Dudes with dad bods may not be the ladies’ first choice, but a Yale professor of anthropology suggests they’re procreative athletes.
According to Yale deputy provost Richard Bribiescas, Ph.D., author of How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality, pudgy older men are longer-lived and more attractive to women. In his book, he presents a view of male aging as it was shaped by natural selection, claiming that, despite what we’re led to believe by biomedical research, chubbier guys were ultimately better at passing on their genes because they lived long enough to have kids — perhaps with even more than one mate.
“Macho makes you sick,” Bribiescas told The Telegraph. “The Hollywood image of the swaggering, dashing man dispatching bad guys and carrying the day conjures up a perception of indestructibility.”
Most scholars that have attempted to understand male aging have done so through a biomedical lens, which points out such “flaws” as erectile dysfunction, prostate disease, degrading muscle mass, and decreasing testosterone, but doesn’t always put them into context. By taking the evolutionary biology route, Bribiescas asks us instead to think about the issues that ancestral males faced on a day to day basis as they were trying to make babies.
Unlike modern men, these guys didn’t have consistent access to food, so those who stocked up — and gained weight in the process — were less likely to starve to death, buying them time to find a mate to mother their children. Other traits that tend to show up later in life — those with negative associations, like baldness, together with positive ones such as high fertility and parenting skills — were selected for, over many generations, as a result. What we get, Bribiescas suggests, is your average modern man: Slightly heavy, with thinning hair, but with vigorous sperm and relatively good fathering abilities.
The implications of his theory are especially surprising, given our cultural assumptions that physically fit people are necessarily healthier — and sexier. But Bribiescas’ book gives credence to what some people have been arguing for a long time: Dad bods aren’t just sexy now; they’ve always been sexy.
In 2015, an editorial published by a Clemson University student riled up the internet with its claim that “Girls are all about that dad bod.” The slow but steady elevation of chubby-but-still-kinda-hot celebrities like Seth Rogen, Jordan Peele, and James Corden into sex symbols suggests that she had a very valid point. Still, it’ll take some time before everyone is convinced: Earlier in October, one Washington Post writer asked when the gay community would have its “dad bod moment”, recounting his experiences being shunned for his weight.
Despite its body-affirming message for guys, Bribiescas’ theory shouldn’t be taken as a call for all men to stop hitting the gym and eating well; internal health is important to maintain, whether or not it’s reflected in a person’s physique. But at the very least, it does provide a biological excuse for dudes who end up gaining weight despite their best efforts to stay fit.