“Midway along the journey of our life,” Dante Alighieri wrote in “The Inferno,” “I woke to find myself in a dark wood/for I had wandered off from the straight path.”

For many men of a certain age, the wandering off that straight path includes slower metabolism, less frequent trips to the gym, love handles growing more lovely by the year and occasional dates with Little Debbie.

Yet, such men need not despair. For, though they may fear that their slowly expanding figures are less desirable than they were a few decades before, a 19-year-old Clemson University sophomore has written a landmark defense of the “dad bod.”

“The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out,” Mackenzie Pearson wrote in an essay in the Odyssey. “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.”

The takeaway: “While we all love a sculpted guy, there is just something about the dad bod that makes boys seem more human, natural, and attractive.”

As the term “dad bod” — a phrase already oft-spoken by millennials and percolating on the Internet — entered the mainstream media, barely muffled shouts of glee were heard among not-totally-but-somewhat out-of-shape Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and even those less aged. Dad bod trend articles went out under photos of Jon Hamm, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen.

“It’s women talking about your body like you may not have heard it talked about before (and it might make you feel differently about your own),” GQ wrote. “It’s the dawn of ‘dad bod.'”

Amanda Hess of Slate went so far to track down Pearson and interrogate her about the bod in question. Pearson’s nominees for standout dad bods: Chris Pratt, John Mayer and “any dad celebrity, for the most part.”

“I’ve had a surprising number of men and boys contact me saying, ‘I’ve had trouble with my body image,'” Pearson said. “‘I’ve been insecure about my body because I’m a bigger guy. I’m a thick guy.’ They’re reaching out and saying, ‘This really helped me with my self-confidence.’ A lot of guys have been tweeting pictures of themselves at the beach, like, ‘Thanks for the encouragement. I’m strutting my dad bod proud today.'”

Of course, there’s always a backlash.

“Newsflash, dad bodies: your newly sprouted chest hair does not, and never will, replace a six-pack,” read a post on the blog Betches Love This. “Despite what you read in whatever sick publication you get your dating advice from, chicks do not find men who look like their fathers attractive.”

“Just read everything there is to read about ‘dadbod,'” one Twitter user wrote. “It’s basically an excuse for being fat even though you didn’t birth the kid.”

But the dad bod isn’t just something to love or hate. At least for a few Internet seconds, the world will judge men’s bodies in the way that it too often judges women’s bodies. That might be bad — or perhaps it will offer the gentleman of planet Earth some perspective in the continuing war against sexism, body-shaming and rape culture.

Maybe.

“Here’s an example of women talking in public about men in much the way so many men talk about women, as sexual objects with a list of attributes,” the Atlantic wrote. “…  That’s precisely what makes the phrase feel kind of transgressive. The dadbod turns the tables.”