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Chest binding is a common practice for achieving a flatter chest. People do it for many reasons like to help make their chests look less feminine. There are safe—and not-so-safe—ways to do it. Let’s explore different chest binding options and tips for doing it.
What is chest binding?
Chest binding is something that people do to flatten their breasts to make their chests look less feminine. The process can be done at home by wrapping your chest with things like specialized tape or tops.
Chest binding is common and people do it for a lot of different reasons. Often, those whose gender identity doesn’t align with the body they were born with (for example, people who are transmasculine or nonbinary) may choose to bind their chests to make their breasts less prominent.
For many people who don’t identify as female, having breasts can be upsetting and cause real emotional distress (also called gender dysphoria) since breasts can be physical reminders of a body that doesn’t match their identity (Jarrett, 2018).
Chest binding can be a great tool to help people in this situation feel free, safe, and more comfortable in their bodies. This can boost self-esteem, emotional well-being, and mental health (Reddy-Best, 2020).
Other people may bind their chests because the size of their breast tissue makes them physically uncomfortable. This is the case for women with very large breasts or cisgender men with gynecomastia.
Types of chest binding
There are lots of safe options for chest binding. There is no one-size-fits-all method, so it’s good to explore online resources—like Reddit, YouTube, and LGBTQ-friendly organizations—that delve into the particulars of different brands and fits so you can decide what’s right for your body type.
Sports bras and athletic tops
Wearing one or more layered sports bras is a common way to chest bend. Layering shirts or tank tops is also an option. There are also sports tops and compression shirts with built-in bras that may be good alternatives for smaller-chested people.
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Chest binding tape
There are several types of breathable tape available for chest binding. This includes kinesiology tape and “trans tape,” which is specifically marketed to the transgender community.
There are many garments you can buy that are designed for chest binding (often just called “binders”). Commercial binders are usually made from breathable fabrics, but be sure to read consumer reviews to make sure their fit and function will work for you.
It’s important to note that even though binders are specifically designed for this purpose, the majority of health problems with chest binding happen with too-tight or poorly fitting products (Peitzmeier, 2016).
Chest binding risks
While chest binding can be helpful for aligning your outward appearance with your gender identity, it can come with some health risks if done improperly. Using plastic wrap, duct tape, elastic bandages, and binders that are too tight are the riskiest. Even products designed for binding may cause discomfort when wearing them.
It’s good to be aware of possible issues so you can prevent them from turning into larger ones. Here are some things to watch out for.
Pain or discomfort are common with chest binding. Most people report experiencing back or chest pain. In one study, nearly 40% of people who bound their chest reported having pain that interfered with daily activities (Jarrett, 2018).
Skin irritation and issues like chafing, itching, acne, rashes, and fungal infections can happen when your binder is too tight or nonbreathable. Both scenarios can cause an accumulation of moisture between the binder and your skin.
Bacteria and yeast found naturally on our skin can start to multiply in warm, moist spaces, and chafing gives them an access point into your skin to cause infection. That’s why it can be a good idea to opt for breathable fabrics like a binder or athletic top rather than saran wrap or duct tape. Keeping up with good skincare when binding can also ward off skin issues.
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Because binding your chest can restrict the expansion of your rib cage, wearing a binder of any form can make it difficult to breathe properly. It’s more common with binders that are too tight or with elastic bandages, duct tape, and plastic wrap.
Never exercise while wearing a binder (even one that fits properly) because you need more oxygen when working out or playing sports. Instead, try a sports bra and supportive top. Wearing baggier clothing can help make your chest less prominent, too.
Since chest binding adds an extra layer that sits close to the skin, it can limit sweat evaporation, which is crucial for keeping us cool and regulating body temperature.
Wearing breathable binders is important—especially on hot days. Overheating can make you feel tired, dizzy, and cause dehydration, so it’s good to be aware of it on hot days to allow good air circulation for your skin.
Around 40% of people experience posture problems with binding. Building and maintaining your back and chest muscles strength can help with proper posture. Avoid binding too tightly or frequently as that can also affect posture (Peitzmeier, 2016).
Chest binding safety tips
Here are some chest binding tips to help maximize the benefits––and minimize the risks––of chest binding.
Use safe binding methods
Sensible use of sports bras, binding tape, and chest binding tops will help you reduce any associated risks and keep you comfortable. Don’t use duct tape, plastic wrap, or elastic bandages.
As we noted, specialized binding tape is available. This sticky tape is most comfortable when wrapped just halfway around the chest (from armpit to armpit). This compresses the breasts and allows you to breathe normally at the same time.
Take breaks (including while exercising and sleeping)
Most people who bind their chests do so for many hours each day—10 hours a day on average. The longer you bind your chest, the more likely you are to experience discomfort. It’s a good idea to take days off and limit the total number of hours of chest binding every day. Good opportunities to take breaks are while exercising or sleeping (Peitzmeier, 2016).
Clean your chest binder frequently
If you’ve ever worn sweaty workout gear twice in a row without washing it, you may be familiar with the acne or rashes you can get from it. If you’re wearing a chest binder for more than a few hours a day, it’s bound to collect sweat. Make sure that you wash your binder or sports bra regularly to avoid future skin problems.
Measure correctly for good fit
Wearing a poorly-fitting chest binder can be uncomfortable. Though it may be tempting to find the tightest garment possible, you’re better off wearing a binder that fits correctly (and according to the manufacturer’s standard). A good binder shouldn’t hurt, cut off your circulation, or restrict your breathing.
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There are many ways to bind your chest safely. Chatting with other people who have experience with chest binding is a great idea, as is reading info in forums like r/chestbinding on Reddit. Issues can come up, though, and it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider if they do. A provider who’s experienced in trans or nonbinary care can help adjust your binding to your comfort level so you can safely enjoy the benefits of chest binding.
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Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.