Dad Bod and Body shaming

“It’s just as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie.”- How true is it, in light of the present scenario? Do men face as much body-shaming as women? And, what’s up with this term, the dad bod? In this article, we will try to find answers to these questions and more.

The term “dad bod” was first popularized way back in 2015, when it went viral due to a funny essay written by Mackenzie Pearson. The essay extolled the virtues of men who had a bit of paunch in place of the stereotypically attractive six-pack abs. Soon enough, men with so-called “dad bods” were being praised for their bodies in the way that ripped guys had been in the past. The phrase “Dad bods” intentionally pokes fun at the idea that when men start to age and build families, they lose their “masculine” bodies. So what’s a perfect, masculine body?

A perfect body comprises broad shoulders, bulging biceps and triceps, a flat chest, a V-shaped torso, a narrow waist, well-defined core muscles, developed leg muscles, and sculpted calves. Media has also led to a rise in the use of sexual terms that are based on appearances of men – like metrosexuality, lumbersexual, and spornosexuality. 

However, it is unfair to put the entire blame of negative body image on the media when criticism of physical appearance is generally meted out by parents, relatives, friends, and partners. 

Body shaming in men can lead to an inferiority complex, lowered confidence, eating disorders and other such issues. It can cause insecurities leading to troubled relationships. There are chances that the victim may feel too self-conscious and withdraw from social situations. Instead of judging people just because they don’t look as we want them to, we need to be more mature, accepting and empathetic.

Often, young teenage boys are fat-shamed for their man-boobs and their chubby bellies. What might seem as non-harmful ribbing can reach extreme proportions, particularly in boys’ hostels where guys with gynecomastia are literally grabbed and molested under the garb of good-natured fun.

Dad Bod

According to Glen Jankowski writing for Quartz, men’s body dissatisfaction is an increasingly common issue that can lead to taxing gym routines, overly strict dieting and consistent anxious thoughts—all of which can add up to have a serious impact on his daily functioning. 

The most startling thing is that according to Bradley University, 95 % of college-aged men are dissatisfied with their bodies. Yet, there is almost no awareness about this issue because it’s considered a “female problem.” On top of that, the university goes on to assert that men are less likely to seek therapy or treatment for body image issues and eating disorders. This surely is a serious issue!

Body positivity has gained immense popularity in recent years as celebrities, brands and influencers are encouraging women to love their bodies and ignore societal pressures to look a certain way. However, this wave still mostly excludes men. Even the search results online for body positivity results in content that is almost entirely related to and written for women, while there are far fewer articles focused on male body positivity. Male representation is also minimal when it comes to leadership in the movement — as only 2 of the 8 directors of The Body Positive organization are men.

Excluding men from the body positivity movement is harmful in part because men are subjected to standards of appearance that are just as unrealistic as those imposed on women. Many men unnecessarily succumb to the pressure of achieving the “superhero body.” In order to achieve this aesthetic, they face the brunt of the damaging physical effects of overexercising, which shockingly has a mortality rate that is equal to that of individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Andrew Walen, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders and founded the Body Image Therapy Center, explains the trends and consequences of body shaming amongst peers. Walen explains that boys who are heavier than their peers are often bullied, and a significant number of them will develop anxiety, shame, and depression related to this. Actions taken to change their body to meet the standard they think is ideal can become a full-blown eating disorder. 

Australia’s National Eating Disorder Collaboration reports that men too are now suffering from binge eating at par with women. In fact, in Australia right now, 1 in 4 sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are male.

Eating disorders are much more common in men than one may think. Men make up about one-third of individuals battling an eating disorder, though only a minority receive treatment. It is even harder to diagnose a man with an eating disorder as the disease does not manifest itself as it does in a woman.

Delhi based psychiatrist Dr Shobhana Mittal says it’s high time male body shaming and body image is brought to the public eye. We often talk about women body-image issues, but we forget that men are increasingly becoming victims of this same trend. In recent years there has been a tremendous spike in men being targeted and shamed for their bodies. A man’s desirability now is not just measured by his personality or success alone but with the shifting gender roles, men too have been subjected to the same look-based scrutiny.

Dad Bod

Mittal feels the phenomenon is even more amplified in the Indian context, where marriages previously were mostly arranged marriages. With more women being able to choose their partners and dating, men have greater responsibility to pay attention to their physique with pressure to achieve certain body types, making them more vulnerable to body shaming. 

Thus in the context of Indian society’s duplicitous standards, we must stand up for our men. The drive to achieve a “Dad Bod” could be significantly lessened by sufficient representation of different male body types in the popular media. If our men can learn to recognize their beauty and learn to value their own bodies, only then do we get to finally win this battle.