Anke J. Kleim
My name is Anke Kleim – I am a part-time PhD student, body image researcher, marketing lecturer, Body Image Movement Global Ambassador for Germany and full-time Mummy of a one-year old son. This probably sounds like the profile of a perfectly-organized and successful “superwoman”, very much like the stereotypical “ideal” image of women that is commonly depicted in the media. But that is not like me.
As many of you doubtlessly know, doing your PhD can be a life task that easily fills all your time and uses up all your resources. And reconciling so many other things – including motherhood - can be even more challenging. So yes, it can be super hard and failing or experiencing backlashes is part of it. But yet, I have never given up, and this is why: I love what I do.
The topic I am investigating in my thesis, that I have continued to research on since 2012, that I am usually including in my teaching and that I am volunteering in is my personal passion: Body image. I cannot think of any other topic that motivates, intrigues, and interests me more, and if you are interested to hear more about it, there will be further details below.
What I would like to do first though is to encourage every single one who is reading these lines to follow their passion. Whatever life stage you’re in, you always have the chance to live the life you want to live and to focus on what makes you happy. Because if some of the things that you do make you happy, then they will always give something back to you, even in the worst of times, during the greatest stress periods and when you’re facing the biggest challenges. It will help you not to give up.
The second wisdom I would like to share is based on a quote by Brooke McAlary. It says: “I used to believe that I could do everything and be everywhere. I could work longer hours, make the deadline, cook delicious meals, play with the kids, get enough sleep, focus on my health. And I absolutely can do all of these things. But not at the same time. Not on the same day. Realising that was a delightful freedom.” I guess there is a lot of truth in this, although I personally believe that your health should always come first and never be an either-or-decision or something you should postpone onto the next day. But I believe we should frequently remind ourselves to slow down, keep a balance and not push ourselves towards unattainable or over-perfectionist goals. Accepting ourselves just as we are, with all our little blemishes both inside and out, makes life so much better, peaceful and easier.
I could certainly fill pages about this. If you’re interested to exchange more about life, please do feel free to contact me and I will try to respond as soon as I can as I’m always more than happy to share inspiration and experiences. As promised, let’s get back to my professions now.
Part-time PhD student
Unlike most students at Strathclyde, I am studying part-time AND from overseas, i.e. I am writing my doctoral thesis in my home country Germany and only come to Glasgow every now and then to catch up with my supervisors or take classes to collect credits for my PG certificate. Most of our communication takes place online via e-mail or skype. I would have loved to live and study in the UK as I did during my Master’s degree at Aberystwyth University, Wales, but I had personal and professional reasons to stay in Germany for the PhD. Doing a part-time PhD was an excellent way to do so, something that is not offered by many universities. It was thus one of the main reasons why I enrolled at Strathclyde; The most crucial reason was my supervisor Dr Petya Eckler who had engaged in body image research before and was thus a perfect “match” to me.
Being a part-time student may sound more relaxed than it actually is because it only means that by schedule, you have one year more time. But it allows you to work and this is what I did. To self-fund my studies, I worked as a research assistant and lecturer, lately at the University of Cologne. I tried working full-time in my first year, but soon realised that this was nothing I could realistically pursue for the next couple of years. Thus, I reduced working hours to find more time for my PhD. Currently, I am on parental leave, which I expanded in order to finish my thesis.
Body Image Researcher
As mentioned previously, I am researching on body image, i.e. how we feel and perceive our own body, what we believe about it and how we behave with regard to it. It has a lot to do with self-love and to our relationship with food and exercising. Sadly, body dissatisfaction is widespread and often accepted as normal in our society. Therefore, research has started to look more into positive body image.
In my thesis, I am looking specifically into the concept of the “ideal” beach body, something that affects many of us along with the arrival of summer. Past investigations have greatly looked into women’s tourist experiences and how beach body models are depicted in lifestyle and tourism magazines. But none of them have considered the social media, where thousands of beach body pictures are shared every day. Therefore, I am interested to know how frequently being exposed to beach body pictures in the (social) media links to body image concerns as opposed to frequently being exposed to real beach bodies, i.e. at the beach. Those can look very different, especially as opposed to thin-idealized media images, and those have repetitively been linked to poor body image. It will thus be very interesting to see what role the beach body plays in this.
I have already presented some preliminary results at two conferences and I am currently setting up my methodology to collect data soon. Moreover, my supervisors and I have been accepted to contribute a book chapter to a work on social media and deception, in which we discuss the role of artificially altered beach body images with regard to young people’s (social media) life and the way it might affect their body image.
Body Image Movement Global Ambassador
The Australian Body Image Movement is probably best known for their documentary “Embrace”, which has been broadcasted in a lot of cinemas in the UK. Last year, I was entitled to become Global Ambassador for my home country Germany. As an Ambassador, I am trying to spread body positivity wherever I can. For instance, I have given body image workshops or speeches (e.g. at schools) and set up my own German body image website (www.body-of-love.com). It is a great experience to be part of this movement and another motivating aspect in my PhD life.
Part of my profession as a research assistant has been teaching and it is something I enjoy a lot. Originally, I studied management and marketing, so most of my courses are marketing-related, such as consumer behavior. I usually dedicate at least one part of my lecture to body image and in this discuss what kind of bodies and appearance-related messages we encounter in the media. Most notably I enjoy teaching international students. It is absolutely enriching to gather the multiple perspectives of people from different cultures.
Last but not least, I am blessed to be a mother of a gorgeous one-year old son. Of course, motherhood can be as challenging as doing a PhD and it’s another life task for which you need to be available 24/7. But despite the lack of sleep due to my PhD nightshifts (it needs to get done at some point without my toddler accidentally unprogramming my laptop), it is a wonderful counterpart of my career, and one that brings me the greatest happiness and many smiles every day. So if you happen to become a parent during your studies: Don’t be afraid. It helps you to be very organized and it can be a very welcoming change to the desk work.
Right. That’s it of me. I hope you enjoyed reading about my busy life and the many things I am more or less successully trying to handle during my PhD life. As I said above, doing many things that you love can be the key to getting through the ups and downs that we probably all face at some point during our careers. So never stop including as many things as possible that make you smile, relax and happy.