Humor is a powerful method of communication. In fact, how a woman uses humor can impact her body image. And do you know who contributes to how your daughter learns to use humor? You…her parent. But I get ahead of myself. Let me return to “how a woman uses humor can impact her body image.”
Research completed at the University of Surrey and published in the fall of 2022 surveyed 216 women to analyze their style of humor and their body perception. The styles of humor included coping humor, self-enhancing humor, and self-defeating humor. Coping humor represents a person’s general use of humor to cope with stressful events. Self-enhancing humor represents a person’s ability to see the “absurdities of life, even when alone,” and then use those observations in a humorous way to maintain positive levels of self-esteem. Self-defeating humor, on the other hand, often involves self-denigrating comments about “my” self-perceived weaknesses in an attempt to connect with others. (Can you see where this is going?)
- Coping humor was only associated with less body criticism, but not with “body positive” attributes like appreciating one’s body and recognizing the common humanity of various body types (body kindness).
- Self-enhancing humor, on the other hand, was associated with higher levels of body appreciation and body kindness. It was also associated with less emotional eating than those who used self-defeating humor.
- Self-defeating humor was associated with higher body criticism, lower engagement in body appreciation, a higher drive for thinness (defined as excessive concern about dieting and weight gain), and increased emotional eating.
What does this mean for our families? We want our daughters to learn the benefits of humor—specifically, coping humor and self-enhancing humor. We want them to experience the benefits of using humor in a healthy way not in a self-defeating way. (“Don’t take my picture, I might break your camera.” “Slow down, my short legs barely reach the ground.”)
As stated above, our daughters learn their sense of humor from us, their parents. They will model the way we use humor about ourselves. They will repeat how we use humor about them as well. As a result, we need to use wisdom in our humor. Focus on humor that lifts people up (including ourselves) and enhances those around us, especially our daughters. It will help our daughters have a better body image, a greater level of kindness toward themselves and their body, and a higher level of motivation to care for their body in healthy ways. So, before you crack that joke about eating or clothes or some other pointed topic…think twice. Only use humor in love and kindness.