Can Laughter Improve Body Image?
New research shows that parody can make us feel better about our bodies.
Posted Apr 01, 2019
For years, researchers and the general public alike have focused on the negative effects of social media on how people feel about their body. Overall, the research shows that the more someone uses social media, the worse they feel about their body, particularly when it comes to appearance-focused activities such as posting selfies.
Researchers from the Centre for Appearance Research (UK) and Macquarie University (Australia) have recently published a study that provides a more nuanced and optimistic look at our relationship with social media. They asked, can social media also have positive effects on our body image? And, in particular, can parody make us feel better about our body?
In the experiment, 102 women between 18 and 30 years old were randomized to either the experimental group or the control group.
In the experimental group, participants viewed 16 posts from the Instagram account of Celeste Barber. Celeste Barber currently has 5.6 million followers on Instagram. She uses images of celebrities and models and recreates them herself in a humorous way. Both the original image and her parody image are posted side by side, accompanied by a witty comment. Together, her posts poke fun at our society’s absurd and unrealistic appearance ideals. You can check out her posts here. In the control group, the women simply viewed the original images of the celebrities or models only.
Before and after viewing the images, all women completed questionnaires to assess their mood and how they feel about their body.
The researchers found that the women who viewed Celeste Barber’s parody images experienced an increase in body satisfaction compared to the women in the control group. Further, the women in the control group, who only viewed the images of the celebrities and models, experienced a decrease in happiness.
Explaining the findings
So how might parody images make us feel better about our body? The researchers theorized that humor helps us to change our perspective. That is, instead of viewing the images of celebrities and models in our usual way (e.g., making comparisons to our own body), looking at the parody images makes us stop and appreciate how unrealistic the original images are, instead. Further, seeing an average-sized woman like Celeste Barber, who might have a body more similar to our own, could provide a “relief effect” that can override the negative effects of exposure to the celebrities and models.
The take-home message
This study is the first to test the positive effects of parody on how people feel about their body. The findings are important because they show that social media can be beneficial. In addition, it is unrealistic to expect people to stop using social media, but following a few positive, parody accounts, like Celeste Barber, is an easy way to promote body satisfaction. Turns out, laughter is also a good “medicine” when it comes to body image!
Slater, A., Cole, N., & Fardouly, J. (2019). The effect of exposure to parodies of thin-ideal images on young women’s body image and mood. Body Image, 29, 82-89.
Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image, 17, 100–110.