The dad bod revolution has picked up steam, but hype doesn't always equal reality. Most women prefer a fitter, stronger, healthier appearance, ideally with some ab definition.
No, this doesn't mean women only care about looks. In fact, most women prefer personality over appearance. (1-5) It also doesn't mean you can't have a happy relationship with a soft guy who has a bit of a gut. Nor are you any less of a person if you have a dad bod. It's also possible that some women find it relatable and therefore attractive.
But, if all else is equal – personality, intelligence, being employed, etc. – women are attracted to fit bodies more than dad bods... as long as you're not excessively lean, like for contest prep.
In other words, in happy relationships, the chick loves the dude despite his dad bod, not because of it.
Common sense tells you this is true. But the mainstream narrative tells you lies. So here's the actual research you can use to either bolster your commitment to the gym or prove your chubby friends wrong.
The internet has a way of amplifying certain voices. This can give the impression that a majority of people are in agreement with a bold, "edgy" assertion.
You may have seen headlines and hot takes about how dad bods are the preferred body type. There are approximately two surveys people use to paint this exaggerated picture.
However, surveys are not studies. They lack nuance, control, and reliability because of their design. Sometimes they even lack honesty. What a woman reports in a survey may be colossally different than what she's biologically attracted to.
So all those posts about loving dad bods can be misleading. Plus, many of them use celebrity dad bods as an example, which makes you question if it's the dad bod that's attractive or the Hollywood charm, status, and bank account.
According to a popular site, (7) many women report they prefer dad bods because of these assumptions:
- He won't be too focused on his appearance.
- He'll be more available for his job or family.
- He'd be easy to cook for and would enjoy going out.
- He'd have a good sense of humor.
- His physique would not be intimidating.
These have nothing to do with attraction to the physique alone. Women are more concerned about the implications of who the guy is and how his body makes her feel.
This begs the question, does a six-pack disqualify you from the dating pool?
Are all fit guys automatically labeled as humorless, self-obsessed douchebags? Not at all. Quite the opposite.
The more physically attractive you are, the more heard and seen you are. One study found that women are overwhelmingly more open to getting to know you, listening to you, and drawing a more accurate conclusion about you if you have a more traditionally masculine physique. (7)
This is only a bad thing if you actually ARE a vain gym addict with the personality of a doorknob. If you're not, you've got nothing to worry about. None of the women you date will ever be like, "You know what would totally spice up my hormones and make me feel more secure? You looking like a melting apple!"
To understand what females truly want as far as body type goes, you have to ask the right questions.
Asking if they prefer dad bods is vague, so one survey asked what type of men women would actually date. (8)
- 38% said they absolutely don't date guys with dad bods.
- 24% reported they'd consider it but noted that dad bods aren't something they look for.
- 23% would be open to dating a guy with a dad bod.
- 15% said they exclusively date guys with dad bods.
Now, surveys asking hypothetical questions are cute, but let's dive into published studies testing how women behave instinctively.
One group of researchers let 160 women rate and choose between photographs of shirtless and clothed men with varying fitness and strength levels. (9) The results?
- All 160 women chose a more masculine, stronger-looking man.
- Not a single woman chose a weaker body as desirable.
Without knowing it, upper-body strength accounted for over 70% of male attractiveness. They were able to pick out who was stronger without knowing how much the guys lifted. This is rooted in human biology. Physically stronger men are perceived as more warrior-like or protective, even if it's subconscious.
After a second analysis, the researchers found that body weight was increasingly unattractive after accounting for strength. So, if additional weight makes you stronger (via muscle), you'll be more attractive. However, if the additional weight doesn't make you stronger (because it's fat), you'll be less attractive.
Another study gives us more insight as well. (10) These researchers looked at specific muscles and had nearly 2000 women rate precisely how muscular they would prefer those muscles to be in an interactive model. They also had to answer for every muscle, "Does this muscle affect a man's attractiveness?"
On a 7-point scale of "not muscular" to "highly muscled," women rated every single muscle as ideally above average in desired muscularity, usually around a 4-rating or higher, except for the traps. Even the shin muscle (tibialis anterior) was desirable at an above-average level of muscularity.
The abs, obliques, and glutes scored the highest in desired muscularity levels. Every other muscle wasn't far behind.
When answering which muscles affect a man's attractiveness, over 80% of women answered "yes" to abs and 70% to obliques, glutes, shoulders, biceps, and pecs. Yes, abs will always be in style, no matter what dad bod advocates say.
A six-pack signifies that someone is probably lean, healthy, and athletic. Nonetheless, at least 50% of women said that nearly every muscle impacted a man's attraction. So for most women, every muscle matters significantly.
Other researchers had women rate slim, muscular, and heavily built men (11). Across two different countries, women overwhelmingly preferred muscular men.
So, don't skip arm day, don't skip leg day, and don't get too fat. Every muscle matters.
Every study on this topic in the last two decades has the same consensus: more muscle and less fat is generally more attractive to women (12-18).
In fact, research finds that a woman's brain will rate the health of a partner simply by her assessment of facial fat and her natural prediction of your testosterone levels, which is strikingly accurate (19, 20).
That's quite the superpower, and it's embedded in their designed biology. They can't control that they're wired to find a more masculine, healthier, and stronger mate who's capable of being a good partner and potential parent.
If every dude with a dad bod had a magical button that instantly got him juicy abs and chiseled muscles, you're telling me he wouldn't press it?
What social media portrays about the dad bod is not reflective of how women actually behave. All the controlled research shows that women are attracted to lean and muscular bodies. Deep down, everyone knows this.
If you simply talk to enough women and observe their behavior, it's obvious where their desires lean. No woman is lusting after Homer Simpson; they're all gawking over Captain America. And I don't blame them one bit.
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- Perilloux C et al. Meet the Parents: Parent-Offspring Convergence and Divergence in Mate Preferences. Personality and Individual Differences. 2011 Jan;50(2):253-258. ScienceDirect.
- Fugère MA et al. The Importance of Physical Attractiveness to the Mate Choices of Women and Their Mothers. Evolutionary Psychological Science. 2017;3:243–252.
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- Men With 'Dad Bods' Are More Attractive to Women, an Online Survey Showed. BrightSide. 25 Apr. 2021.
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