Self-Enhancing Humor May Increase Positive Body Image, Create Better Eating Habits


Body image is no joke. In a recent study, women who use good-natured humor to describe their body were found to foster more appreciation for their body.

Women who joke about their bodies using self-enhancing humor and self-defeating humor were found to have a more positive body image than those who primarily turn to forms of self-deprecating humor. Women who use self-enhancing humor were also found to have better eating habits.

This study, which looks at humor types and body perception, is the first of its kind. Further, the study findings could equip clinical psychologists and providers working with patients with eating disorder with more knowledge about humor and its therapeutic benefits.

“Often people don't talk openly about how they view their bodies, but how a person speaks about themselves through humor can provide valuable insights into such feelings," said Fabio Fasoli of the University of Surrey, in a press release.

In the study, women who use self-enhancing humor reported having greater body appreciation, while the participants who reported joking with self-deprecating humor were observed to have a more negative outlook of their body. There may even be an association between aggressive, self-deprecating jokes and worse eating habits.

University of Surrey researchers decided to explore the association between styles of humor, eating behaviors, and body perception in women. The investigative team looked at 216 women and analyzed the relationship between their style of humor and body perception.

Researchers mainly looked at 2 forms of humor. The first style is called self-enhancing humor, which results in you being the target of humor that is positive and good-natured in fashion. The other humor-type is self-deprecating humor—this technique uses humor to put yourself down in an aggressive manner.

The results of the trial showed that women who turned to self-deprecating forms of humor were more critical of their bodies. These participants were further observed to be less satisfied with their bodies and had a strong desire to be slimmer.

"Having a negative body image can affect all areas of a person's life and lead to depression and social anxiety,” Fasoli said in the press release.

Among women who primarily turned to aggressive, self-deprecating forms of humor, there appeared to be a stronger association with emotional eating—this was associated with worse feelings surrounding the bodies—and in turn, this habit increased the participant’s risk of becoming obese and suffering from more associated illnesses.

In contrast, women who practiced a self-enhancing style of humor were seen to offer more kindness to their bodies. Additionally, these participants had greater body appreciation, healthier eating habits, and a more positive body image than those who only used self-deprecating humor.

"People using themselves as the butt of jokes is often a technique to get approval from others, but it can also signify that something more worrying is going on in that person's life,” said professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey, Jane Ogden, in the press release. “This type of humor can indicate that a person is struggling with their body image and self-esteem, which can have a long-lasting effect on their life."


University of Surrey. Humor and body image linked. Science Daily. October 12, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2022.

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