How desirable is the ‘dad bod,’ really?

When a 19-year-old college student declared that girls are crazy about the “dad bod,” it ignited an Internet fury, pitting fat against fit.

In Mackenzie Pearson’s viral post about why the “balance between beer gut and working out” is more desirable, she writes, “We know what we are getting into when he’s got the same exact body type at the age of 22 that he’s going to have at 45.”

Oh, dear.

Pearson hasn’t learned about metabolism yet. Or about what the aging process does to a 22-year-old’s ability to indulge in $4 pitchers and binge on pizza. Hint: It doesn’t work the same at 45.

Yet, finally, the Midwest is ahead on a body trend. The land of beer and brats embraced the soft-around-the-center “dad bod” long before the rest of America discovered it.

Forensic psychiatrist Omar Quadri of St. Louis, 51, worked hard to achieve his dad bod. He lost about 35 pounds over two years.

“It seemed initially counterintuitive that someone would be attracted to a plumper male form, but the psychological underpinnings make sense to me,” he said. The body type signals a stable provider, he said. “Most women can provide for themselves, but they don’t want to be supporting a loser, either.”

He said women are more likely to value kindness and financial stability than ripped abs in a long-term relationship.

Of course, you never know what’s underneath the packaging.

Jeremy Nulik, 36, is a father of two children, has a self-declared dad bod and runs ultramarathons.

“I think I’ve had a dad bod since I was 13,” he said. “I’m a running dork who likes to eat nachos.”

From outward appearances, Nulik, who wears a size large T-shirt, looks like an average American male. He said the dad bod is probably more approachable for some women.

“But is it more desirable? I don’t know. Probably not.”

It may signal to women that a guy has pursuits other than spending all day in a gym, he said. Really, though, he could not care less about how his physique measures up when he’s able to run 70 miles in a week.

This healthy male body image likely comes from much more relaxed societal expectations for male appearances versus female. When was the last time someone extolled the virtues of a squishy mom bod?

“This is why this ‘dad bod’ is laughable to me,” Nulik said. “(Men) didn’t need to be let off the hook. Was there ever a hook for us?”

Mike Little, trainer and owner of Dynamic Personal Fitness in suburban St. Louis, says there’s more to staying in shape than looking good in jeans and a T-shirt, and that abdominal fat is particularly unhealthy. It’s about being healthy and active and how you feel about yourself, he said.

Plus, he’s heard his wife remark that Chris Hemsworth looks pretty hot. He’s never heard her comment on Ray Romano’s body.

His wife, Heather, said she finds an athletic body more desirable (as you’d expect from someone married to a trainer). And points out that there is a lot more pressure on moms to look cute than dads.

“Out-of-shape women are not described as sexy,” she said. And men aren’t the ones who get pregnant and give birth; they skip the physical transformation parenthood instantly confers upon women.

Aesthetic preferences are idiosyncratic and complicated. One 20-year-old told me she would rather be with a slightly out-of-shape larger guy than a skinny one. Another said going for dad bods is about settling for someone less likely to cheat on you. Several of the points the college blogger made in support of the dad bod reinforced young women’s own sense of self: They want to be the pretty ones in the couple, and a less-fit man is less intimidating.

These preferences may also change with time, as emerging self-confidence matures into adulthood.

Christy Senay, a 25-year-old personal trainer in St. Louis, says she has dated both a dad bod-type and a bodybuilder. She says neither is exactly her type.

“But if I had to pick, I’d choose the bodybuilder,” she said.

Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.