Peter Holley is a general assignment reporter at The Washington Post. He can be reached at peter.holley@washpost.com.
On the left, the author, at age 23, flaunts a sculpted physique in a mudbath in Italy while trying to meet women. On the right, five years later, a hoodie covers up his emerging dad bod as he indulges in a brisket sandwich at a barbecue joint outside of Austin, Texas. (courtesy of Peter Holley)
On the left, the author, at age 23, flaunts a sculpted physique in a mudbath in Italy while trying to meet women. On the right, five years later, a hoodie covers up his emerging dad bod as he indulges in a brisket sandwich at a barbecue joint outside of Austin, Texas. (courtesy of Peter Holley)

A little over a week ago, a Clemson University student made an innocuous declaration on a Web site that nobody has ever heard of.

“Girls,” Mackenzie Pearson wrote, “are all about that dad bod.”

The Internet subsequently freaked out, vomiting up frenzied deconstructions of the phenomenon that all seemed to arrive at the same angst-filled question: “Do we really like the dad bod?”

Allow me — a shirtless, soft-bellied swain north of 30 who is currently lounging on his couch dipping lightly-salted tortilla chips into a kiddie pool of guacamole — to do some good ol’ fashion mansplaining.

Yes, ladies, you do like dad bods. You like them a lot, in fact.

Men — and by that I mean male humans above the age of 25 whose testosterone levels no longer burn with irrational desire  —  have long known women like dad bods. The Internet, it seems, has just figured it out.

How do I know?

Because over the last decade, I have inhabited both types of male physiques — the kind sporting six-pack abs and, more recently, the kind that looks like it should be pushing a stroller and Googling high-blood pressure medications. And yet, the latter physique has always proved more successful for me with the opposite sex. Much more.

In my early 20s, when I spent hours in the weight room each week, my body belied a confidence that wasn’t yet there. A woman at a bar might grab my bicep. A fling might comment on that manly pelvic muscle where ab leads to hip. But my physique only occasionally led to more than flirty ogling, and rarely created the heart-felt connection that humans — yes, even young male ones — really want from a love interest. Chiseled abs don’t put women at ease or get them to open up. At times, it even made them distrustful or unwittingly revealed me to be the insecure boy that I was.

Of course, those mansplainers in the science labs and marketing offices say otherwise. Abercrombie & Fitch has used half-naked men with rock-hard bodies to hawk all-American cutoff jean shorts and peasant tops (not so successfully lately). And researchers have insisted that testosterone-infused masculine features — tall with strong upper bodies and  deep voices —  are most likely to capture a woman’s attention.

Traditional gender roles are the reason, they say. Primordial women needed brutes who could slaughter wild beasts for food and stiff-arm competing tribes that wanted to kill their offspring. More recently, our great-grandmothers needed partners who could toil in factories, plow fields and protect the home from intruders.

But today, more people are working in offices instead of farms and factories. And women themselves are working — often more efficiently than their male colleagues. That independence means they can pay people to move their furniture and protect their homes, or do it themselves. A lot has been written about this deconstruction of gender roles and “the end of men.” But the truth is, women do still need men — they just don’t need the macho ones.

Instead, many women are looking for guys who have good careers, love kids, and offer a soft tummy to lay on after a long day of working harder than us — all things that dad bods promise. Tight torsos and thick biceps are too busy at the gym to own businesses and keep the kitchen clean. To put it another way, a dad bod isn’t attractive because of what it looks like, but because what it says.

And what is that, you ask?

A dad bod says I have a job, responsibilities and enough money to nod approvingly when someone says “guacamole is extra.”

A dad bod owns a suit, makes car payments on a fuel-efficient vehicle and applies tasteful amounts of cologne before heading out the door. Send him a YouTube compilation of puppies doing cute stuff and afterward he’ll happily discuss which cute stuff was his favorite cute stuff.

Make love to a dad bod and afterward a dad bod will make waffles for your belly.

Women love dad bods, and even scientific evidence is starting to bear this out.

Take, for example, a recent study from the University of Aberdeen that presented 4,800 women with pictures of men’s faces. Each picture showed a pair of faces that were largely identical, except one had more masculine features, like thicker jaw lines and stronger eyebrows. The researchers found that women from wealthier countries, such as the United States — where there were fewer threats like early mortality and disease — were less likely to prefer the manly faces than those from countries with lower GDPs. The implication? When women don’t have to worry so much about threats to their survival, they instinctually go for softer and more cuddly types.

In this era, free of toothy predators and murderous caravans, dad bods have never been a barrier to love and sex, and guys know it. One of my best friends, for instance, recently reentered the dating pool after a couple years focused on advancing his career in higher education. In that time, his formerly thin frame filled out considerably. He plays basketball from time to time, but not as consistently as he goes out for drinks and dinner with friends. He’s nowhere near fat, but a gentle bulge — one that might be compared to a woman in her first trimester — has begun to emerge from his softening midsection. He proudly flaunts his 32-year-old dad bod each summer at the pool, slapping his masculine baby bump and saying, “It’s for the ladies.” But deep down, he wasn’t sure how potential dates would react.

That insecurity didn’t last long. He soon met a promising 26-year-old woman, with her own career, who loves going out for beers but is in great shape.

“She keeps telling me she loves my body,” he told me over the phone after things with his new woman started getting serious. “She says it turns her on!”

Six months later, they’re official, and, from what he tells me, she can’t get enough of his dad bod.

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