When Is Women’s Laughter Subversive?
Artist Allison Halter--and science--offer up a few clues
It’s said that living well is the best revenge and according to science, laughter is clearly one way to stay fit. Here are a few key facts:
• It lowers blood pressure.
University of California at Berkeley researchers studied blood pressure and what they found makes complete sense: Since 90% of laughing involves deep exhalations, laughing can bring you to a calmer state; that’s because when you exhale, your heart rate and blood pressure slow down. Think about how you feel after a good laugh — you are almost “relieved.” According to science, that’s your blood pressure dropping.
• It increases blood flow.
Research from the University of Maryland also proves a correlation between heart health and laughter. Participants who watched funny movie clips had a 22-percent increase in blood flow to their hearts.
• It helps ward off disease.
A 2009 study in the International Journal of Medical Sciences found that across different cultures and countries, those who laughed 10-25 times a day “face fewer diseases than those who laugh outside that range.”
• It provides pleasure.
Laughter is good for the brain as well because of the endorphins that are released during a good guffaw. As Elle Woods said in the movie Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
When endorphins are released, dopamine is sent to the brain bringing with it a feeling of pleasure.
• It improves memory.
Researchers at Loma Linda University in Southern California found that participants who viewed funny videos scored better on short-term memory tests than those who watched no videos.
• It reduces anxiety.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Zurich, discovered that the ability to laugh at yourself is a quality that’s linked to feeling good and worrying less.
So when is laughter subversive? Artist Allison Halter believes that women who laugh offer an act of political resistance. Her art installation What’s so funny? was curated by Best Practice and displayed in a loop at Helmuth Project in San Diego so those walking by could watch women laughing 24/7. It ran February 24 through March 9.
Before the exhibit closed, my mother, who is an inveterate laugher, was so excited about Halter’s video that she asked me to fly with her from the East Coast to the West Coast so we could see it and share a good laugh together. But she had a really good laugh when she realized we could actually watch Halter’s video together on a computer from the comfort of her apartment!
“Women’s laughter is a powerful magic,” Halter tells Artsy. “It can be both inclusive and exclusive, sometimes simultaneously. It’s the one instrument that can still be accessed even in times of oppression. As a historically devalued group, women’s laughter is subversive.”
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