Chest Binding 101

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Chest binding is a way to create a flatter chest using undergarments that press breast tissue closer to the body. Binding can involve a lot of different materials and methods – some of which are unsafe. This article contains details about binding safety and how to get a binder that suits you.

PSA: Don’t DIY
Although DIY crafting is super fun, DIY-style binders – like elastic (ACE) bandages, plastic wrap, and duct tape – can cause serious injury. Using these materials – which don’t move well with your body – can restrict your breathing, result in skin infections and scarring, and even cause fluid to build up in your lungs! No thanks.

Um… So what’s good?
The trick is looking for a safer binder with soft, breathable fabric designed to compress your chest. To get the best fit, you may want to measure the part of your chest that comes out the furthest, as well as the area right below your breast tissue. Choosing the right size when shopping for a quality binder is a lot easier when you have your measurements.

Consider your options
Making the choice about which binder to buy can be overwhelming – a quick google search reveals hundreds, if not thousands, of search results, with varying brands, colors, and styles. Fortunately, there are some tips for finding a binder that will work for you.

First, make sure to do your research. Online reviews, message boards, and experienced friends and community members can help you determine the right binder style for your body type and compression needs.

Also, a reliable and safe binder might cost you a bit more than you’re used to spending on an item of clothing but finding the right one truly makes a world of difference. While there are binders sold for under $20 on websites like Amazon and Ebay, they are often not made with breathable fabric, and/or have hook closures that can cause skin irritation and breakdown.

If cost is an issue for you, there are some programs that provide free chest binders, including Point of Pride, The Binder Project, FTME Free Youth Binder Program, and Brother 2 Brother Binder Program. Also, if you are unable to order a binder to your house, consider having it shipped to a supportive friend’s house or try reaching out to a local LGBT community center to see if they have any donated binders or if you could have a binder shipped to their address.

Think about the activities you will be doing
For days off from binding, or for doing activities that would be dangerous or difficult to do with a binder on, like exercising, singing, or dancing, consider wearing a compression top or sports bra instead of a binder. Compression tops and sports bras can help flatten the shape of your chest without constricting your breathing or movement. They are also a good everyday option if you have a fairly small chest.

A Note About Chafing
Sometimes even the BEST fitting binder will cause mild chafing. Over time, if the issue is not addressed, it can result in skin breakdown. To prevent chafing, try wearing a thin undershirt under your binder, or consider using body powder (like baby powder) between your skin and the binder to prevent chafing and irritation.

Breaking up with your binder
Breaking up is hard to do, but some binders are just not a good fit. Signs you should break up with your current binder include:

  • Difficulty breathing, regular coughing or sneezing
  • Feeling nauseated, dizzy, light-headed, sleepy, or faint
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms, neck or shoulders
  • Signs of skin issues – including bruising, rashes, bleeding, or sensitivity
  • Pain while binding or after removing your binder
  • Redness that lasts more than 15 minutes after taking off your binder

The signs above are typical of a binder that is too small or just not right for your chest shape. If you’re thinking about sizing down, please remember that chest binders are not designed to completely flatten the chest – they help to create a more masculine shape. Aiming for complete flatness may be both disappointing and dangerous.

Finally, tune into your body
No matter how experienced you are when it comes to binding, listening to what your body is telling you is key! If something hurts, respect that. In general, pain is our body’s way of letting us know when something is wrong – maybe your binder is too tight, you’ve worn it for too long, or the fit is just not right. While gender euphoria from binding can be a-m-a-z-i-n-g, it is not a good reason to ignore pain.

Also, don’t listen to anyone trying to gatekeep your binding. Sometimes misguided folks may say that you’re not “trans enough” to bind or you might feel that you have to bind all the time to prove your transness. But…it’s your body. Be intentional and honest with yourself in order to find the right balance between presenting authentically and respecting your body.

To learn more about binding, check out these resources:

Author: Chloe Runs Behind (they/them) is an Indigequeer artist and organizer with Northern Arapaho and Filipino roots, living, loving, and dreaming of better worlds on occupied Séliš and Qlispe land (so-called Missoula, MT).

Yá’át’ééh. I am half Native (Navajo and Colville) and half African American. I grew up on the Colville rez and during that time I faced racism from my tribe for being part black. I am visiting the Navajo rez this spring and I’m nervous about facing it aga

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