Stop dieting! Pot bellies are in

For hipster dudes, that is. Ladies, feel free to keep fretting over your "cankles"

Published August 13, 2009 12:14PM (EDT)

Are you a hip, urban, 20-something dude who finds he's put on a little bit of weight since finishing college? Do you find that you can no longer binge on Pabst Blue Ribbon and greasy tacos all weekend and still fit into your skinny jeans Monday morning? Be honest: Are you rocking a potbelly?

Well, good news: You're in fashion. According to The New York Times' Thursday Styles -- a section that, just last week, chastised women for neglecting to moisturize their feet -- the hipster potbelly is a stylish and subversive craze sweeping the flea markets and music venues of Brooklyn. While for women, gaining 10 pounds is a personal failing that requires immediate attention, for young men, it's a punk-rock pushback against metrosexuality and the "manscaping" it requires. The article's author, Styles section fixture Guy Trebay, even gives the look a lovably kitschy name: "the Ralph Kramden."

It isn't that Trebay is unaware that there's a double standard. "Leading with a belly is a male privilege of long standing, of course," he writes, "a symbol of prosperity in most cultures and of freedom from anxieties about body image that have plagued women since Eve." But that doesn't stop him from interpreting the male belly as a hot, anti-establishment trend without delving into what might happen if hipster ladies (traditionally a thin and boyish lot) hopped on this particular freedom train.

What we get, instead, is some in-depth exegesis on the Ralph Kramden that seems even more bizarre than the typically WTF-worthy Styles section trend piece. Although Trebay may have a point when he suggests that potbellied dudes are rebelling (consciously or otherwise) against a cultural vogue for über-fit, meticulously groomed men, where he goes next just feels random. Like every other post-election Styles trend, this is all about Barack Obama:

Hipsters, by nature contrarian, according to Dan Peres, the editor of Details, may be reacting in opposition to a president who is not only, as the press relentlessly reminds us, So Darn Smart, but also hits the gym every morning, has a conspicuously flat belly and, when not rescuing the economy or sparring with Kim Jong-Il, shoots hoops.

"If we had a slob in the White House, all the hipsters would turn into some walking Chippendales calendar," Mr. Peres said. Instead, the streets of Williamsburg are crowded with men who are, as he noted, "proudly rocking a gut."

It's true: Hipsters are into irony. And they like to defy social norms by (problematically enough) creating and enforcing their own. Yet Peres' suggestion -- in a comment Trebay completely fails to analyze or mediate -- that the cool guys are gaining a few pounds as a reaction to Obama's "flat belly" is among the silliest things I've read all year. If anything, I suspect hipsters would like to be Barack Obama, so deep is their earnest love for the man.

Trebay goes on to cite Details' buzzword for guys who sport the Ralph Kramden: "the new 'poor-geoisie.'" Trebay, at least, takes issue with this neologism, pointing out that he hasn't spotted much poverty among these deliberately unwashed masses. But rather than seek answers from the potbellied hipsters whose motivation he's going to such pains to explain, Trebay interviews the editor of Out magazine and his own personal trainer about the trend.

If he had flagged down a few scenesters, they would likely have given him a simpler explanation for their weight gain: say, perhaps, an excess of beer, takeout and munchies-inducing marijuana. So why does he avoid making conversation with the Zach Galifianakis clones he is suddenly seeing everywhere? Perhaps it's because it is uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing to publicly point out to someone that he's got a little paunch going. If hipster guys are as proud of their guts as Trebay says, this shouldn't be an issue. But I guess our culture's fat shame isn't going to die that easily, even among those who think they're beyond its influence.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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