By Ashley Altadonna
One of the most empowering and dysphoria-reducing moments for many trans and non-binary individuals is putting on their first binder and finally seeing a smoothed upper torso. “Binding” refers to the process of flattening one’s breast tissue to create a conventionally masculine-appearing chest. With various methods, materials, and brands to choose from, how do you pick the binder that’s best for you? And what are the risks and considerations one should be aware of?
Not surprisingly there isn’t a “one-size fits all” method when it comes to binding. Everyone’s bodies are shaped differently, and we each have varying levels of comfort with our bodies. Some trans and non-binary folks may choose not to bind at all. For those who do wish to bind, there are several ways to do it, including: layering clothing, wearing a tight-fitting sports bra or an abdominal support device, (like athletic or medical compression shirts), and of course, wearing chest binders. The important thing is to find the technique that is safe, comfortable, and works best for you.
Binding should not be painful or affect your ability to breathe, though some ways of binding can be sweaty and uncomfortable. Before chest binders were widely available, many trans and non-binary folks used DIY methods like adhesive tape or Ace bandages to bind. Binding with duct tape, packing tape or any tape not specifically designed for binding is not advisable, as tapes can cause skin irritations, lacerations, or scarring. Ace bandages are also not recommended because they may compress more necessary, restricting movement and breathing, if not applied correctly. Using a binder or compression shirt reduces these risks, because the compression is more evenly distributed across your chest and torso. Ace bandages can also come loose requiring you to stop what you’re doing to fix them.
When buying a binder, it helps to know what your chest measurements are. Different manufacturers size and fit their binders differently. Figuring out your chest measurements will help you find the best fit no matter which binder you end up using. These measurements do not need to be done without clothes on. As a matter of fact, it may help to wear a sports bra. Start by measuring just under the breast line with a tape measure – lift your breast tissue and place the tape underneath if necessary. This is a measurement of your rib cage. Next, take a measurement over the fullest part of your chest. Take the average of these two measurements by adding them together and dividing by 2.
If your first measurement of the rib cage is 32", and the over-tissue measurement is 38".
32" + 38" = 70". 70" divided by 2 = 35". Use the average measurement (35") to find your size.
This method of measurement works for Underworks, and other brands of chest binders, but be sure to check the sizing method for each particular brand. Finding the correctly sized binder is vital for your comfort and your health. Don’t use a smaller sized binder in the hopes it will better hide your chest. If a binder is too tight it can cause issues like bruising, back pain and breathing problems.
Binders tend to come in two styles, short (which usually end above the belly button) and full-length (which cover your entire torso). Whether to choose a short or long binder depends on your body type, particularly your abdomen. Folks who have extra belly weight may find that shorter binders have a tendency to roll up and may prefer a full-length option. Tank-top and T-shirt style binders can be put on similar to a pullover t-shirt. Depending on your body type, if a tank top binder is too difficult to put on, you may be able to step into the garment through the neck hole and pull it up. Once you have your binder on, adjust your chest tissue as needed by pushing out and down to achieve the flattest looking chest possible.
Binders have typically only been available in white, black, and sometimes beige colors, something to consider depending on what you are planning to wear with the binder. Recently, some manufacturers like gc2b and others have offered binders in a variety of skin tones. Some companies have even begun fashioning binders with fun, festive patterns, so there’s no reason your binder has to be plain and boring.
As a general rule, you should only wear your binder between eight to ten hours a day (or less), and you shouldn’t sleep in it. This gives your body a break from the compression. If you’re new to binding, start by only wearing your binder for a few hours at a time to let your body get used to it. If it becomes itchy, uncomfortable, or painful take you binder off for a bit. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you.
Also keep in mind that if a binder’s material doesn’t breathe or wick away sweat, you can develop rashes or sores on your skin. Using a non-irritating body powder can help to minimize this risk. Some binders like the ones from New York Toy Collective use moisture-wicking linings that help keep you dry and comfortable. Remember to keep your binder clean to prevent skin irritation. Most binders are made using some kind of elastic material. Washing in cold water by hand or using the gentle cycle and line-drying are the best ways to ensure your binder will maintain its elasticity and last as long as possible.
There’s no doubt that binding provides much-needed relief to many people struggling with gender and body dysphoria. Sometimes finding the binder that best fits you and your needs will take time. Listen if your body is telling you that the binder you are using is too painful or just isn’t working. Ultimately, whatever you end up choosing, remember that your comfort and physical health are paramount.