“Binding” often refers to techniques for making someone’s breasts look flatter or smaller. Everyone who wants or needs to bind their chest deserves to be able to do so safely. You can read on to learn about some basic safety considerations and different ways that someone might bind their chest.
Why do people bind their chests?
People bind their chests for lots of different reasons. Trans and nonbinary people may bind to help manage their gender dysphoria (often, when someone’s gender is perceived by society in a way that does not match how the person may identify, this can cause gender dysphoria). Binding can help some people outwardly express their gender identity.
People may also bind for reasons not related to gender presentation. Athletes, for example, might bind their chests to help them move faster and more comfortably.
Why someone chooses to bind their chest can be personal, so it’s best not to make assumptions about if someone binds or why.
Chest binding safety
There are lots of different ways that someone might bind their chest. Some people can decide to try binding using homemade techniques. People might wrap their chests in Ace bandages, or even use materials like duct tape. These techniques are cheap and easy, but can be harmful to your body.
If you bind with materials that aren’t designed for binding, you may bind your chest too tightly. This may make your chest look flatter, but it can also make it harder to breathe. If you bind this way every day for a long period of time, you may experience back or chest pain. It can also affect your posture and damage the tissue in your chest. Using techniques and materials that weren’t originally designed for binding is only meant for short-term use, and should be done very carefully. You may want to be careful to try not to bind your chest this way for exercising or sleeping especially.
Most doctors and folks who have lived experiences of binding regularly recommend using a device called a binder for chest binding. This is a much safer alternative to homemade techniques.
What is a binder?
A binder is a piece of clothing designed to be worn underneath a shirt. It’s usually made of a breathable and stretchy material, and can be designed to take comfort into account. There are a number of online stores that sell binders. If you can’t afford a binder or are worried about people around you finding out that you’ve bought one, some organizations have free binder exchange programs. In Montreal, the Centre For Gender Advocacy and Project 10 have programs that provide free or subsidized binders to trans and nonbinary folks.
If you want to flatten your chest but don’t want to use a binder, some sports bras can offer a similar effect. Sports bras usually don’t flatten your chest as much as a binder, but they are safer than less conventional methods. You can also wear a sports bra while exercising. Most experts do not recommend exercising or sleeping while wearing a binder (neither a homemade one nor a specifically designed binder) so sports bras can be a safer compromise for some folks to use.
Choosing a binder
There are lots of different brands and styles of binders. It’s a good idea to try and do some research before you buy one. Some binders come in different colours and patterns. The two common lengths are short binders or long binders. Shorter binders usually stop around the midriff area, while longer binders can be pulled down as far as mid-thigh. Binders can have different cuts to go with certain types of clothes, like tank tops. There are even binders designed for swimming with!
Remember to try and think about when, where, and how you plan to use your binder. Knowing what you want out of a binder can help you decide what’s the best purchase for yourself. It can be helpful to consider the pros and cons of each type of binder and measure them against each other to try to find what could be your best pick.
What size am I?
When you pick out a binder, it’s good to know your chest measurements. You can take these using a tape measure. Make sure you measure across the part of your chest that sticks out the most. It’s also a good idea to measure the area just underneath your chest. Use these measurements for reference when picking out a size.
Binders are designed to fit very snugly. It’s not necessary to order one that’s a smaller size than you need. Wearing a binder that’s too small can be dangerous for your body. You should be able to take a few deep breaths in a row while wearing your binder. It’s also good to be able to stretch and move freely while wearing your binder. If you can’t, it’s probably too small.
Caring for your binder
If you bind regularly, you may wear your binder a lot. Taking good care of your binder can help to extend its life!
It’s a good idea to keep it clean, so the fabric is less likely to irritate your skin. Most places that sell binders give specific washing instructions for the binders they sell. If you’re not sure how to wash your binder, try hand-washing it. Use warm water (not hot) and mild soap that won’t cause skin irritation if you can. You may also be able to put your binder through a washing machine on a ‘delicate’ cycle.
It’s best not to put your binder in the dryer. Dryers use a lot of heat, which can damage the elasticity of the binder and cause it to lose its shape. Instead, try to hang your binder up to air dry. Putting your binder on a clothes hanger instead of in a drawer can also help it keep its shape longer.
Check the resources below for more information on binding, including places to purchase binders.
Chest Binding 101
This resource describes how to safely bind your chest for people who transition to a more masculine presentation. It includes specific tips on materials, tightness, and amount of time.
Breast Binding Safely – Go Ask Alice
A Q&A addressing potential concerns about binding, with advice on how to bind safely and effectively.
Hudson’s Guide: FTM Binding
General tips and methods for chest binding, geared towards trans men. Also contains instructions for measuring your chest and picking out the right size binder for you.
The Center For Gender Advocacy Binder Program
Information on how to get a binder in your size, by donation, at the Centre For Gender Advocacy in Montreal.