Chest binding is the act of wearing a restrictive garment (known as a binder) in order to flatten breasts.
Binding is most common amongst transgender men and some nonbinary people, and is used to lessen body dysphoria, as well as give trans and nonbinary people more comfort and confidence in their bodies. However, not all binders are created equally, and the difference between a well-fitting binder and a makeshift compilation of Ace bandages have some serious differences, both health- and comfort-wise. To learn more about how to find a properly fitting binder, as well as the health risks associated with unsafe binding, keep reading.
The first piece of binding advice I received from my friend Cal, and that seemed to appear first in all the resources I’ve found, is that most alternative binding methods are extremely detrimental to a person’s health. Cal first started binding about a year ago, and found that using materials such as Velcro and Ace bandages to bind was extremely painful. “I bound with Ace bandages for a while, and after about an hour I was struggling to breathe,” he told me. “Most alternative binding methods lead to at best, rib bruising or shortness of breath.”
Alternative binding methods can also lead to scarring, sores and skin irritation, limited mobility, broken ribs, and excess fluid in the lungs. Duct tape (or any kind of tape), Ace bandages, Velcro, and even an actual binder that just fits too snugly, can all be very unsafe and painful even for short-term wear.
So, what’s a trans or gender-nonconforming individual to do? Find a binder that actually fits! When I asked Cal how he determines whether a binder fits or not, he gave three key tips: “Your boobs should not pop out of the top or bottom, you should be able to take a big, deep breath and hold it without much difficulty, [and] your ribs and back should not be in any more than minor pain.” Most binders are not recommended for exercise, as they may cause extreme shortness of breath, but there are some that are suitable for light swimming.
Binders may take a little getting used to, especially if it’s your first time wearing them, so pay attention to how your body feels and try not to wear the binder for too long. Most sources recommend wearing a binder for no more than 6 – 8 hours a day, and washing the binder regularly to take care of the garment and prevent skin irritation. Most places that sell binders will have their own size guide, but a general tool to help with fit is knowing your chest measurements.
As for binder designs, according to Cal, “If you’re willing to pay $30 or more, you have a world of options…a main brand (GC2B) just released flesh colored binders in like 5 different colors,” perfect for the beach! There are also brands that carry a wide array of styles and sizes, from brightly colored tank tops to fun prints in varying lengths. For those who want to ease into a more flat-chested appearance, or who would rather not wear a binder for health purposes, there are also plenty of options for ultra-supportive, compressive sports bras. While sports bras won’t be quite as flattening as a regular binder, they can still do the trick, and are obviously made to withstand movement and sweat, which can be helpful.
Another tip Cal shared with me was to look into binder swaps. There are a variety of websites and blogs that allow trans men and non-binary people to donate old binders, and inherit someone else’s gently used one. This is great for those who are still living at home and aren’t allowed to order a binder online, or don’t have the funds to buy a new binder.
If you’re still searching for the ideal binder, please don’t give up. “Keep looking,” Cal encouraged. “Putting on the perfect binder for the first time is an amazing feeling…For me, there was such a drastic difference in wearing Ace bandages versus an actual binder. I felt validated and comfortable in my skin.”
If you’d like to learn more about finding a well-fitting binder or helpful binder swaps, please check out the resources below.