By now you probably know exactly what a dadbod is, even if you can’t articulate an exact definition. It has something to do with a dude whose quantifiable hotness manages to be both because of and in spite of his lifestyle, which may or may not involve exercise, beer, pizza, parenting. But what about mombod? Can we get a judge’s ruling on that?

That is the question Sarah Sweatt Orsborn is asking at HuffPo after having a few days to let dadbod’s decidedly sweaty, unkempt, possibly unshowered appeal marinate in the mind. She recounts catching wind of the term from Twitter, tracking it to The Cut’s piece, and trying to make sense of the varied interpretations from there (lots of folks have since tried to pin down the particulars). She writes:

Basically, “dadbod” is what frat boys with beer guts are now calling their physique. Like, I’m not ripped because I’m too busy having fun, please enjoy my dadbod.

and:

… Dadbod is apparently just a funny hip coinage for an average, healthy male body that doesn’t spend a ton of time on, like, Crossfit or something. If you were to call it what it really is, though, you’d probably call it average.

Right? Dadbod is simply an average dude’s body, not too athletic, and not so young as to be immune from the ravages of time. It’s easy to understand why this would be so appealing for men—anyone can have a dadbod, i.e. not put in too much effort into their muscle tone. And for anyone interested in getting closer to that dadbod, it’s a fact that average, not super toned bodies can be particularly hot because they are so unassuming, so in-the-thing and of-the-thing, such honest representations of lifestyle.

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In contrast, the fit body is a constant wrangling of the body against reality, a race against time. In a way, it’s a lie. And it can be a very hot lie, to be clear. I have no problem with cultivated lies of this sort—what is any form of grooming if not a constant reworking of the natural into a civilized state? And dadbod seemingly would have certain other advantages. From The Cut:

Allison [Davis]: My friend has a theory that men with dadbods and doughier tummy areas are good at sex — better, even — than, say, a ripped-abbed man, because their guts push against your pubic bone in a pleasing way. I also think dadbods might be more enthusiastic oral-sex-givers. Perhaps to compensate for their lack of abs.

Later, Davis suggests that a dadbod offers the fantasy of a judgment-free zone about your body, too. “A dadbod makes me think we could eat pizza in bed together and never feel guilty or judge one another.”

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But as other Cut writers go on to note, those who’ve known and dated dadbods have often experienced cognitive dissonance on this acceptance front:

Ella: I’ve always found the dadbods I’ve been with pass judgement on my eating habits — probably because they project. Like, they have always been the most enthusiastic about me eating a salad.

Isabel: Dadbods want to date skinny girls?

Leah Rodriguez, producer: Yeah.

Ella: YES.

Ashley Weatherford, associate beauty editor: I dated a dadbod in college, and he told me I needed to work out.

Some dadbods are dicks, go figure. And herein lies the greasy rub: Like everything that involves breaking the rules when it comes to sex appeal, it’s mostly a luxury for men, a one-sided pass that doesn’t extend across the aisle. The mombod, produced by actual pregnancy or otherwise the same devotion to not trying all that hard, is nothing anyone is ever hailing in women, though there is no real reason we shouldn’t be. I would posit that this is totes a mombod, and hot (and yes, I know, a model).

This is what Orsborn was getting at over at HuffPo:

At the end of the piece, one of The Cut’s editors says, “I can’t stop thinking about how offended I would be if men were talking about the ‘Mombod.’” Except PLENTY of people have made it clear that “mombod” is an actual thing, yes, but also a thing to be avoided like the plague. No one writes appreciation pieces about the mombod and how “doughier tummy areas are good at sex — better, even — than, say, a ripped-abbed [person].” Because obviously, we doughy-tummied mommies are not sexual beings but rather sad sacks who need to GET THAT BODY BACK, RETURN TO OUR PRE BABY BODIES, GET A BEACH BODY, ROCK THAT BIKINI POST BABY, ETC.

Why even stop there? Get that beach body at birth and never let it go, come pregnancy, winter, Netflix binge-watching, moose tracks ice cream. Whatever it takes.

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But in the real world, women don’t get to “let go” and still be hot unless they are letting go of excess weight. Hell, there’s not even a female equivalent of the Al Gore presidential loss beard. I’ve tried. I’ve gone literal days without brushing my hair during some downcast phases, and believe you me, though it was glorious, I darkened every door I passed through.

Orsborn writes:

Some women get “back” to tight abs and perky boobs after they become moms, but I’d venture that most of us are changed in at least some way by the experience, and there isn’t really any going back. Even if you “lose that baby weight,” stuff just isn’t the same anymore. We can see our bodies as damaged goods, or we can embrace the transformation. Growing twins may have left my midsection softer and my belly button unrecognizable, but it also made me feel more deeply connected to my body. And you know what that is, really? A sensual experience. An empowering experience. And sensuality and power and even softness are sexy.

For sure. I would like to note that every such essay written in this vein—about the postpartum sensuality stuff and how it can actually enhance sex—is by a woman. Very telling, dadbods.

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But Orsborn just wants us to allow imperfect mom bodies to be as desirable as imperfect dadbods, which they are, often, within a relationship—but far less often in the world at large. Over at Daily Life, Natalie Reilly points out this discrepancy:

It seems that while women have been described as everything from Yummy Mummies, to MILFs, to DUFFs to WAGs to Prawns, to Cougars, (and that’s just the last few years) men have been given explicit permission to do ... nothing?

“Hey ladies! Watch yourselves! Gentlemen? As you were.”

And yet, Reilly still finds something reassuring out of all this—saying that women have never really cared about male bodies, and never will. She posits that the ‘80s bodybuilder physique was the result of the male gaze, that Brad Pitt became famous because of his face, and that even Jon Hamm was ordered not to work out for Mad Men in the interest of “historical accuracy.”

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(Might I note that Jon Hamm is not the greatest example of looking good without lifting weights? The man’s jawline is a testament to human perfection?)

But her point, and it’s one made elsewhere in the wake of the dadbod drool, is that this is “cementing of a certain female gaze”—a new one, which comes with a not entirely insignificant asterisk of judgment:

Put simply, the term DadBod says “Don’t worry, slightly flabby non sexual male! This young, fertile female says you’re still hot – I mean, for your genre.” Which on the surface, seems like a relief, but it’s still one heck of a patronising wake-up call. It’s the male version of “I like a woman with a bit of meat on her bones”, which naive men think sounds heroic, when only the opposite could be true.

While I’m somewhat doubtful this is the real takeaway for dadbod, if it is, I’m down. I’m all for equal input when it comes to shaping the culture’s idea of beauty. If we can’t all stop being vicious aesthetes, then we can all at least be a little gross and imperfect together—mombods, dadbods, all of it. The real luxury for women would be the same luxury men have enjoyed for years, whether economically, politically, or aesthetically: to fuck up, to make mistakes, to be bad at something, to be ugly, to be imperfect—and to still be considered just as worthwhile, desirable, valid, important. Sometimes even more so. If certain men being considered hot “for their genre” is a path toward the light of understanding this, make way.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.


Contact the author at tracy.moore@jezebel.com.