I am immovably sick with a malaise unrecognized by modern medicine. And I am not alone. Half the world’s population is distressed with the same invisible poison, and it’s not radon or whatever gas you get when you mix bleach and ammonia. No, it’s much more serious. I—deep breath, Hively—I am a man.
This is a huge problem. All we men have left to aspire to is the dad bod.
The term “dad bod” is new, but the affliction is as old as fermented barley water. If you have not yet been introduced to the dad bod, find the man nearest to you right now. That man has a dad bod, unless you are reading this at the Abercrombie store on Fifth Avenue, whose door wardens are more chiseled than the stone lions at the New York Public Library.
The dad bod body type is exemplified by dads, who frequently have trouble shedding those few extra pounds they added during the pregnancy. But a man doesn’t have to carry a child to end up with a dad bod. Pretty much every grown male willing to take his shirt off at a public swimming pool has it.
Remember in elementary school, when our teachers told us that if we worked hard and memorized our multiplication tables and stopped chewing gum in class, we could become anything we wanted when we grew up? They lied. At least to us boys. Anything worth accomplishing, a man has already accomplished. I could never be the first man to walk on the moon, the first male president, or the guy in the Dos Equis commercials.
The dad bod exemplifies this stasis. Nothing special is possible anymore. Sure, I can win a Pulitzer or invent something nifty, but whatever. Even Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway and former President George Herbert Walker Bush never amounted to anything more impressive than a dad bod. We guys are what we are.
Women, on the other hand, have entire universes of potential. They are still free to become the first anything! The sky, as clear as glass, is their limit. They don’t have a dad bod capping their potential—everywhere you go, advertisements and television shows and magazines depict the attainable feminine ideal, with toned abs and flawless skin and enough beauty products to turn any ol’ frump into Gisele Bündchen, only pretty.
Even if women don’t want to be political leaders or attractive, they still get to be superheroes. They have the freedom to work multiple jobs for less pay than us salary-locked dudes. They attend school functions for children they are free to birth or not—their choice!—and earn higher degrees while volunteering for the Red Cross, riveting rivets, and baking lasagna from scratch for their significant others, regardless of their (the significant others’) body types.
Don’t even get me started on clothing. Today’s fashions epitomize our culture’s gender inequity. Women can choose almost literally anything to wear. A woman can attend an exclusive gala wearing nothing but the plastic rings from six-packs, and this is seen as a valid fashion decision. Women select their attire from infinite combinations of jackets, jewelry accessories, blouses, tops, scarves, footwear, hairstyles, hair accessories, belts, sequins, buttons, buckles, brooches, corsages, glasses, monocles, and an incomprehensible range of undergarments.
Men? Pants. Shoes. Shirt. Jacket. To top it all off, a tie. You might as well require us to wear a dog collar. We can’t ever wear a skirt instead of pants, not even if we want to.
For a fleeting moment, when college sophomore Mackenzie Pearson published the first celebration of the dad bod, she assured me and all men that our body types and lifestyle choices were valid and beautiful in the eyes of a nineteen-year-old coed. But then some of these men—not me—flexed in front of the bathroom mirror and went right back to feeling like garden slugs.
Still, it was a small victory. We have a long uphill slog until men reach true equality. I dream of a day when, if we are very lucky and very apathetic, the world will accept men of all shapes and motivations as worthy, legitimate, and hairy human beings. Until that day, I hope my Darling Fiancée, like all women, enjoys the freedom to attain whatever level of perfection she wants, after she makes me feel better with fresh homemade soup.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The KC Post.