Binding, also known as chest or breast binding, is the process of compressing or reducing chest tissue. The aim of binding is to make a person’s chest look flatter. This can be helpful for trans and nonbinary people.
Doctors generally consider binding to be safe. However, if a person does it incorrectly, it can lead to certain health issues.
This article looks at binding, how to do it safely, and its possible risks.
Binding is the act of compressing chest tissue to make the chest area appear flat. Individuals can achieve this using various compression techniques, such as using sports bras or specialized binders.
Why do people bind?
A person may use binding as a way to affirm their gender identity. People who are transgender or nonbinary may find that binding helps them feel more comfortable with their bodies.
Although some trans and nonbinary individuals use chest binding, it is not necessary for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to be trans, and a person can express their identity in the way that suits them best.
Other reasons that someone may use a chest binder include:
- to reduce chest size due to obesity or a health condition such as gynecomastia
- cosplay or drag
- managing chest or gender dysphoria
- aesthetic preference
- being able to fit into “male” clothing more easily
- to feel safe in public
- to help with healing after chest surgery
There are various methods a person can use to flatten their chests. The method they choose may depend on their:
- chest size
- comfort level
- body type
Specialized binders are tight garments that people wear underneath clothing. They are for compressing the chest tissue. Binders are the safest and most recommended way for a person to bind their chest.
Binders come in different sizes and varieties. Some cover the chest only, while others are torso length and also compress the hips.
People can also use sports bras as chest binders. Sports bras with higher Lycra content are more effective in compressing the chest than other bras.
However, there is conflicting information about whether a person should layer multiple sports bras or not. Comfort is important when someone is binding — an individual should always keep their safety in mind when binding their chest.
If a person feels pain or discomfort during binding or experiences difficulty breathing, they should remove their sports bra or binder and seek an alternative.
A person may find that wearing multiple layers of clothing helps make their chest look flatter. They can start by wearing a tight-fitting shirt, followed by layers of looser-fitting clothes.
However, individuals should be cautious when using this method, as they could overheat from wearing too many layers.
Athletic compression shirts
Athletes wear compression shirts comprising of Spandex or Lycra to help with muscle recovery.
A person can also use these shirts to make their chest appear flatter. This method generally works best for people with small amounts of chest tissue.
A person can purchase them from sports companies online or in-store.
While some people use kinetic tape to flatten their chests, this practice is not safe, and healthcare professionals advise against it.
Kinetic tape is a type of elastic sports tape that people use to support their joints and muscles. However, manufacturers do not design it for chest compression.
Using kinetic tape to bind can restrict a person’s breathing, and LGBTQIA+ healthcare specialists recommend against its use.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication. Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
Different chest binders are available in different places. People can buy sports bras or athletic compression shirts in athletic or sports shops or online retailers.
Specialized binders are currently available to buy online. Websites that sell binders include:
Sizing is important when buying a binder. Wearing binders that are too small may lead to health problems.
A person can use the following tips to measure themselves for a binder:
- use a flexible fabric measuring tape
- relax and breathe normally
- use a mirror for accuracy
- avoid looking down when measuring
- measure at the widest part of the chest
- wrap the measuring tape around the back, taking care to keep the tape under the armpits and above the nipples
- measure the shoulders by bringing the tape from one shoulder point to the other over the top of the back
- round up to the fullest half inch
Binder sizes may vary from site to site, so a person should check each site’s sizing chart.
Binders can vary in price from around $30 to over $100. Additionally, full torso binders may be more expensive than half binders.
Certain sites offer binders at lower costs or free for people who might not be able to afford them. Sites that offer free binders include:
If someone does not apply chest binding correctly, they can experience certain health issues.
Research from 2017 found that 97% of people who bound their chest daily had at least one negative symptom.
Possible risks of unsafe chest binding include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- a buildup of fluid in the lungs
- reduced exercise tolerance
- difficulty speaking
- broken ribs
- back pain
- skin issues
It is important for a person to wear a binder that fits them properly. This can help reduce possible negative side effects.
A person should never bind with:
- duct tape
- elastic bandages
- plastic wrap
These materials are unsuitable for use as binders, as they can restrict breathing and movement.
Using these materials can also cause rashes and cuts. In some cases, they can damage or break ribs.
Certain health conditions may make binding difficult or dangerous. Conditions that may worsen through binding include:
If a person has any of these conditions or other conditions that affect posture or breathing, they should speak with a healthcare professional before binding.
Additionally, individuals should never bind when they are sick. This can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, which can be extremely dangerous.
A person should always bind for under 8 hours per day, ideally taking breaks from their binder throughout the day. Wearing a binder for extended periods can cause skin irritation, breathing problems, or back pain.
It is also important for individuals to take off their binder before sleeping. Sleeping in a binder can be harmful to the body.
A person should take off their binder before exercising. A binder can make breathing and moving more difficult during exercise.
When exercising, individuals can instead use a properly-fitted sports bra to bind.
A person should make sure they wash and air dry their binder frequently. This can help reduce skin irritation and infections.
Binders can also cause someone to sweat more frequently. The buildup of sweat on the skin can cause sores, rashes, or chafing. People can use deodorant or body powder to reduce the risk of irritation.
Information from Canada’s McLean Clinic suggests that a person should bind less frequently before having gender-affirming chest surgery, also called top surgery. Binding may impact the skin’s elasticity, which can affect healing and recovery.
Healthcare professionals also recommend that a person stops binding 4–6 weeks before having top surgery. Very tight binding can increase the risk of infection or scarring.
People use chest binding to flatten their chest tissue. There are many reasons a person may bind, such as gender affirmation or aesthetic preference.
Individuals can bind using various methods, such as sports bras or specialized binders. It is important for them to bind safely, as practicing improper techniques can lead to health problems.
A person should not wear a binder for more than 8 hours per day. They should also remove it before sleep or exercise.
Additionally, people should speak with a healthcare professional if they have any health conditions that binding could affect.