Los­ing the fight against ‘Dad Bod’

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - SRID­HAR PAPPU

OVER AV­O­CADO TOAST and cof­fee in New York, Michael Bai­ley held up his iPhone to show an im­age of him­self taken 15 years ago, back when he was a fit model for a ma­jor cloth­ing line. This was the photo he re­cently posted on his Face­book wall on his 52nd birth­day.

“I named that photo ‘Tar­get,’” said Bai­ley, an in­te­rior de­signer for kitchens. “Be­cause it’s still my tar­get. I know I will never have that skin again, and I know that I’ll never be as cut and ripped as I was in that photo. But it’s a nice goal to have. A nice vis­ual to work to­ward.”

Bai­ley is deal­ing with some­thing that many men deal with — not obe­sity, but be­ing 5 to 15 pounds heav­ier than he would like to be. In other words, he has the slightly doughy look known as “dad bod.”

What frus­trates Bai­ley, like oth­ers with this af­flic­tion, is that he be­lieves he is so close to get­ting his body to where he wants it to be. And yet he keeps fall­ing short.

In Bai­ley’s case, the need to drop from his cur­rent weight, 190 pounds, to his ideal weight, 178, has real con­se­quences. As some­one with a pre­di­a­betic con­di­tion, he knows the risk of not los­ing the weight. And although he sur­vived a bout with colon can­cer, di­ag­nosed in 2015, those ex­tra pounds have proved a tough foe in­deed.

Bai­ley said his per­haps quixotic quest may be com­pli­cated by the fact that he is gay. Half the pho­tos he showed me from the so­cial me­dia ac­counts he fol­lows fea­tured friends who look trim, if not cut. When Bai­ley is around them, he knows he is be­ing judged, just as he once judged other peo­ple.

“Hav­ing a crazy-hot body is so im­por­tant in gay cul­ture,” he said. “You go on Face­book, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer, and ev­ery­one is just post­ing shirt­less pho­tos. It’s a lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing.

SPEAK­ING FROM AL­MOST 1,200 miles away, in Min­nesota, Casey Peter­son, 34, said he had never felt like the hottest man on the planet. Not even close. As an ath­lete in high school, he played foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball. But still, he was stocky. When he ap­plied for the Peace Corps af­ter col­lege, he was ini­tially turned away be­cause of his weight. His doc­tor had to write a let­ter say­ing he was in fine shape.

“I would have to tell my­self, ‘I’m not fat,’” Peter­son said of his youth­ful build. “But I would ask my­self: ‘Why am I not more de­fined? Why do I just sort of look thick?’”

He still has those ques­tions, although he bikes 12 miles to and from his home in St. Paul to Min­neapo­lis, where he works as a so­cial strate­gist at an ad­ver­tis­ing firm. He also runs four to six miles at least three times a week and puts him­self through the gru­elling In­san­ity work­out as of­ten as he can. And while he en­joys the in­ter­nal re­wards, the ex­ter­nal ones that peo­ple seek — whether they will ad­mit it or not — still elude him.

“I can’t find pants,” said Peter­son, who, at 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds, would like to weigh 190. “My nat­u­ral waist is a 31, but I have to buy pants that ac­tu­ally fit over my butt and my thighs. So then I am al­ways the guy in baggy pants.”

WHEN JAMYN EDIS, 41, was com­ing up as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant in Lon­don, he watched his older col­leagues’ stom­achs loom large over their Sav­ile Row suits as they smoked cigars in their of­fices. He told him­self he would never be one of those men — and for the most part, he has not been. He has com­peted in three marathons and one triathlon. But that led to foot and shoul­der surg­eries and even a spinal fusion pro­ce­dure. And then there is the weight.

At six-foot-two and 195 pounds, Edis, the chief ex­ec­u­tive and a founder of the smart­car startup Dash, cuts an im­pres­sive fig­ure to other peo­ple. But when he takes off his black V-neck T-shirt, he can see the ex­tra pounds (he would like to be down to 185). And he is not fine with it.

“The ques­tion is, what am I go­ing to do about it?” Edis said over lunch.

As with oth­ers, Edis, who said he weighed him­self at most four times a year, may not have much say in the out­come. The ex­treme ex­er­cise he en­dured in his 20s and 30s has limited how far he can phys­i­cally push him­self th­ese days. In 2015, his doc­tor told him to stop run­ning.

“I think this is where the ir­ri­ta­tion has less to do with 10 to 15 pounds and more to do with know­ing I am los­ing con­trol of my body,” Edis said, “through age, not con­trol of choices that I can make any­more.”

KIRK READ, a 58-year-old pro­fes­sor of French and Fran­co­phone stud­ies at Bates Col­lege in Lewis­ton, Maine, summed up how he felt about be­ing 5 pounds away from his ideal weight with one word: fail­ure.

“In ev­ery other as­pect of my life, I know what to do,” Read said. “I fol­low my lit­tle plan. I make a list. I check them off. Peo­ple are happy. And I move for­ward. This is one where it’s just me and my will. And it’s em­bar­rass­ing to me that, in this as­pect of my life, I don’t have con­trol.”

Much of that has to do with what he de­scribed as a “chubby” boy­hood. Read, who weighs 205 pounds, re­coils at the mem­o­ries of shirts-and-skins foot­ball games.

He said that in his teenage years, shop­ping for jeans was trau­ma­tiz­ing. In time, he stretched out to more than 6 feet. But his work of­ten takes him to Paris, that city of fash­ion and cru­elty.

“I’ve ac­tu­ally had a French sales­woman say, ‘You are enor­mous,’” he said. “And you say: ‘Thank you very much. Are you try­ing to shun me out of the store?’ Over there, I’m just sur­rounded by peo­ple who make me feel like I don’t want to be the enor­mous guy walk­ing into the store.”

Read said he sees the role played by his own van­ity in all this. Un­like many aca­demics, he likes to dress up. And he feels bet­ter when he looks thin­ner and health­ier.

Stand­ing on the scale re­cently, he said he asked him­self: “What would it be like to weigh 200 pounds, or even 199? How would it feel?”

“I know men in my life who stride through the world with con­fi­dence, even if they have a lit­tle paunch,” he said. “You can tell they’re not hold­ing in their gut, which I do most of the time. That’s a nat­u­ral pose for me.

“I as­sume they feel at­trac­tive and sexy,” he con­tin­ued. “They ex­ude self-con­fi­dence. That’s a place I would love to get to. Be­cause I’m not fat. I’m cor­pu­lent. In some ways, that feels worse.”

KIRK READ

JAMYN EDIS

CASEY PETER­SON

MICHAEL BAI­LEY

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