If you’re a tall person, you’ve probably never had to use a ladder to reach the top of a high cupboard or had to watch a concert around the head and shoulders of the person in front of you (lucky you). Likewise, a short person has never been asked, “How’s the weather up there?” The different physical characteristics of our bodies cause us to experience the world in different ways. In marketing, this concept is called embodied identity. Carly Drake, a PhD student in marketing at the University of Calgary, explains that our embodied identity is who we are as a result of our interactions with the world through our bodies. She researches gender, identity, and the body in consumer culture, which all converge in her dissertation on how female athletes engage with representations of the body in fitness advertising.
“We are in our bodies all the time,” she explains. “Our bodies are so closely linked to the self that exploring how we experience our bodies is a really important social question given the body’s importance in our culture. We say, ‘This is the ideal body that you should have,’ and ‘If you want to be a good athlete this is how you should feed and train your body.’ I think we definitely need to keep doing research that critically explores how our bodies and minds relate to the world.
Carly looks at how fitness advertisements influence the construction of female athletes’ embodied identity overtime and affect who they are in relation to their bodies. As athletes, men and women face different challenges and pressures. The athletic field requires athletes of both genders be muscular and strong, yet female athletes also have to appeal to a social field that requires them to be slender, delicate, sweet, and passive. Female athletes are caught between these two cultures: the sport culture, which is inherently masculine, and the social culture which values a woman’s femininity. Carly’s research asks what role advertisements play in perpetuating these ideals for female athletes.
To explore this concept, Carly’s dissertation focuses on a collection of 60 to 70 ads aimed at female recreational runners. The ads advertise a variety of products including food, apparel, running products, and even running events themselves. Right now, she’s looking at these ads and trying to figure out what messages they are communicating about the female body. Once she has a good understanding of these ads she will start talking to female recreational runners about their experiences with their bodies and the media, as well as collecting their reactions to the ads in her collection. She will then use her own analysis and the information from the recreational runners to do a content analysis of the ads to determine how fitness advertising affects who women are in relation to their bodies.
The PhD was Carly’s first foray into the marketing field. Her Bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science was followed by a Master’s in international development studies looking at the experience of immigrant women entrepreneurs in Halifax’s food sector. She originally applied to continue this work with a PhD in entrepreneurship, but her now-supervisor explained why she should give marketing a chance. She came to see that through marketing she could still study things like gender and identity which she had been studying before. “Since I came into the discipline not having a marketing background, it’s really interesting to look back at the last three years and see how I’ve acclimatized to this new research environment. I’ve really gained a new perspective and found a new niche with people that I really like working with. My biggest accomplishment at this point is finding an academic home and feeling comfortable and happy in it,” Carly says.
Carly thinks of herself as a storyteller and a communicator, and believes she’d be happy in any context where she can do those things while contributing to the social good and positively affecting people’s lives. Despite this, Carly ultimately knows that being an academic would be the most fulfilling career choice for her. “Not every single moment of everyone’s academic life will be 100% utopia, but I do think it’s really special when I or somebody else can find genuine pleasure in the certain activities that they’re taking up. It’s so nice to look at data and think ‘Wow I’m so happy I get to do this. I’m so happy that I found this project and opportunity.’”