School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

In an ideal world – Meet Heather Plyley

PhD candidate in Sociology

by Phil Gaudreau, April 2020

Amy Cleaver

Look at the pictures in any magazine today. What do you notice about the people?

Whether consciously or unconsciously, society tends to promote an ‘ideal’ body type through the way the human form is represented. This happens despite the fact a 2018 Ipsos study found 78% of Americans are dissatisfied with how their body looks, and a significant percentage don’t match the ‘ideal’.

Heather Plyley is using her sociology PhD studies to look at how people who don’t fit into that ideal navigate the constant reminders that society throws their way.

Heather hails from St. Thomas, Ontario and completed her undergraduate degree in Hamilton. She wanted to more deeply investigate her interest in sociology and wanted a smaller department that would allow her to more closely collaborate with the faculty. She chose Queen’s.

“Sociology is all about how society affects people,” she says. “I am very interested in the relationship between the individual and society, and in studying how they both shape and influence each other.

While she is just in her first year of doctoral studies, having transitioned from her masters, Heather knows she wants to focus on the ways that individuals with stigmatized bodies navigate living in a body-focused society, and how they resist the associated negative connotations by celebrating their bodies.

“It is interesting to see how society is hyper focused on bodies,” she says. ““There is a lot of great literature that has been published that highlights the experiences of individuals who have fat bodies, which is important work. I hope to be able to contribute to that area of studies by looking at the ways people handle those experiences.”

Outside of her studies, Heather is also a co-chair and active member of the Sociology Graduate Student Association.

While she is placing a lot of focus on her studies at this point, Heather is also enjoying the local food and music scene, reading regularly, and meeting up with friends to play board games. She likes the Kingston waterfront, the highly walkable downtown and campus area, and the caring community feel.

“Coming from a bigger city, it has been a nice change to live in Kingston where the sense of community is so strong,” she says.

Though it is still a few years away, Heather hopes to bring her perspectives on body studies into academia through a faculty position to help bring awareness to how people are being affected by Stigma surrounding body size. She highly recommends Queen’s Department of Sociology for its diverse range of study options whether you want to focus on social justice, as she does, or areas like criminology or surveillance studies.

To learn more about graduate studies in sociology, or other graduate program options, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.