While other women wanted to jump his bones, I just wanted to give him a rub behind his ears.

That all changed when I saw a paparazzi photograph of him taken on a beach recently. He's sporting a newly sprouted beard (which is a clear sign that he has finally gone through puberty). Better still, there's a belly hanging over his Bermuda shorts and a fag hanging out of his mouth. Now we're in business, Leo.

Colin Farrell never did it for me either - too polished and chiselled. While other women wanted to have him for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was still wondering why he reminded me of a character from that 80s board game, Guess Who?

That was until he put on 40lbs for a film role. He's since lost most of the weight but there was a stage when he had hit the sweet spot - that crossroads between chunky and well cut. He looked like a big bear of a man, and that I can work with.

Colin said he gasped when he saw himself on screen in The Lobster, the film for which he gained the 40 pounds. "I'd forgotten what it looked like," he said. "In fact it looked, in the current ubiquitous parlance, like a Dad Bod."

A Dad Bod, for the uninitiated, became an internet phenomenon a few months ago when university student Mackenzie Pearson extolled its virtues in an article for a college website.

"The Dad Bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out," she wrote. "The Dad Bod says, 'I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time'. It's not an overweight guy, but it isn't one with washboard abs, either."

I used to think of myself as a closet chubby chaser but Dad Bod Enthusiast has a much better ring to it. I hasten to add that it is not so much the belly itself that I like (although I must concede that they make for better cuddling). It's what it represents, or more to the point, what it doesn't represent.

I can appreciate a well-maintained physique. It's just that I'm put off by the brutish determination, cultish ritual and countless whey protein shakes that so often go with them.

Likewise, I can appreciate the well-developed trapezius muscle of a swimmer and the broadened shoulders of a manual worker, but I get a little bit sick in my mouth when I see a hard-won six-pack.

I've never understood the modern obsession with the six-pack. The appeal of certain physiques and body contours can always be linked back to some deep biological impulse. A curvy female alludes to nurture and comfort. A strong-shouldered man alludes to strength and decisiveness. What does a six-pack suggest? It looks as though six vacuum-packed breadrolls have been surgically grafted to the torso for heaven's sake.

The preposterous six-packs of today simply don't look natural. If you want to see what a natural one looks like, put away your copy of Men's Health and take a look at the gladiatorial sculptures of the Greek and Roman ages. We're talking a faint rippling as opposed to a monstrosity that requires 2,000 sit-ups before bed every night.

What I particularly dislike about our obsession with six-packs is the ungainly way in which men contort their bodies when showcasing them. There's something pitiful about the telltale gripped jaw and slightly clenched fists…

Six-packs have become a Western status symbol, but in a most primitive way. They remind me of those African tribespeople that proudly sport 36 rings around their neck. Or Peter Andre.

I understand that there is a market for Peter Andre, the Chippendales and men who take selfies of themselves in the gym changing room mirror. However, I don't feel even a semblance of titillation when I look at these images. On the contrary, they make me feel a little bit sad.

Neither could I imagine making love to a man who is to all intents and purposes wearing a coat of armour. Actually, I could. I imagine they'd ask to snort cocaine off your breasts while filming the whole thing on their iPhone.

I imagine they'd make you an egg white omelette for breakfast and take you on a date to Nando's where they'd let loose with a double helping of sweet potato mash.

When I see a six-pack, my first thought is 'what have you sacrificed to gain this?' And I don't mean complex carbs. What other worldly pleasures has this life of abstinence robbed you of?

Dad Bod represents the antithesis to all this. It is the mark of a man who has given himself an extra loop on the belt, both literally and figuratively.

It is the symbol of spontaneity. Nobody plans to carry two stone too many. A Dad Bod is proof in the pudding that caution has been thrown to the wind and plans have been put to the side. Will we order a pizza? Go on so. Anyone for dessert? Ah sure f*** it.

Rightly or wrongly, I also associate these physiques with a sense of humour. Actually, I think we all stereotype fat men as funny. Just look to Hollywood. Comedy seems to be the only niche for the calorically challenged. Has art imitated life, or is it the other way around?

Freud would have a field day with the Dad Bod phenomenon. A contemporary psychotherapist might suggest that women prefer slightly overweight men because it makes them less self-conscious about their own physiques, or at least makes them feel more petite by comparison.

Yes, yes and no. Fundamentally, the Dad Bod says 'take me as I am', and that's a powerful statement of strength.

If a six-pack is a symbol of self-obsession, then a Dad Bod is a symbol of self-contentment.

Or to paraphrase Kipling, "if you can keep your belly when all around are losing theirs, then you'll be a man, my son".

This is Katie Byrne's last column for The Herald. From August 8th she will be writing every Saturday for our sister publication, the Irish Independent's Weekend magazine

'If you want to see what a natural six-pack looks like, look at a gladiator'

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