Breast Binders In UK Schools

The Sun has reported on new guidelines issued from local authorities in Cornwall, Lancashire and Scotland to “properly accommodate transitioning pupils in school” by allowing transgender pupils extra breaks during physical education lessons.

And why would transgender pupils need breaks during P.E? Because:

“some youngsters who choose to bind their chests may suffer from “breathing difficulties and fainting” during sports sessions.”

“Youngsters” here means “girls,” but transgender rules don’t allow us to name them as girls. This conveniently prevents us from assessing the differences in the experience and typical treatment pathways between girls and boys, or study any differences in reasons for transitioning. If we can’t view these girls within the wider context of teenage girls as a group we can’t make the connections to the underlying causes of such behaviour in girls, nor position breast binding within a continuum of self-harming practices.

Even the term ‘chest binders’ hides the fact that these particular instruments of torture are used exclusively by girls. Our “support” for these girls by our acceptance of the use of breast binders prevents us from viewing their use as a harmful cultural practice (albeit one “chosen” by children) while at the same time we condemn similarly harmful practices of other cultures such as “breast ironing.”

The harms of breast binding are serious. Cornwall County Council alludes to the physical harms but minimises them in relation to the psychological “benefits,” stating that wearing a binder:

“can be hot, uncomfortable and restrictive – but very important to their psychological well-being. It might make certain PE lessons difficult for them and could lead to breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.”

The harms of binders are documented in a  2015 study which indicates 28 potential negative outcomes. Effects of wearing a breast binder include: compressed or broken ribs, punctured or collapsed lungs, back pain, compression of the spine, damaged breast tissue, damaged blood vessels, blood clots, inflamed ribs, and even heart attacks.

Anecdotal evidence paints a picture of the necessity for shallow breathing which in itself restricts the flow of oxygen to vital organs and results in a restriction in physical activity harmful to overall health. A mother speaking on Radio 4’s Bringing Up Britain recently explained her response to her daughter’s double mastectomy as relief that she had “got her lungs back” after a year of wearing a binder (another example of how one stage of ‘transitioning’ inevitably leads to a need for the next step).

Any other practice of self-harm is recognised as such but in this case we have adults in a position of responsibility declaring that this particular form of self-harming, unlike any other, promotes psychological well-being. A trick of language absolves us of any duty of care: placing all youngsters in the gender-neutral ‘trans’ category means that these girls are lost to any studies in the psychology of adolescent girls as well as denied the treatment and support which recognises their unique problems and needs. And it also means, of course, that we don’t have to look at the culture which produces so many adolescent girls who don’t want to become women in the first place, or make any effort to understand why.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. SkepticalMom

    What’s next? Making a law that allows kids who smoke cigarettes during PE class to get special breaks?

    How about not allowing binders to be worn at school, like not allowing kids to smoke at school, or sniff glue, or bring knives into school? If the adults in charge cared about girls, they would abolish the use of binders at school, especially for girls who take PE classes.

    It makes me furious that these binder companies advertise their products as safe, when they know they’re not safe, and sell them to underage girls. It is criminal. And now schools are getting into the game. Nice.

  2. Una Hodgkins

    The link for “Effects of wearing a breast binder include” is to the website of the “McLean Clinic for cosmetic surgery”, “specializing in top surgery” (
    In other words the adverse effects of breast binding are listed in order to advertise the clinic’s business providing “top surgery”. They are absolutely shameless!

  3. Una Hodgkins

    “A trick of language absolves us of any duty of care:….”
    More accurately you mean that chest binding is one of the descriptors of the protected class of “transgender pupils”, or more accurately transgender girls. The attributes of “transgender” girls, such as being girls, cannot be discussed in any way which could imply that they are being compared with others to their disadvantage. Thus, as you say, the context is cut away, and we can no longer provide care for these young women.

  4. Kamilla

    If these physical education activities are for mixed boys and girls, it is not hard to imagine what would lead to girls wanting to bind their breasts. The sexual bullying that went on when I was in school, was damaging in the extreme. Why is it not this that is being addressed??

  5. Dana

    I would like to add that it is also not hard to imagine why girls would want to bind their breasts (or have them removed) when we have created a culture, starting in schools, where “girls” must wear bras (whether they actually need them or not), or face being shamed by peers, teachers, and principles alike. Boys are allowed to go completely shirtless on school campus for physical activities (because the poor males are so hot), but girls are chastised and sent to the principal because their bra strap can be seen poking out under their sleeveless shirt (because the sleeveless shoulders are just a fraction under the two-finger width rule). Boys can show full nipple on school campus, but girls can be punished for showing a peak of a simple bra strap. And adults wonder why girls feel so ashamed and detest their own breasts.

  6. Jesus Kriger

    In time, British primary school students could expect to take part in non-gendered biology lessons, classes on creating unisex spaces, and physical education lessons mixing boys and girls together, the Guardian reports. Stories are emerging of boys at all-boys schools who are being asked to be identified as girls, and vice versa.

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