Getting to Know Layla Cameron

August 15, 2022

On July 20, CMNS student Layla Cameron successfully defended her PhD dissertation, Sticky Representations of Fatness on Contemporary Reality Television: Envisioning Fat Presents and Futures. Layla's dissertation research analyzes shifting sociocultural attitudes about fatness in mainstream media towards a more body positive approach. It's an interdisciplinary project that situates her affective responses to reality television programs within broader theoretical frameworks to explore what ambiguous and/or positive representations of fatness can look like.

We sat down with the newly-minted Dr. Cameron to get to know more about her life and academic aspirations.

First things first, tell us about yourself. Who are you outside of school?

Outside of academia I work as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. I'm currently developing my second documentary film with the BC and Yukon Studio of the National Film Board of Canada and recently produced my first podcast with support from Telus STORYHIVE's Voices Program. I also run a letterpress print shop called Stay Fat Design Co. Like my academic research, most of my creative pursuits focus on social justice and fat liberation.

My favourite version of myself is when I am living out of my campervan and exploring the outdoors with my rescue dog, Millie. I converted a minivan into a very basic camper around the same time that I started my PhD and going on road trips between semesters is something that I prioritized throughout my studies. Now that I'm finished, I intend to continue indulging in #vanlife whenever I can!

What do you hope your research will accomplish?

When fat studies first emerged as a formal discipline just over ten years ago, much of the research in this area was concerned with deconstructing and challenging fatphobic ideologies, particularly those within public health discourses. I think that this push to position fatness as a viable form of embodiment, and not a disease, often relied on ableist, racist, classist, and other problematic attitudes.

There has been increasing emphasis in the last few years on the importance of applying an intersectional framework when conducting fat studies research to acknowledge how fat stigma interlocks with other systems of oppression. I hope that my research contributes to this turn where we will begin to see more complex dialogue about fatness that also centers the lived experiences and knowledge of fat people. I am excited by research that does not contribute to hierarchies of good and bad fatness, but instead embraces the messay and at times contradictory elements of fat embodiment.

What did you do the morning of your defence?

My external examiner is based in the United Kingdom, so my defence was scheduled for a very early start time. This was a relief because I didn't have time to be nervous. All I really had time for was to wake up, get ready, and head to Harbour Centre! I did make sure to ground myself before walking into the room by taking a few deep breaths and acknowledging the gravity of that moment.

Some advice that I received was to try to spend the day before doing something other than preparing for the defence. At a certain point, you have to trust that you know your research and your discipline(s) well enough that any last-minute studying won't really make a difference. What does make a difference is staying calm and trusting the process; your committee wouldn't have let you get to this point if they didn't have confidence in you! I repeated that to myself a lot and took myself out for a manicure the day before and instead focused my energy on making sure that I felt good going into it.

What sort of feelings were racing through your head once you successfully passed?

To be honest, I fully expected to cry tears of joy and relief but my adrenaline was pumping so hard during the entire event that I don't think it fully hit me when I was told I had passed! I do remember feeling ecstatic that I had passed with no revisions and I was immensely proud of myself for that.

Hearing myself referred to as "Dr. Cameron" was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. I think imagining that moment is what gets a lot of us through the more difficult times in our studies. When I got home, my partner had put together a video of my friends and family congratulating me and calling me "Dr. Cameron," and that was when I finally had a cry and it felt real!

Now that you've become Dr. Cameron, what are your future aspirations?

I will be applying for tenure-track faculty positions over the next year and intend to continue teaching and conducting research. I really enjoy having lots of different projects on the go, and part of what drew me to academia is that it seemingly allows for that. I have a few book projects I am working on and a few creative projects coming down the pipeline. As much as this feels like the end of the road in terms of my formal education, I am excited to continue learning and exploring new topics and ideas.

Do you have any upcoming filmmaking plans?

I do! I am currently working on my second film with the BC and Yukon Studio of the National Film Board of Canada. It is tentatively titled Baby Weight, and it explores the various accessibility barriers, including BMI restrictions, that fat people face when attempting fertility treatments such as IVF.

How have your grad CMNS courses helped with your academic succcess?

Receiving feedback on my coursework from faculty who otherwise were not involved with my dissertation research was immensely helpful in terms of broadening my understanding of communication as a discipline and the various ways I could approach my work moving forward. I also think that the coursework at the beginning of the program is important for community-building and getting to know your cohort. The rest of your time in graduate school is very self-directed and can be isolating if you haven't build a relationship with your peers!

Is there something you know now that you wish you would have known at the start of your PhD?

I was diagnosed with ADHD within the last year, and I wish I had fought more for that diagnosis earlier in my studies. Learning about how my brain works and the type of structure, routine, and habits that are conducive to my success was a gamechanger for me. I would encourage anyone who suspects that they are also neurodivergent to explore that possibility and find health care practitioners who take your suspicions seriously. It is not a bad thing if your approach to learning and research looks different than someone else's -- in many ways, it's a gift.

What has been your favourite SFU memory?

My favourite SFU memory comes from when I was working as an RA for Dr. Druick's project The Legacy of NFB's Studio D. Part of this work involved traveling across Canada and interviewing feminist documentary filmmakers, which was such a special and rare opportunity for intergenerational dialogue about the politics of feminist filmmaking. During one interview, the subject handed me her Academy Award and said, "you'll win one of these someday." I was working on my first documentary at the time and her enthusiasm and support really meant a lot to me.

What advice do you have for fellow graduate students?

Make a chart at the beginning of your studies that provides a semester-by-semester timeline of your program. This will help you stay focused and manage the many moving parts involved with being a graduate student! Break each semester down into the following columns:

  • Academic (i.e.: what courses you will be taking or what stage of your dissertation you will be at)
  • Financial (i.e.: where your money will be coming from, whether that be scholarships, teaching, research, external employment, or student loans)
  • Work Responsibilities (i.e.: RA project deadlines, TA marking schedule)
  • Professional Development Goals (i.e.: conferences, publications, or other opportunities you want to be working on)
  • Personal Goals and Considerations (i.e.: creative pursuits, team sports you might play, and family obligations)

Make sure your chart is realistic and that it honours the parts of your life that are outside of school, including your family, friends, hobbies, and non-academic goals.

 

Congratulations on your successful defence, Dr. Cameron! We're so proud!

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