Master of Arts
Geography and Environment
This thesis offers an original examination of the affective relations between bodies, clothing, and space by examining women’s experiences and feelings towards their breasts and wearing a bra in public. Exploring participants' contained and uncontained experiences with their breasts provided an opportunity to interrogate how heteropatriarchy requires a fashioning or containing of both feelings and flesh in public. Drawing on feminist and queer methodologies including ‘dirty participation’ and autoethnography, I report on insights gathered from twelve walking interviews conducted in Edmonton in the summer of 2019. Walking interviews included participants navigating their everyday geographies twice: once while wearing a bra and another while bra-less. These interviews demonstrate how social discourse on breast containment shapes women’s embodied experiences and their engagement with their bras. Utilizing the bra as an object of study, I offer an analysis of the corporeographies of how wearing—and not wearing—a bra impacts women’s spatial experiences. Findings include that participants differentiated between physical, social, and psychological comfort in relation to bralessness, using a range of strategies to navigate daily trade-offs between these categories. The concept of abjection provided a useful lens for interpreting participants’ experiences of feeling vulnerable and out of place. Finally, I propose some preliminary features of a ‘braless geography’ based on women’s feelings of (dis)comfort, safety and vulnerability in a range of urban spaces (e.g. particular neighbourhoods) and specific locales (e.g. bars, hair salons). This research affirms that the bra acts as a potent social and physical force in shaping and containing bodies spatially, socially, and psychologically.
Summary for Lay Audience
This thesis asks: why it is normal for women to wear a bra in public—and what happens when we break this unspoken rule? By researching women’s experiences of bralessness in public spaces, I consider how a seemingly mundane object, the bra, has a major impact on women’s physical experiences and feelings because of social norms. In 2019 I interviewed twelve women about their bra wearing experiences. Together, each participant and I visited several public places in their everyday lives, like a coffee shop, grocery store, etc. While walking, we talked about their feelings towards their breasts and bras. Then we took our bras off and visited the same spaces a second time, talking about how we now felt while braless. Women discussed how they used a bra to prevent looking out of place; they feared appearing “sloppy” or “slutty” without a bra. Additionally, women described specific places and situations where they felt that bralessness would never be acceptable, like at the office. The interviews revealed how wearing a bra requires a negotiation between social, physical and psychological comfort. This research affirms that breasts without a bra are considered ‘out of place’ because they move and are fluid, something Western society rejects under patriarchy. I also discuss participants’ relationship with vulnerability, specifically how wearing a bra is a strategy to manage the body and protect oneself from rape culture. Finally, I provide maps visually showing where–within the city and in specific settings such as a shopping mall—women reported feeling more and less comfortable or safe while braless.
Davey, Brittany, "(Un)Contained Breasts: A Phenomenological Analysis of Flesh, Femininity and Feelings" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8968.
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