Is it ok to make jokes about your body?

by Kim on August 22, 2013

A few months ago, I posted a picture of myself sitting on the shore and then said something sarcastic about a beached whale.

When someone left a comment saying that I was being ridiculous, that I didn’t look like a whale at all, I was kind of thrown. I honestly thought I was just making fun of the awkward way I was sitting, not of my body size.

Here’s that picture again:


(Awkward, right? But maybe I should have gone for the stark-white-legs comment instead…)

Anyway, it got me thinking. I know I have a tendency to rely on self-deprecation for humor. In my head, I’m doing it to be relatable, to show modesty (I guess?), and to hopefully balance out the unfortunate fact that I have to take and post pictures of myself constantly as a blogger. (If not for this blog, there would be roughly 87% fewer pictures of me in existence.)

Plus, it’s just my personality. And I try to be myself on this blog as much as possible (for better or for worse).

Inevitably, some of that self-deprecation falls onto my body. Whether my limbs are looking weird in a picture, my smile is gummy-3rd-grade-pictures big, or my tan is shockingly uneven (see above), I can usually find something to comment on.

Is that bad?

I rationalize that, at my core, I have a great self esteem, and these comments are all coming from the right place (just humor, not deeply buried pain), but does that come across? Or does me making fun of my own body, in a way, give license for others to do the same, and on their own terms?

And, of course, there’s that saying about there being a percentage of truth in every joke we make. Does that mean I can never be 100% kidding?

20130627_124147I feel comfortable making fun of any and all selfies I take, because come on, it’s a selfie. And we all know it.

Is it ok to make jokes about your body? And if so, what are the rules?

Can you only do it in the right company, when you’re confident everyone will understand the joke the right way? (And how does this work with the whole WORLD WIDE WEB thing?) Is it ok as long as you stick to the softballs—“check out my awkward arm!” vs. “look, my arm fat is waving again!”

I know this is a huge way that women relate, in general. We’re all acutely aware of our bodies, what we look like, and how we’re perceived by the world, and sharing in that anxiety is an intimate, bonding thing for us.

But is it healthy?

How can we tell who’s really joking, and who’s speaking from a place of pain? (Does it matter?)

There are several people I know—including lots of healthy living bloggers—who will make these kinds of jokes, and I know they’re 100% kidding and 100% comfortable in their bodies, despite whatever they just said. But then there are others who will make me think, “Hmm. Where was that coming from?” And I’ll get the impression that they’re subtly, if desperately, asking for a much-needed compliment.

If you are uncomfortable with some aspect of your body, to the point where it’s a source of pain or sadness for you, are you not allowed to joke about it? Or is it actually healthy to make light of the situation?

If you’re with a group of girlfriends and they’re all making fat jokes about themselves, and you stay quiet, what does that say about you? Do you come off as secure and above it all, cocky because your body’s so perfect you can’t relate, or so deep in your insecurity that you can’t even joke about it?

Even if you’re making an effort to avoid self-deprecating humor, what do you do when a friend is clearly expecting it? When she wistfully says she wishes she could pull off short shorts, and you’re dying to make her feel better with a comment about how you yourself would look like a sausage coming out of its casing? (Sorry so graphic—why is that the example that came to mind??)

So, there are about 97 questions in this blog post. Please answer all of them in the comments below.

Haha…but seriously, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Do you joke about your body? What do you think when others do it?


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristin @ A Mom on the Run August 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

It’s hard to find balance and to find the line where it goes from “oh, she’s just joking” to “um, is everything alright with her?”

I tend to joke about my body too, especially with friends. Truth is, I’m not 100% comfortable in it, but I am okay with making comments about it and they come from a healthy place. I may not have a 6-pack, but I have two amazing kids, so when I talk about my squishy belly.. I’m okay with it. I may poke fun at my awful tan lines.. but those tan lines are the result of hours of running in the Florida summer.. so I’m okay with it.

I think for me personally, I know it’s coming from a healthy place, I’m not beating myself up over it and it’s usually in a joking manner.. when it’s not though, that’s when I worry.
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char eats greens August 23, 2013 at 11:09 am

I’m pretty comfortable in my body and totally joke about it. I don’t have super toned arms so when I make the joke that my arms are still waving long after my hand has stopped (true story, have done this a few times lately), I really am joking. If I wanted to solve that problem I would work them out more. And I will. But, I am comfortable with how they are – waves and all ;). I really am not a fan of the people that say the comments to get a compliment back. I had a friend like that, that would clearly do that for things I lacked (like the boob department, she would say how flat-chested she was (when she really was a C+) and I actually had/have nothing. Those aren’t cool comments to make!).

I totally get your humour and I don’t think you should stop doing it (which I’m sure you wouldn’t anyways!), but I think doing a post like this to help better understand you is awesome. You are awesome :).
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Martha August 22, 2013 at 11:40 pm

So much stuff to think about here! I don’t even know where to begin.
I personally think if you are comfortable in your skin, you can say whatever you want about your body… However, if you are commenting on being “fat” amongst people who are actually overweight, it’s insensitive.
I know I’m guilty of pointing out my flaws, but it makes me feel good about myself to do so, like, hey I’m human, lets laugh at something instead of actually hating on ourselves.
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Presley @ Run Pretty August 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Every other thing I say is self-deprecation. I can’t help myself. I TRIED to stop and I couldn’t. I don’t even think about it… it just happens. Basically, I have no answers for you, haha.
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Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome August 22, 2013 at 9:29 am

I think we all do it in some way or another and it’s part of our culture. Just like American women are more likely to respond to a compliment with an excuse or negative comment. You know when someone says, “I love that shirt on you!” We’ll most often say something like, “Really? Thanks, I think it makes me look pregnant.” or, “The color sort of washes out my skin tone.” It’s definitely something that other cultures do not do. However, online it does seem harder to read into the persons tone than if you were to be having a conversation with them in person so things can definitely be taken out of context.
I knew you were joking though and thought you looked great in the “beached whale” pic as well as your selfies :-)
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Katie @ running4cupcakes August 22, 2013 at 8:26 am

I think as long as it is coming from a good persective, then jokes are fine. I remember when you made that joke, and I took it in the way that it was intended – a funny thought about you feeling awkward in that picture, and nothing more. . . I think it depends on the personality of the person you are talking to – I am similar to you, and would say a similar thing. .. I think on the web, you just need to be who you are, and recognize that some people won’t “get you” and that’s ok. . . :)


Rebecca Bond August 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

I think there are two folds to this. People are sensitive because they may well have been called “beached whales” in the past because of their size, amongst a myriad of other abusive terms and when you clearly are at a healthy size it might feel like a little slap back to a time they were humiliated.

Then there is another bit, and a quote I like to remember – self deprecation is not modesty, it’s self destruction. I believe it too. I’m known to make the odd whale joke (I’m not a healthy weight yet!) but I know the audience I’m with when I do. I don’t think not joining in with jokes makes you cocky or insecure, more than likely it just makes you not interested in ragging on your own body (or someone elses) because you realise that its the first step to feeling those things for real, I spent years hating my body, now I treat it with a bit more respect including what I say about it. That doesn’t mean I’m not critical but I don’t make fun of it because there is usually a grain of truth in those jokes which will embed itself in you.
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