Where are the gaggles of innocent college boys lusting over stretch-marked and taco-eating female parents?
Last week, when The Odyssey published 500 words on Why Girls Love The Dad Bod, fathers across the Internet exhaled, allowing their distended tummies to hang generously over their belt buckles. Mackenize Pearson, piggybacking on our recent obsession with Lumbersexuals and the vernacular of frat boys, added a new body type for us to slot each other into. Hello, Dad Bod.
Pearson characterizes dad bod as being:
“…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.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.”
Pearson uses a number of sexist and derivative caricatures of women’s body anxieties to illuminate this seemingly “new” male body type, suggesting to us why women appear to be opting for this dad bod over last year’s “perfectly sculpted guy.”
She suggests that men without beer bellies “intimidate” their female partners, while women “like being the pretty one” in their relationships.
There are endless facets about “dad bod” that merit unpacking, not least of all the internalized misogyny that Pearson leaks throughout her entire piece. But, let’s add to that some high-level heteronormative ideas about desire, fat-shaming, and the suggestion that all women, and men, eventually make their way to some imaginary endgame of marriage and children.
Social media makers have already asked Pearson the essential question: Is there a female equivalent to the dad bod? The real answer is malleable and can not be distilled into a simple yes or no.
A feminized version of Pearson’s dad bod does not exist as a focal point of western cultural desire, it isn’t a goal that we are encouraged to work toward after the arrival of our babies. From the moment we step out of the hospital’s birthing suite we are rushed into gym classes promising a return to our pre-baby bodies, and that, thankfully, with hours of dedication and starvation we can rid ourselves of our squishy bellies. Magazines, apps, and personal trainers convince us that our “human, natural, and attractive” mode is that biologically unattainable “pre-baby body” because only then are we returned to the state of beauty and desire. Basically, there are not entire gaggles of innocent college boys lusting over stretch-marked and taco-eating female parents.
The mom bod coveted as the collective post-baby “after picture” is the highly sexualized and festishized version of a mother known lovingly as “The MILF.” The MILF is a direct inverse of the soft-gutted, gym-eschewing body that Pearson promotes with her call to action: “Men, confidently strut that gut on the beach because while you stare at us in our bikinis we will be staring just as hard.” MILFs are sexualized specifically because their bodies don’t tell the stories of their maternal selves. A MILF body doesn’t include torn pelvic walls, cesarean section scars, or sagging breasts. She is sexualized and desired because she doesn’t betray her motherhood with her body. The MILF is a microaggression covered by a faux-acceptance of a mom bod.
But, despite aggressive erasure, the mom bod does exist. Although, no university student is going to pen an enthusiastic love letter to the authentic mom bods, they walk among us. Shockingly, they aren’t all slightly pudgy cis-hetero women that Pearson’s concept of dad bod sets up as the false alternative. They are torn and bloated, they are enjoying pizza, and they are beautiful. They are both fat and thin, they are trans women, lesbians, old women, and asexuals. Mom bod is the skin we inhabit whenever we interact with our own concepts of maternity.
When we lose babies, abort fetuses, celebrate adoption, or birth a baby we spend five years conceiving through IVF, we are mom bods. When our breasts are attached to a double-barrel breast pump or when our perineum is swollen, we are mom bods. When we run a marathon after five children, or lounge about in clothes that we feel comfortable and confident in, we are mom bods.
These are the bodies that we don’t talk about, that don’t make it into Gawker’s list of 2015’s most lusted after body types.
Sadly, it isn’t just Pearson who writes over the existence of mom bods with her celebration of the privileged male body. We have entire industries and systems that work to desexualize or ignore the bodies of women whose lives have intersected with the maternal.
It’s unfair to erase the experiences or opinions of youth like university student MacKenzie Pearson, who, at 19, is holding up a male body that is already privileged, pampered, and accepted without noticing how problematically we frame our mom bods. Noting this, I think that we need to use Pearson’s comments as an entryway into talking about body privilege, fat shaming, and heteronormativity instead of patting dudes on the back for their role in “normcore.”
Feminist Activist, college educator and writer, Lyndsay Kirkham is the co-editor of Gender Focus and reviews poetry for a number of literary publications. Living between the UK and Vienna, she has the life goal of collecting more cats than tattoos. Find her quoted on CBC, NPR and Wired. Her creative and non-fiction works are in many digital and print publications including, Kiss Machine, Canadian Women Studies Journal, Rabble and Women Write About Comics. You can also find her on Twitter.