Learning to Laugh

Growing up, I was a fantastically oversensitive girl. I was easily insulted, held grudges, lived in fear of humiliation, and bristled at any form of teasing. I had endured persecution from my fellow females as a middle schooler and grown to fear any possible affront to my dignity. I was a funny girl – quick with a joke and clever on the fly – but my humor NEVER centered around my own shortcomings or flaws.

This held true through most of my young life. It wasn’t until I moved to Minnesota and fell in with a group of fabulously accepting, understanding, and loving friends that I learned to laugh at myself. And when I did, I unearthed an amazing reservoir of material for some of the funniest wisecracks I’d ever cracked. It felt so good to laugh at my quirks and foibles, my bizarre fears and strange habits. It felt like I’d been clenching my shoulders since I was 10 and, finally at 25, let go of that tension.

Then I started this blog, and began writing about self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance. And because I write as I speak, I cracked wise about my body and my personality and my self. And I got yelled at for being a hypocrite. I had people say, “How can you tell us to love OURSELVES when you’re ragging on YOURSELF?”

I was dumbstruck. I understood how that confusion could arise, but thought I was being fairly clear: My jokes about my wily hair and ample bootay are all made with the utmost affection. I laugh at myself because I love myself.

But it made me wonder about the differences between good-natured self-deprecation and wounded compliment-fishing. I think most would agree that refusing a compliment – I mean outright denying whatever your complimentor is saying – is rude and unhealthy. But what about making fun of yourself? At what point does some good-natured joshing about cellulite and wrinkles become an uncomfortable diatribe about self-loathing? How often can someone who writes about body image joke about her own physical flaws before she loses credibility? Where do we draw the line between harmless kidding and harmful carping?

I think that part of learning to love yourself is learning to laugh at yourself. Taking ourselves too seriously is a massive waste of energy. We do hilarious shit CONSTANTLY and should cash in on that hilarity, especially if it centers around issues that are painful or difficult. Body image issues are hard and complex and often dark and cagey, and all the more reason to laugh at them. Laughing at the aspects of yourself that cause you anxiety and discomfort can help you befriend those aspects, gain some affection for them, accept them. It’s certainly helped me.

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27 Responses to “Learning to Laugh”

  1. Make Do Style

    Oh gosh I always laugh at myself. My recent fat hips crisis is a point in case. They've gained and I got a shock – perfect self deprecating material.

    I only share because I'm happy with myself, my body but none of us are perfect so when I'm in a pickle in this case having to tackle encroaching weight gain, I'm going to do it with humour. I'm not unhappy about it but it is funny when suddenly things don't fit and you've got to get on with the job in hand.

  2. Erin

    1) I am appalled that you were persecuted, and I thank you for giving womankind a second chance.

    2) I do laugh at myself. And I find that even though I don't do it in the fishing for compliments way, I almost always feel better about whatever I'm making fun of because everyone else thinks it's funny (not gross or hideous or gag-inducing) as well.


    I was so like you when I was a child….so insecure and afraid of the other kids…most of the time…it is not an easy time…

  4. Casey

    I used to laugh at myself a lot; and then started to realize that half the time, I used it as a way to draw attention to my insecurities! :p Not a flattering way to do it. lol. Now I mostly focus on making jokes about things I do (being a notorious klutz who does things like run into walls… seriously) or say, rather than my body image. It's not that I totally don't joke about how I look, but I realize that my motives weren't in the right place and it was causing me to focus even more on things that I needed to embrace instead of shun. I however, admire gals who can crack a wise one about physical aspects with all sincerity and love for how they look! 🙂

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  5. BookGirl

    Wonderful post, Sal. I was very much like you when I was growing up, and 'though I've come a long way since those days, I still struggle from time to time with body issues.

    It's worthwhile to explore why we laugh at ourselves. At its best, we do it, as you do, because we love ourselves and recognize that it's silly to take ourselves too seriously.

    But if we do it because we want to laugh at ourselves before someone else does, or because we think it's a way of being accepted, or it's the only kind of joke we can make, then it's worth looking further.

    Thanks for your blog. It's always a good addition to my day.


  6. Diana

    I used to be really sensitive about things like that too. I would hate it when others teased me, even if it was good-natured.

    I think it's good to be able to laugh at yourself. So many people take life way too seriously. I for one, am insanely clumsy, and I will usually poke fun at myself whenever I break a plate, stumble while wearing flats, etc. Because there's really no point in getting upset.

  7. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    I completely agree. I laugh at myself ALL THE TIME and often cop comments such as ''don't be so hard on yourself!'' and ''Corrine, I can't believe that you have such low self esteem!'', when really, I'm just acting like a muppet and making fun of myself – I don't have low self esteem at all, and really, I think it takes the ability to be truly comfortable with yourself and love yourself in order to poke fun at yourself in the first place!

    I loved this post and can I just say, you are RADIANT, Sally! You have the most gorgeous smile!

  8. Lemondrop Marie

    I do feel that I can be a bit hard on myself while I am laughing at myself- interesting to think about what others are hearing when we think we are simply being self deprecating. Sometimes it's easier to laugh at ourselves, I suppose it depends on how sensitive we are feeling that day! I can laugh at my bootie some days better than others.
    Marie @Lemondrop Vintage

  9. K.Line

    I totally laugh at myself (and I'm very witty about it in the process!) 🙂 I usually poke fun at my type A, OCD personality (which I have to make light of because it is something I have struggled with, truly, my whole life). I often make fun of my snobbism.

    I am certainly able to refer wryly to various parts of my body that aren't necessarily doing what I would like them to do "in a perfect world". But I am healthy and I care about myself. It's not self-loathing joking.

  10. hope505

    I do love to laugh at myself. Or: with myself *haha!* see? I'm doing it right now! *heh*
    I love to laugh at myself as long as I am the one who starts it…
    * ; )

  11. Erica

    Thank you for this post! I needed to hear this. I'm a new Mom (5 wks) & I am having a really hard timeaccepting my new figure. I know it willcontinue to change but right now I'm struggling.
    Love your blog!! Its always uplifting!!

  12. Denise

    When I reference my size, which is substantial, sometimes it is to make a funny point. But mostly it's just an observation. Like, my ass wouldn't fit into a chair with arms. That is the chair's fault, not mine. My ass is this big, it needs a chair that fits. It's not especially funny or tragic, just a fact, you know? My husband will also say things like this and people look uncomfortable. I think it's because they are so used to criticizing their own bodies, so they hear it as criticism, not just fact. This also reminds me of the way people do or do not use the word "fat." I've long given up the idea that "fat" is a dirty word; however, I am sensitive to others' feelings about it and use it judiciously.

  13. Kelly

    I used to crack jokes about myself a lot but in the last few years it's really petered down. I think it depends on the crowd I'm in – in college I made a lot of self-deprecating jokes just because my friends were a bunch of teasers – we loved each other but we weren't afraid to give each other a hard time or laugh at ourselves.

    But since I moved after college a few years ago, I think I spend more time with people who are, if not more sensitive, just less likely to joke around in that way. So when I do make fun of my big nose or ugly pants or my terrible cooking, I'm afraid people think I AM fishing for compliments.

  14. La Historiadora de Moda

    This post has really struck a chord with me. I too was an ubersensitive child and only learned to laugh at myself in my twenties. (I still have to work at not holding grudges.) There are still a few things that I'm sensitive about, but for the most part, I'm willing to laugh about my big butt, my inability to spell (especially after spending a year and half in Spain), my tendency to end sentences with the word so, and my ugly feet.

  15. Hanako66

    i laugh at myself all of the time, but i also love myself…a very important balance to have, i agree!

  16. bekster

    Hmmm… I can make jokes about my personality, but usually when I notice something "wrong" with myself physically, I don't tend to think it is funny. (Okay, if I got whipped cream on my nose or something I would laugh, but that's kinda different.) In general, I think I am a funny person, or at least I have a hard time resisting a good joke or pun. However, I am very sensitive about how others view my body (probably because of negative comments from my dad growing up). I am very self-conscious, though I am MUCH better about it than I used to be. I used to complain A LOT (both of my parents are very critical of others and of themselves, so I have been trying to shake that my whole life), and I would draw attention to some "bad" feature about myself so that others would know that I know that it wasn't right (like if I had a bad hair day I would want people to know that I didn't do it that way on purpose). I guess if there is some feature about me that is not necessarily "bad" (like my big boobs) I could laugh about them–IF I were in the right company. There is much about my body that I think is totally fine, so there isn't that much to laugh about anyway. But, as for the things I don't like (like fat in places where I wish it wasn't), I'd rather just not draw attention to them.

    Now, if OTHER people want to laugh at themselves, I may or may not feel uncomfortable depending on how they do it. Sal, I have never felt uncomfortable reading any of your comments about yourself because I already know you have a healthy attitude. But, usually I do feel uncomfortable because I mostly hear the jokes from women who I already know feel insecure.

    What I can't stand is when women say things like, "Oh, I REALLY shouldn't eat this brownie, but… Oh well, I guess I'll have to go longer at the gym tomorrow." Just shut up and eat the brownie! (Or don't, and don't brag about how much you go to the gym.)

  17. Funnygrrl

    It's like the difference between making cute, teasing comments about your man or making jokes at his expense and humiliating him. You can joke about yourself but not to the point of degrading yourself. It's funny that I'm tall and at most times feel like Gulliver in Lilliput (Godzilla in Tokyo, etc). I don't talk about my stretch marks because I would never point that out on someone else.
    Does that make sense?

  18. Audi

    I think it's healthy to be able to laugh at yourself in a positive way. We all know that no one is perfect; all of us humans do dumb things now and then, have odd habits or quirks, and have physical features that we consider to be less than wonderful. To be able to laugh at them is a way of accepting them and sharing the experience of being human with all the other non-perfect people.

  19. kristophine

    I'm in a weird place, body-wise, because for the first time in six years I'm not comfortable with my waist. I had a sedentary office job over the summer, put on some weight, and didn't go to the gym or cut back on junk food enough for it to come off over the fall.

    I've always made jokes about myself–I have ridiculously long, spindly arms, like spider-monkey arms, and funny bumps on my head, a huge honkin' schnoz, and so on–but I noticed I'd started criticizing myself out loud. And it wasn't funny, just sad and upsetting, for both me and my boyfriend (who, bless his heart, thinks I look good and never notices my pants size, but gets upset when I'm upset).

    I do think that the less happy I am with my body, the harder it is for me to hear or make any humorous comments about it–or about anybody else's body, either. Because I went from a place where I figured everybody was beautiful to a place where I figured I wasn't.

  20. WendyB

    Hmmm…I am much more likely to laugh at myself for personality traits than physical. I do like to kvetch to friends privately and humorously about a dislike of gray hairs, a Paris-Hilton-style drooping eyelid or whatever other "I feel bad about my neck" Nora Ephron-type trait has caught my eye at the moment. But this is as much a public statement about the appearance thing as I'm as likely to make.

  21. Lady Cardigan

    I wouldn't say I laugh at myself, but I am sarcastic about myself. I don't find my flaws funny, but I don't lose a lot of sleep over them because they're not going away, short of surgery, and I don't want surgery, so no point worrying about what won't change.

    When I say make a joke about myself, people always tell me, "Oh, that's not true." Well, I'm usually exaggerating, but there's some truth.

    I used to be very sensitive to remaks from other people about my appearance because I was harassed a lot as a child, within and outside the family. I'm not really bothered now by jokes from people who care about me. I still don't like "jokes" from unfriendly family members, but it doesn't bother me as much as it did.

    And when other people joke about themselves – it just makes me feel they're funny and comfortable with themselves.

  22. The Budget Babe

    i'd like to think i don't take myself very seriously (i've been rocking one of those mohawk hats with uggs this winter…) but sometimes i take offense when people make comments about my looks or say things like "you look tired". i need to learn to laugh in those moments 🙂

  23. Cary

    I think the people who criticized you don't see the big difference between making fun of your physical imperfections and truly lashing out verbally at yourself. I might make jokes about my little jelly belly – I can actually crack myself up at the wobble I can induce by patting myself on the stomach. Contrast that with a anorexic I know who described herself as a fat cow with a big belly and a fat red face. Big difference don't you think?

  24. LPC

    I laugh about my aging and my forgetfulness. But there are ways in which I hate to be laughed at. It's a fine line.

  25. Suzanne

    Much easier to laugh at physical traits than personality traits…easier to feel offended by how others perceive who I am or how I live because I don't have the same control over those things as I do about how I look.

    GREAT photo of you, btw!

  26. Anonymous

    <— Queen of Wounded Compliment Seeking

    I'm the former ugly duckling who overcompensates with an unhealthy obsession with my appearance. I'm only pretending to be beautiful, and spend a huge amount of time being terrified that I'm about to be discovered a monster.

    And that is the ugly truth, though you'll never hear it from me without the cover of "anonymous" as my ID.

  27. Anonymous

    "I think most would agree that refusing a compliment – I mean outright denying whatever your complimentor is saying – is rude and unhealthy."
    I'm pained to say that for the first 30 or so years of my life, I did not realize this was rude & unhealthy. I felt so embarrassed and undeserving that if someone complimented me I rushed to deflect it as if ducking bad karma. "No, you're wrong, my hair is horrible/I sang that very badly/this turned out well purely by accident, nothing to do with me." It's only now when I'm old & ugly that I realize it's not about me, it's about the complimenter. I still feel horribly uncomfortable with compliments, but at least I've mellowed my response to "You're very kind," which is at least ambiguous. It's an uphill struggle…