The youth of America have been whispering about something they call the “dad bod” for years, trading definitions on Urban Dictionary and presenting photographic evidence on Total Frat Move. But it wasn’t until last month—when 19-year-old Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson published the explanatory essay “Why Girls Love The Dad Bod” on the college-focused website the Odyssey —that the term broke out of the teenage vernacular and into the general population.
“In case you haven’t noticed lately, girls are all about that dad bod,” Pearson wrote. “The dad bod 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.’ ”
“There is just something about the dad bod,” Pearson continued, “that makes boys seem more human, natural, and attractive.”
Pearson’s piece has since emerged as the definitive primer on the dad bod, educating the women of the Cut and the guys of GQ on the appeal of the body type. I talked to Pearson about Hollywood’s most famous dad bods, what men think of the term, and how her own dad maintains his dad bod. (Our interview has been condensed and edited.)
Slate: Nobody at Slate had ever heard the term “dad bod” before reading your piece. But then I Googled it and learned that the younger generation has been discussing the dad bod for quite some time. Do you remember when you first heard about it?
Mackenzie Pearson: My friend pointed it out at the beginning of this year. We’d be walking around campus, and she’d whisper: That’s a dad bod. That’s a dad bod. I eventually became really familiar with the body type and was able to identify it. I don’t hear it a lot in daily conversation; it’s not really common lingo. But it’s a lot more common now. … I have no idea why the article took off so fast, but it really has caught fire. People are loving it. It’s been crazy.
Slate: If you used the term “dad bod” with 100 American 19-year-olds, how many of them do you think would know what you were talking about?
Pearson: I’d say about 40 percent, maybe 50. It’s definitely something where, if you know the term, you are very familiar with it. You know what a dad bod is and what it looks like. But if you don’t know, you kind of have to look at it and learn about it a bit more to be able to identify it.
Slate: So what is a dad bod?
Pearson: A dad bod is a guy who is not incredibly chiseled, but at the same time, is not unhealthy. He’s not overweight. He’s probably that guy who played football in high school and came to college and didn’t play football. Maybe he had a few too many slices of pizza, or a few too many ramens, and just ended up with a little bit of squish on top of his muscle. It’s a healthy body. It’s a boy-next-door look. He’s the kind of person you go on a hike with, and then at the end of the day, you eat pasta and lay in bed and watch a movie.
Slate: Is there a female equivalent to this?
Pearson: Hah. Probably. I haven’t really thought about the name for that. It’s probably just a normal girl body; maybe a little wider in the hips, and maybe a little bigger-chested.
Slate: Like “curvy”?
Pearson: Maybe. I feel like a good word to describe it would be thick. Not a big person, but just a thick person. Someone who isn’t too thin-looking, but has got some meat on her bones.
Slate: Which famous men have dad bods?
Pearson: Chris Pratt, before he got all bulked up for that movie. He definitely has one. John Mayer kind of has one. Any dad celebrity, for the most part, is probably going to have a dad body.
Slate: What about Jon Hamm?
Pearson: Yes. He’s got a great one. Jason Segal. He’s got a good one.
Slate: What have men had to say about the article?
Pearson: I’ve had a surprising number of men and boys contact me saying, “I’ve had trouble with my body image. 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.” That’s been really great to see, that it’s caused such a positive ripple effect.
Slate: Are some of these guys trying to go out with you?
Pearson: I’ve had a few offers. Yeah. Quite a few.
Slate: Some of my colleagues were saddened by the dad bod article, because it seemed to say that a lot of the appeal of the dad bod lies in a woman’s own insecurities.
Pearson: That was totally not the intention of the article. I think of myself as a very secure woman. I’m very proud of my body and who I am. But it is something that my friends have talked about, and like any other girl, I do have insecurities. I don’t want a guy to tell me what I can or can’t eat.
Slate: Has your dad read it?
Pearson: My dad has read it. He called me this morning to talk about it. My dad is super into CrossFit. He’s super, super fit and really healthy. He actually found a comment where someone had uploaded a picture from Facebook saying, “This is her, this is actually her and her dad!” My dad looks young. People think we’re dating all the time, because he’s in such great shape. He told me that he got a kick out of it. He sent it to my entire extended family, saying, “Look how funny my daughter is!” He’s really enjoyed the comments and the attention.
Slate: So does your dad have a dad bod, or is he too fit to have a dad bod?
Pearson: My dad actually does have a pretty good dad bod. He’s a dad, obviously, and he’s fit. But like any guy who’s in his late 40s, early 50s, he’s got that little bit of flab you just can’t get rid of.
Slate: All the other terms I’ve heard to describe male bodies are specifically for gay men. Bears, otters, twinks. Dad bod feels like something new.
Pearson: Yeah. You really don’t hear a lot of people talking about male bodies. Nobody talks about shapes of guys; they’re just guy-shaped. Some people have told me that the article is shallow, because it’s solely focused on the body. But there are a lot of terms for girls’ bodies—like ‘thigh gap’—that promote really unhealthy bodies. The dad bod is just a name for an average, healthy-looking male. I will say that whenever you’re going to date someone, don’t date them just for their body. It’s about personality and attraction. The body’s only one part of it.