Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Dawn M. Szymanski

Committee Members

Joseph R. Miles, Gina P. Owens


Body satisfaction and embodied experience are fundamental components of women’s mental health. This is especially true for sexual minority women (SMW) who experience the complex demands of biculturality, as they must attend to the appearance ideals of both mainstream and SMW subculture. The current study aimed to investigate SMW’s bicultural experiences of body satisfaction and beauty pressures through a focused exploration of SMW’s breast discourse and breasted experience. Specifically, we hoped to discern more conclusive findings on whether the SMW subculture acts to protect SMW from the negative effects of mainstream, heteronormative beauty standards as proposed by previous research findings. We conducted a qualitative study of 11 SMW with questions focused on a variety of experiential areas including breast development, gender identity, romantic relationships, mainstream culture and media, and SMW subculture. Data analysis resulted in 13 primary themes and 26 subthemes. From the thematic aggregate, a preliminary theoretical model emerged detailing the relationships and interactions among various social and personal-based factors and influences. Results determined that breasts as a gender marker, gender identity, the breast/chest-gender identity relationship, and internalized sexism and beauty codes are the principal factors involved in SMW’s bicultural breasted experience and beauty standard negotiation. These factors, emergent themes, and the preliminary theoretical model are discussed, along with clinical implications, study limitations, and future research directions.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."