The other day I was talking to an acquaintance--someone I see often but haven't really talked to enough to consider a friend. While talking, this person would make self deprecating jokes about their weight.

I'm not the skinniest person in the world, but I'm pretty skinny and this person is larger than I am. As such my normal response to self deprecating humor--making similar jokes back and playing along--felt like it would come off as insincere since clearly I'm not in the same situation as them. At the same time, trying to deny that their joke is accurate also would've felt hollow since I'm not very close to them and they are clearly overweight.

I ended up laughing and saying something like "yea, that sucks." But it felt empty and awkward.

I appreciate the fact that they're trying to be comfortable with their body image enough to make jokes about it, but what should I focus on when responding to jokes like this to keep the conversation light and show my support for them?

  • 3
    Related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/15352/… Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    Was the acquaintance laughing genuinely or was there an underlying sadness to it? Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 17:56
  • I don´t think the duplicate is justified here.The linked question talks about Strangers in an Elevator. This is about personal conversation. The Answer Elevator talk is typically without any real purpose ... does not really help here!
    – user6109
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 10:15

3 Answers 3


This is a minefield. There is no answer that is safe because the individual is baiting to express either their anger or their self pity. Some big people are fine with their situation while others are depressed and frustrated.

So putting it simply, changing the subject to something neutral is essential. Anything that will basically buy time for a polite exit. To do this, one can just make a quip, "People say some flippant comments sometimes."

Did you see how the company share price has gone? I wonder where we are headed? Those sales targets are going to be hard to get this year.... Hows your group doing?


I tend to make these jokes often myself. Usually, you mean them, even if it's a truth you managed to bury deep down inside. My favorite is usually stating "Story of my life" to something unfortunate or even random that fits the bill that happens. Everyone gets a good kick out of it and I get to feel sad down inside even if I am genuinely laughing about it (or maybe I have just become good at masking feelings).

Ultimately it's best to go with the flow of the conversation. If it's more for a cry of help, offer advice or offer to help them through it. If it's genuinely a joke (even if they mean it deep down) then laugh with them about it or turn it into a funny positive (but that would probably assume a deeper level of friendship).

I have had friends tell me they don't appreciate my self-deprecating jokes. While they mean well, it only ends up making me feel worse as usually, they are a coping mechanism that someone attempted to take away. Does it make me happy someone says for me not to say it? To some degree... but I would rather someone just laugh with me and move on.

So ultimately, just go with the flow. If it really bothers you, let them know how it makes you uncomfortable and you aren't sure if you should laugh or offer advice. Otherwise, in your attempt to help them, as I mentioned in my experiences... you could end up just making things more awkward and painful for the person.


This is a very awkward situation, but since you do see this person around regularly, you could try to get to know them better. See what they are truly like. They may be very insecure about their weight and could possibly make jokes about it first to not give the other person the opportunity to comment on their weight before they do.

Many people that are uncomfortable with weight, body image, etc. sometimes believe that it will hurt less if they joke about themselves first, because the alternative would be to hear snide remarks from others and that would be detrimental. They also believe that if they joke about themselves that others will think, oh they seem to be ok with their size or image.

This in many cases is far beyond the truth. So as I suggested, try to befriend this person and see what their real feelings are about weight. Once you understand where they are coming from, I believe the jokes will stop and you two may become good friends.

If you choose not to try and befriend this person, the only solution would be to quickly change the subject to current events or something humorous that you saw on television, or office activities. Anything to turn the conversation around to where you feel in control and not so awkward.

Good luck to you, Deborah Johnson

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.