Don’t call it a comeback. (Please. I really need you to stop calling it a comeback.) Bellies have been here for years. And they’re not going anywhere. Well, mine isn’t anyway.
After enduring decades of constant anti-gut sentiment from the factions of medicine, fitness, and fashion; after barely surviving the slim-fit era by paying designer premiums for button-up shirts short enough to leave acceptably untucked; after suffering through so many bogus belly-trend pieces, scary health study listicles, and gut-buster workout regimens, I’m done. Fuck you all: the belly stays.
Trust: I’ve tried. For what felt like a good long time, I cut my carbs and did my crunches, I piked and I planked, I’m pretty sure I even cared. Once I moved to Texas (where carbs come from), I had to start trying a little harder to care. Eventually this waned to the point of just not. (Caring.)
Where once my workouts sought to flatten my belly, these days they’re centered on properly framing it -- building the house around the fireplace, as it were. I even find its form has function: my belly makes for a fine tactile gauge of the depth of my squat, a helpful barrier for the descending bar during my bench, and a crucial counterbalance when in the hole of my deadlift. And while I may keep my core somewhat insulated, I also keep it strong; I slack not on abs, nor apps.
Plus, fine, make me say it, I actually think it’s kind of cute, all right? And on that front, don’t call it a #dadbod, either.
These repeated lame attempts to raise the belly’s public profile (like #dadbod, an ostensibly positive trend-scourge celebrating the alleged rise of doughy post-collegiate bros) actually do little to buoy the spirits of us chronically bellied, ever-aware as we are that fickle fashion is probably just drunk texting us before passing out and waking up back to its awful former self.
What is #dadbod to the bellied, really, but another annoyingly cloying and clearly fleeting validation of our hard-fought and longstanding commitment to not particularly giving a shit? (And also pizza.)
I’ve felt this churn in my gut before: Back in 2009, after spotting a number of microbellies slightly distorting the deep-Vs of Brooklyn, the Times tried its hand at tummy-rubbing with a trend piece that declared “It’s Hip to Be Round.” At one point it quoted Details editor Dan Peres, who suggested the outbreak was (obvs) a rebellious body-image backlash against the nation’s first jacked President, Barack Obama.
“If we had a slob in the White House, all the hipsters would turn into some walking Chippendales calendar,” Peres is said to have said, indicating that he is a person who actually thought that and then decided to ship that thought into public speech.
Easy to get, hard to lose, the belly hangs heavy over men’s belts and heads, a condition for lack of conditioning. Unlike mandals or manbuns, a belly can neither be slipped on nor clipped off. And while it might not occur to most style writers sweating #dadbod deadlines, for most bellied men, our guts are not some sudden fad, they’re stubborn fat.
The root causes of bellies (too much soda, night-eating, eating feelings, not sleeping so great, skipping abs at the gym – i.e. American life) are as varied and plentiful as the consequences (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, colorectal cancer – i.e. American death). Big guts have also been linked to dementia, depression, and migraines, as well as seeming like a normal down-to-earth dude.
One recent study out of Sweden found a connection between exposure to urban noise and development of excess belly fat; but despite many writers eagerly mistaking correlation for causation and writing dozens of clickbaity “CITY NOISY MAKE YOU FAT” headlines, the true weight of the belly-blame remains on us: When it comes to our breadbaskets, we are (in two senses) largely responsible.
Despite the risks of it hanging around, over time I’ve come to accept and respect the persistence of my belly against diet and exercise. (It’s really something.) And in doing so, I’ve achieved something like a (slightly front-loaded) equilibrium.
And putting aside that I loosely associate with gay beardom – a subculture that values bellies as a beacon of Al Borland-esque masc-for-masc realness – I’ve even found an ample source of belly pride in my own personal pantheon of sports heroes. A bellied man may not technically be a healthy man, but he can be strong, powerful, even fit – part Budai, part badass.
Strongmen, from old-school tanks like Bruce Wilhelm and Bill Kazmaier to beastly contemporaries like Eddie Hall and Zydrunas Savickas have all wielded belly power to great athletic advantage (you’ll find it’s hard to haul a 475 lb.atlas stone without one). An entire era of professional wrestling, from Arn Anderson to Andre to A-Train was loosely defined by loose definition, its largesse a product of largesse. And from Babe Ruth to Prince Fielder, bellied sluggers have long bent the benches of the big leagues. (Oh, also, there’s also football, which has players.)
The shot-putters (see: Christian Cantwell), the bobsled pilots (see: Steve Holcomb), the rugby props (see: rugby props) – all are part of a long, productive relationship between guts and glory.
Depending on how you look at it, a substantial belly can be a symbol of man’s poor health, or a display of life’s rich pageant. But it is perhaps the unbudging bothness of the belly that makes it so tough to fully condemn or champion. What does it really look like to live well?
It’s possible that my current enthusiasm is merely an elaborate projection of my own lame excuses; after all, I haven’t entirely ruled out future efforts to lean up (according to Google there are roughly 15 million ways to go about it that I haven’t tried). Who knows? I’m fickle too. With a little more determination and a lot less glass-bottle Dr. Pepper, I might soon enough become an ab advocate myself, singing an altogether different tune in praise of the six pack.
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Michael Andor Brodeur is an Austin-based writer, eater, trainer, and lover (not a fighter). You can follow him on Twitter (@MBrodeur), Instagram (@brdr76) Snapchat (@mbrdr76), and from a slow-moving brown sedan. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.