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Potbellies the new six-pack for men?

I'm certainly not on top of the fashion scene. I couldn't tell you what's in and what's out, except for my shirttail, which is out if I want to be in, if you follow my drift. Beyond that, I don't know much about what constitutes a fashionable appearance, although I have a general sense of it.

So this took me by surprise. Headline from The New York Times: IT'S HIP TO BE ROUND.

According to Times writer Guy Trebay, the potbelly is in style among Brooklyn's fashionable men.

Or, as Trebay calls it, the Ralph Kramden, named after the round-bellied, T-shirt wearing character from the old "Honeymooners" show of the '60s.

"Too pronounced to be blamed on the slouchy cut of a T-shirt, too modest in size to be termed a proper beer gut, developed too young to come under the heading of a paunch, the Ralph Kramden is everywhere to be seen lately," Trebay writes.

Allow me to translate: It's hip to be a little fat. Who knew?

Trebay goes on to explain that leading with a belly is a long-standing male privilege, a symbol of prosperity and freedom from anxiety about body image that sends women to the gym and the Slim Fast.

Strangely, men have never been held to the same body image standards as women. Women were supposed to be shaped like Cindy Crawford while men could look like Jackie Gleason. All that seemed to change when more women moved into the workplace. Suddenly men were supposed to have pecs and washboards.

"This makes sense," writes Trebay, "but how does one account for the new prevalence of Ralph Kramdens? Have men given in or given up?"

He speculates that the hip crowd is a bit contrarian anyway and may be rebelling against the hard-bodied fitness craze. They might view it as prissy and vain to stand in front of a mirror honing your six-pack and admiring your guns.

Whatever the reason, if the nation's fashion capital is embracing potbellies, maybe the rest of the country will, too. This isn't the worst news that millions of American men have ever heard, since they already are sporting the requisite feature here in The Fattest Nation on Earth.

Maybe it's time for Americans to lighten up, although not literally. Give up and let go. Throw in the towel. Cancel the gym membership, loosen the belt a few notches and let your gut grow. We can all look like John Daly, without the mood swings.

Think of the ramifications. If potbellies turn out to be the next big thing, the sky is the limit on where this could lead if we really decide to let ourselves go. What will the fashionable embrace next?

Crow's feet, wrinkles and age spots — Don't hide or fix them. Suddenly, these features announce to the world that you possess wisdom and years of experience, although the truth is you used to lay out in the sun with a mirror and never discovered sun block.

Receding hairlines, baldness — Black males have already turned this into a fashion statement. It doesn't look so good on white guys, but times change.

Food stains on your shirts — If you don't have them, get them; squeeze a little mustard on your shirt collar. Your inner slob is waiting to be released.

Shoulder and back hair — According to a poll, British women prefer hairy men with big bellies. (Twenty percent also said they also like B.O., so what do the Brits know?)

Bushy eyebrows — Suddenly everyone wants to look like Andy Rooney, with twin caterpillars stuck to their foreheads. Susan Boyle may have started something here.

Pasty skin — Tans are out. Goths are onto something; it's hip to look like you've been hiding under a rock.

Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please send e-mail to drob@desnews.com