Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest and likely most disappointing son, really loves Instagram. His feed is full of tribute pictures of his father, racist or otherwise bigoted right-wing memes, and the occasional selfie. And it’s in the latter category that a pattern emerges: observe enough photos of Trump Jr. and you’ll notice that he stands as if he has far bigger muscles than he actually possesses. You might call it awkward posture, but I’d call it a phantom lat.
Based on his public social media presence, you can fairly conclude that Don Jr. enjoys an active lifestyle: he is an occasional gym rat (despite poor form) with a penchant for outdoor activities. He stays busy, but is by no means ripped as a result of these things. In fact, he recently tweeted rather affectionately about his “dadbod” (and is even using it to sell Trump-branded garbage).
And fair enough! There’s no reason a person has to be ripped. But why stand—arms raised and slightly rounded, imagine an invisible barrel stowed under there—as if you’re ripped?
This of course isn’t something isolated to Don Jr. Look around at your local gym and you’re likely to see a lot of men pretending to have muscles so large that they can’t properly rest their arms at their sides. In order to learn more about this particular manifestation of masculine anxiety and self-delusion, Jezebel reached out to women bodybuilders and trainers to discuss the mysteries of the phantom lat.
“People who normally do typically walk around like that with their arms flared out and their chests pumped up—they’re imitating the bodybuilders and the jacked guys who have the lat muscles and are actually unable to put their arms down,” Lu Faustin, a New York-based bodybuilder and celebrity trainer, told Jezebel. “You’ve got those folks who think it’s cool to walk around that way or have that sense of worth where they think that they’ve got these big muscles.”
Marie Allegro, a New York-based trainer and bodybuilding staging coach, agreed that Don Jr. is an average-sized guy who is trying to look far bigger: “Some guys are insecure about their physique and try to make themselves look bigger by standing and walking with their feet really wide like they’re bowlegged.”
Why do men do this, since it’s clear from just looking at them that they could actually put their arms down if they wanted to? Faustin has a hunch.
“With Donald Trump Jr., I feel like his life is plagued with insecurities, so trying to measure up to his father’s approval, he wants to be that big strong man.”
Faustin says she regularly sees this with new clients who are men. They walk through the door with puffed up chests, arms out, displaying that they’re ready to train—and terrified of showing physical weakness.
“Look at that,” Faustin said after I showed her a picture of the Trump men, including Jared Kushner, at Buckingham Palace. “See how he’s angling his body? His whole demeanor—he’s trying to out angle everyone.”
It’s not just men with slight or “dadbod” physiques who do this. In her line of work, Allegro says she regularly sees big, hulking men putting on the same airs despite their already muscled physiques.
Similarly, Faustin says her training sessions can sometimes turn into therapy sessions: “You’re the CEO of this large multinational corporation, but you’re crying to me right now about the stress,” she said. “They can just lose themselves in these sessions, put their guards down.”
But their willingness to be vulnerable is often short lived: “When you’re done, you see them put the mask back on. They stand back up, straighten up, flex, flare their lats, and you’re like... wait a minute!”
The Trump brand of masculinity similarly values the projection of strength even when the whole world can see that it’s a clumsy front. “When guys have low confidence levels, they’ll try to make themselves look bigger or larger than life by over exaggerating themselves, and that makes them look worse,” Allegro noted. “It’s unfortunate. It takes a very confident and very secure man to feel comfortable in their skin.”