How to Make Your “Dad Bod” Attractive

This psychological trick can make your undesirable attributes appealing.

Posted Dec 30, 2019

Jimi Foster, used with permission
Source: Jimi Foster, used with permission

If you developed a “dad bod” over the holidays (like I did), or the female equivalent—or even if your pot belly or beer gut is a permanent feature—this article will let you in on a little psychological trick that can make your undesirable attributes attractive.

To understand how it works, we must learn about a counterintuitive biological phenomenon that is based on a theory known as the “handicap principle.” Essentially, the principle says that certain physical handicaps, which can be bodily or behavioral, can be perceived as attractive in the right context. A standard example can clarify this strange-sounding concept: the peacock’s tail.

It is common knowledge that the peacock’s large and ornate tail attracts female peacocks, which are called “peahens.” But why exactly do peahens find them so attractive? Sure, the colored patterns look pretty, but from a biological standpoint, they are a physical liability.

In addition to being physiologically costly to build and maintain, they catch the attention of predators and hinder their ability to escape danger. From the viewpoint of natural selection, it would seem that the larger the tail is, the larger the burden would be. So how do we make sense of this?

Well, the handicap principle posits that big and extravagant tails are perceived as attractive precisely because they are a physical burden.

But how can this be?

Basically, the fact that the peacock can afford such a costly feature is a signal that he is so superior genetically that he can afford the handicap. Those peacocks who have less extravagant tails appear inferior to females, who interpret the physical advantage as a weakness, oddly enough.

If this example hasn’t convinced you that physical handicaps can signal superiority relative to one’s peers, there are many others from the animal kingdom.

For example, when skylarks are threatened by falcons, they sing as they escape danger. Singing is costly because it requires energy, oxygen, and cognitive resources for the additional motor and attentional functions. Only the fittest and healthiest skylarks can afford to sing as they flee from predators. But the song sends a signal to predators: "I can afford to sing as I fly because you present no threat to me—you’d be better off trying to catch one of my weaker peers who can’t afford to sing during flight."

Similar behavior is seen in gazelles, Siamese fighting fish, and many other species.

So how does this all relate to dad bods?

Well, a pot belly is costly and certainly a physical handicap when it comes to feeding, fighting, and fleeing. But if you rock it with confidence, it is no different than the metabolically wasteful and physically burdensome peacock tail. It sends a signal that says, “I can have this physique because I’m genetically superior in other ways that are more important. A dad bod is a luxury that only someone as awesome as me can afford. Those who are muscular are compensating for hidden deficiencies, but I don’t need to do that.”

The handicap principle is a little bit like reverse psychology. It can be especially effective if the person excels in other areas; for example, he has a great sense of humor, is bright, talented, or fun to be around. This article has focused on weight, but the same principle can apply to any physical or behavioral handicap. What matters is that you own the impediment. If you blow out that belly like a peacock spreads its feathers, then you just might convince a special someone you are superior in ways that matter more than muscle.