Though some say beauty is skin deep, it's hard to deny the psychological power of wearing something that makes you feel like you. If you're an assigned female at birth (AFAB) angel thinking about presenting as more masculine, knowing how to wear a chest binder — a compression undergarment that flattens your chest — can be a total game-changer.
"Chest binding refers to wearing any sort of garment to try to compress the chest tissue for the purposes of gender expression," says Dr. Sarah M. Peitzmeier, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and lead author of The Binding Health Project, a 2016 study of 1,800 transmasculine adults "There are chest binders you can buy specifically, but other people use things like Ace bandages, or other ad hoc methods, [like wearing two sports bras]."
While chest binding is a longstanding practice for people on the transmasculine spectrum, Dr. Peitzmeier says there wasn't a ton of knowledge about binding in the public health sphere until The Binding Health Project's study was published.
The study concluded that chest binding can be linked to an increase in both emotional and physical well-being. The majority of participants claimed that binding helped them deal with gender dysphoria, or discomfort stemming from their assigned gender, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Additionally, binding offered a sense of physical safety for participants who felt physically unsafe or at risk of violence and harassment because of their chest.
While binding can be linked to a number of mental health benefits, all the experts emphasize the importance of binding with mindfulness and attention to your body. "The biggest thing is size," Dr. John Steever, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics and medical director of the Trans Health Program at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, tells Elite Daily. "You want [a binder] that fits comfortably, that you can move in, that you can breathe in — things like that."
In addition to finding your right size, by measuring, checking size charts, and contacting brands with questions, Dr. Steever attests to the importance of washing your binder with regularity. Washington adds that a binder should not be worn for too long. "General rule of thumb: You shouldn't bind for more than eight hours [at a time]. That's a full school or work day," Washington says. "Try to take the binder off at home, give yourself a break."
Washington also suggests taking off your binder before you go to sleep. Additionally, all experts suggest taking deep breaths, and lightly stretching during the day to keep your circulation going.
Since wearing a binder flattens the chest, binding can also help people on the transmasculine spectrum and non-binary people present as more androgynous or masculine in their daily life. Marli Washington, founder, CEO, and designer of gc2b, a trans-owned transitional apparel company attests that wearing a chest binder can limit potential misgendering during the day. "A lot of people look at you and start to categorize who you are based on their own understanding. Seeing a chest can put [you] in one category when you're not really in that category," Washington says. "Binding is a tool be able to present as who you are in the real world, [and] to allow yourself to like what you see in the mirror."
Not only can binding help trans and non-binary people present in a way that feels more authentic to them, but it can also provide a sense of control and security over their body. "My body dysmorphia manifests in many ways, but since I’ve had the choice to wear a binder, I've felt like I have more tangible control over my body and how I view it," Karsen, 20, a non-binary person from Saginaw, Michigan, tells Elite Daily. "Getting a binder was validating to myself and my gender identity in a way I’ve never felt before."
For Sarah, 27, a non-binary person from Philadelphia, chest binding allows for more daily self-expression. "Putting on my binder for the first time was one of the most relieving experiences I've ever had," Sarah says. "All of my clothes suddenly fit more like I'd always imagined." [I'm more comfortable] wearing louder clothes and enjoying wearing earrings and necklaces again because I feel less seen as a 'woman'."
Though you may want to a get a binder ASAP, Dr. Steever stresses the importance of doing some pre-shopping research. Commercial binders, (i.e. binders bought from a store) generally range from from $30-$50 and come in a numbers of sizes and colors. As a trans-owned company, gc2b has an experienced and trained staff ready to help you find your perfect binder. Other places to snag a sweet binder are FLAVNT Streetwear, Underworks (which you also find at Walmart) and Shapeshifters, which make binders in amazing prints.
You can also find a pre-owned binder (often for cheaper) from sites like FTM Garage Sale and the Transgender Clothing Exchange. And if you're not in a position to buy a binder, there are a number of free binder programs, like FtM Essentials's Free Youth Binder Program for babes 24-years-old and under Point of Pride's Chest Binder Donations that give free new and gently-used binders to trans babes in need.
From making people feel more like themselves to helping trans angels feel more in tune with their bodies, chest binding can be a dynamic and versatile tool. Though you never want to feel in a bind, being in a binder can feel totally validating.
Marli Washington (he/him) founder, CEO, and designer of gc2b, a trans-owned transitional apparel company
Peitzmeier, S., Gardner, I., Weinand, J., Corbet, A., & Acevedo, K. (2016). Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: a community-engaged, cross-sectional study. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(1), 64–75. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2016.1191675