Don’t Settle for “Dad Bod”

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Photograph by Ture Lillegraven

Laird Hamilton, a father of three, will never have a "dad bod." In a recent conversation he told us exactly why he will always be fit: "We all want to be 80 and be able to go snowboarding, ride a bike, do all the stuff that makes you feel like you’re 30. That’s training for life."  

In other words, a well-kept body is a means to better things. This is an idea that is championed in fitness circles, corresponding with "functional fitness," a term that itself shifts the goal of working out from aesthetics (that six pack) to excelling at a specific activity. In this view, bodyweight trumps big weights, a wide range of movement defeats repetitive bulk — and the result is not how good you look with your shirt off at the beach, but how well you can maneuver the big waves on the board, kayak down the coast with ease, or go for a long swim in the ocean.  

All of that is at odds with the recent glorification of the "dad bod," which holds up the virtue of giving up, eating what you want, and skipping the gym. So what happened? 

Blame it on Brad Pitt. Hollywood trainers certainly do — at least when it comes to the current standard of lean, 3 to 4 percent fat bodies that even your run-of-the mill actor needs to lead a movie these days.

The shift in the look of the male body, at least the big screen, has shifted drastically since Pitt, as Tyler Durden, showed off his impossibly muscular (and lean) physique in Fight Club, offering rising male stars — and, yes, the audience — the kind of insane standard that can cause anxiety.  As we reported in our feature, Building a Bigger Action Hero, a sort of male body paranoia was born:

"For much of Hollywood history, only women's bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now the objectification makes no gender distinctions: Male actors' bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly's worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule."

Since Pitt’s body debut in 1999, all sorts of actors have shed pounds to show off muscle in everything from Magic Mike to Guardians of the Galaxy (remember when Chris Pratt was the overweight comic relief?). Plenty of regular men followed their lead, obsessively worked on their six-pack abs and inguinal crease, only to be beaten by a normal, even healthy, diet and worthy fitness goals like preparing for trail races and backpacking, skiing, surfing and biking — activities that need less starvation, more function.

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This is why the "dad bod, at least as defined by Mackenzie Pearson on her now-viral post, is not exactly a comfort. Pearson offers reverence for a body that — and I'm quoting here — is "a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. 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.'"

That's six slices too far. Modern men shouldn’t simply give up, becoming once-in-a-while gym goers that drink and eat pizza without a care. We’re missing the best reason men strive to be fit, want to look good, and admire the workout methods of those celebrities who have the luxury of hitting the gym two or three times a day: We want to excel at the weekend tennis match, join a Spartan Race at the drop of a hat, or be able to try our hand at a new activity — say, SUP-ing offshore — while on vacation. In the words of Hamilton, we’re training for life.