Breast binding

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A trans man wearing a chest binder.

Breast binding, also known as chest binding, is the flattening of breasts with constrictive materials such as cloth strips, purpose-built undergarments, often using spandex or other synthetic fiber, and shirts layered from tight to loose. Binders may also be used as alternatives to bras or for reasons of propriety.

People who bind include trans men (to alleviate gender dysphoria upon flattening the chest[1]), androgynous and non-binary people, crossdressers, cosplayers, and performers.


Breast binding has been used in many historical contexts. Different time periods of history have had differing viewpoints on the female form, including the widespread use of corsets throughout western European history up to the Victorian era.[2]

During the era of China's imperial dynasties, revealing the curves of a woman's breast was considered lewd and breasts were often bound with a moxiong. Use of the garment was particularly popular during the Tang and Song dynasties.[3][4] Breast binding became an exclusive aesthetic practice for women continuing until the 1930s, with more prevalence among upper-class women.[5]

In Japan, the traditional kimono flattens the appearance of the breasts, with breasts bound and flattened with an obi,[6] and a datemaki belt wrapped around the torso from the chest to the waist.[7] A sarashi is used by Japanese women to flatten their breasts.[citation needed]

Korean women wearing the traditional hanbok concealed the female body by binding their breasts tightly with a cloth band.[8][9]

In Africa, adolescent Wodaabe girls had their breasts tightly bound to induce sagging, minimize sexual desirability, and improve their ability to breastfeed.[7] In cultures where the breasts of pubescent girls are ironed to suppress their development, wealthier classes often choose to use an elastic belt to compress and flatten the breasts.[10]

Until early 20th century, many Catholic nuns bound their breasts under their habit to deflect the attention from male clergy and diminish sexual desire in men.[2][7]

Breast binding was one of the punishments inflicted upon the women inmates confined in Ireland's Magdalene asylums.[11]

Post-WWI women office workers modified their physique with bound breasts to reduce and conceal the female form, thereby minimizing sexual curiosity from males.[12]

In the 1920s, a flat-chested silhouette became the ideal look among women, with breasts bound against the chest wall with binders.[13] To present a boyish form, flappers bound their breasts.[13]

Wearing a corset was one way that the size of breasts could be reduced.[2]


There are many reasons people would bind their breasts:

Women who have developed larger breasts from hormone replacement therapy or breast augmentation surgery may choose to bind.

Some adolescents begin to bind their breasts as they enter puberty. This is done usually for reasons of embarrassment (they do not want others to know they have started developing), or desire to be as they previously were (they do not want to have breasts yet). This has potential risks, as the developing tissue may conform to the restricted shape, resulting in permanent deformity. Breast binding in adolescent girls may be a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder.[15]

Cisgender men may also find cause to bind if afflicted with gynecomastia as a means to control appearance in place of surgery or during the wait before surgery. However, cisgender men with gynecomastia typically wear male bras.

Transgender and non-binary people[edit]

Transgender men may bind their breasts as an alternative to or while waiting for top surgery, in order to be recognized as masculine presenting. The appearance of a flat, masculine chest may cause gender euphoria.

Many people who bind for gender-affirming purposes are unwilling to seek medical attention due to a perceived lack of knowledge from healthcare professionals, and continue binding anyway since they believe the benefits out-weigh the risks.[16] In case of health concerns, they tend to seek help from healthcare professionals they perceive as trans-friendly and who will not stigmatize their binding practice.[17]


Purpose-built undergarments known as binders or binding bras exist (often using spandex or other synthetic fibre), and are commonly used for breast binding. These can be more expensive than other options and are not widely stocked, but are generally considered less dangerous than alternatives.

Other common binding materials include cloth strips, elastic or non-elastic bandages, and shirts layered from tight to loose. Duct tape has been used as well, but is dangerous and should be avoided. Elastic bandages such as ace bandages are also unsafe to use. It is safest to use a binder from a reputable company or a high impact sports bra.[18]


Breast binding is known to create a number of health risks, including difficulty breathing, backache, skin rashes, and deformity of the ribs.[2]

To minimise complications, it is often advised that a binding device/method should always be as loose as is practicable and should not be worn for longer than eight hours.[16] Binding for extended periods of time can lead to rashes or yeast infections under the breasts,[19][20] back or chest pain, shortness of breath, overheating, or, rarely, fractured ribs.[16] Additionally, some unconventional binding materials, such as duct tape or athletic bandages, are known to increase an individual's risk for negative health outcomes such as shortness of breath, musculoskeletal damage, and skin damage.[21] Unsafe binding may lead to permanent deformation of the breasts,[22] scarring, and lung constriction,[23] and long-term binding may adversely affect the outcome of a future mastectomy.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Countryman, Betty Ann. "Breast care in the early puerperium." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing 2.5 (1973): 36–40
  2. ^ a b c d Smith, Merril D., ed. (2014). Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-0759123311.
  3. ^ "The ancient art of women's underwear". China Daily. March 4, 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2022.
  4. ^ "The little red look". The Economist. April 16, 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2022.
  5. ^ Lei, Jun (Spring 2015). ""Natural" Curves: Breast-Binding and Changing Aesthetics of the Female Body in China of the Early Twentieth Century". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. 27 (1): 163–223. ISSN 1520-9857.
  6. ^ Tewari, Nita; Alvarez, Alvin, eds. (2009). Asian American Psychology: Current Perspectives. New York: Psychology Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-1841697697.
  7. ^ a b c Kenny, Erin; Nichols, Elizabeth Gackstetter (2017). Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 46–48. ISBN 978-1610699440.
  8. ^ Shin, Gi-Wook; Robinson, Michael, eds. (1999). Colonial Modernity in Korea. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center. p. 421. ISBN 978-0674005945.
  9. ^ Kim, Julie Ju-Youn (2014). "Rendering the Body Present: Unwrapping the Hanbok and Villa of Veils". p. 13.
  10. ^ "Breast Ironing Fact Sheet". Africa Health Organisation. March 22, 2019. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  11. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra (6 February 2003). "In God's Name". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  12. ^ Yellis, Kenneth A. (Spring 1969). "Prosperity's Child: Some Thoughts on the Flapper". American Quarterly. 21 (1): 54. doi:10.2307/2710772. ISSN 0003-0678.
  13. ^ a b Farrell-Beck, Jane; Gau, Colleen (2002). Uplift: The Bra in America. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 41, 49. ISBN 0812236432.
  14. ^ Swift, Kathy; Janke, Jill (May–June 2003). "Breast Binding . . . Is It All That It's Wrapped Up To Be?". Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 32 (3): 332–339. doi:10.1177/0884217503253531. ISSN 0884-2175. PMID 12774875.
  15. ^ Horowitz K, Gorfinkle K, Lewis O, Phillips KA (December 2002). "Body dysmorphic disorder in an adolescent girl". J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 41 (12): 1503–9. doi:10.1097/00004583-200212000-00023. PMC 1613829. PMID 12447038.
  16. ^ a b c Tsjeng, Zing (28 September 2016). "Inside the Landmark, Long Overdue Study on Chest Binding". Broadly. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  17. ^ Jarrett, Brooke A.; Corbet, Alexandra L.; Gardner, Ivy H.; Peitzmeier, Sarah M. (14 Dec 2018). "Chest Binding and Care Seeking Among Transmasculine Adults: A Cross-Sectional Study". Transgender Health. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. 3 (1): 170–178. doi:10.1089/trgh.2018.0017. PMC 6298447. PMID 30564633.
  18. ^ Trans Tape for Chest Binding: Insights on How To Use Tape (Website), GenderGP Transgender Services, June 22, 2020
  19. ^ Feldman, JL; Goldberg, J (2006). "Transgender primary medical care: Suggested guidelines for clinicians in British Columbia". Vancouver Coastal Health. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
  20. ^ Erickson-Schroth, Laura (2014). Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community. Oxford University Press. p. 134. ISBN 9780199325351.
  21. ^ "Chest Binding: A Physician's Guide". PRIDEinPractice. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  22. ^ "Binding FAQ" (PDF). University of Michigan Health System. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 September 2012.
  23. ^ Dutton, Lauren; Koenig, Karel; Fennie, Kristopher (2008-08-01). "Gynecologic care of the female-to-male transgender man". Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health. 53 (4): 331–337. doi:10.1016/j.jmwh.2008.02.003. ISSN 1542-2011. PMC 4902153. PMID 18586186.
  24. ^ Makadon, Harvey J.; Mayer, Kenneth H.; Potter, Jennifer; Goldhammer, Hilary (2015). The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health. ACP Press. p. 409. ISBN 9781934465783.

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