I’ve just read a charming ode (well, the authors say they seek “neither to celebrate nor condemn”) to the so-called “fall body.” As Slate’s Shannon Palus and Heather Schwedel describe it, the fall body is that slightly plumper version of ourselves discovered when autumn arrives and we try to pull on a pair of jeans, only to “confront the reality that, over so many weekends of lounging in the park and drinking rosé, we may have gained some weight since we last wore them.”
Schwedel and Palus hold this effect in contrast with the eternal pressure, first from lifestyle magazines but now YouTube and Instagram fitness brands, to achieve a summer-worthy “bikini body,” putting a finger on this impossible bind: The season in which we are meant to show off a toned physique is one in which we indulge the pleasures that soften it.
Though I’ve never dieted with the express purpose of turning heads in a two-piece bathing suit, I guarantee that I, too, will be at the mall in a few weeks, trying to figure out my new waist size after a summer of wearing elastic and drawstring shorts. No part of me expects that binge-drinking White Claw since Fourth of July, even if it is a low-calorie option, will have a positive effect on my figure.
But due to the temperature reprieve afforded by largely season-less L.A., my jeans freakout is likely to be postponed till after Halloween; by then I will have also spent a week gorging on fun-size Twix and Kit Kats. I mean, they started selling that stuff in bulk at the end of August, so why even wait? And then, when November hits, all bets are off: You’re expected to regularly consume your weight in mashed potatoes and pie (and leftovers of same).
On the flip side, I also don’t have enough foresight or self-respect to spend the first four months of the year preparing for a shirtless summer. The deluge of rain here in Southern California through January and February keeps me indoors and sedentary. When I’d otherwise be going for runs, I’m doing yet another rewatch of The Sopranos. In March, I tend to use “it’s my birthday” as a blanket excuse to forgo healthy behaviors. As for April? That, my friends, is Spring Break.
Like many of my fellow Americans, I can wait out the entire calendar pretending I’m about to get serious when it comes to eating right or doing crunches, and so, I’m perpetually in the fall bod mode, expressing a kind of humbled acceptance at how I actually look. Rather than flaunting flat abs when pool party season kicks into gear, I’m seeing tagged photos of myself at the beach and remembering that I’ve yet to do much about my love handles.
But, as Palus and Schwedel point out in their piece, noticing a bit extra here and there on your body shouldn’t be taken as invitation to have a complete meltdown — more as proof that for normal people who enjoy fun and pleasure, there’s only so much you can do to fight aging and keep the pounds off. And, in my case, that those pounds aren’t going to someday miraculously find their way to my meager white-guy ass.
In tune with the “dad bod” movement, perpetual fall bod is also an acknowledgement that the shredded torsos you see in media are not the only desirable kind, and attained with fairly extreme methods. As It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney sarcastically wrote of hiring the trainer from Magic Mike and abstaining from literally any food he enjoys to get super buff for the show: “I don’t know why everyone’s not doing this. It’s a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to.”
At the same time, it’s comforting to know there’s room for improvement. That I could start getting up early for the kickboxing class my girlfriend attends, even if I’d barf from exertion within 15 minutes. That while my favorite pants are bound to be a little tight around the hips this season, I could achieve a bare minimum of activity it takes to improve the fit.
Maybe I think of the flab as that chunk of credit card debit I know I ought to have paid off already: No, it’s not ideal, but I can live with it for now, secure in my ability to manage it over the long term. Besides, even jeans come with stretchy waists now. There’s no reason I can’t make that cute. Some physical changes, like summer penis, come and go. As far as I’m concerned, fall bod is forever.