Bound to Succeed

As a genderfluid person, there are times I want to look like I don’t have boobs. This can be done through a process called binding. There are many ways to do this, but it needs to be done carefully to avoid injury. We’ll go over several safe methods to make someone feel a little more comfortable with their chest.

Safety

Over the years people improvised with lots of binding materials, not all of them healthy. Avoid duct tape, ace bandages, and plastic wrap. These can lead to bruised and broken ribs, restrain breathing, and cause infection. We’ll cover better methods here. As a rule of thumb, always use breathable, flexible material.

Another note: binding may be uncomfortable at times, but it shouldn’t hurt. Stop right away if it does. If it’s hard to breathe or it hurts your spine or chest, something’s wrong. Also make sure it doesn’t cut into your shoulder. Consider using bra strap pads for cushioning if necessary.

The outline of a person and a shadow behind it with a quote beside it saying 'Listen to your body. When you need a break, take one.'

Jenny Chang from Buzzfeed

Should you ever experience back pain, take a day off from binding. Stretch your back, lie down, and use a heating or cold pack on your back. Use heat for aches and cold for any swelling. Sleep on your back and keep the area warm.

Stay hydrated, take breaks whenever you can, and avoid binding for longer than 8 hours at a time. Make sure your posture is straight and  that you breathe deeply. Don’t sleep, exercise, or ride in a plane while binding. Same goes for if you get sick. If you can’t avoid binding during one of those times, use an older binder or a looser option.

Before we start

One last thing. Over time, binding will break down breast tissue. This will change the shape of the breast into a flatter, floppier form. That’s not necessary a bad thing (it may even be helpful for presenting with a flat chest), but just something to keep in mind.

I lied; I’ve got one more note for folks that want to be read as male. Some cis guys don’t have flat chests either. Whether it’s from pecs or man boobs, people don’t usually pay much attention to a little roundness on a man’s chest. So don’t freak out if you have some of your own still showing. It’s probably less noticeable than you think. Plus, we’ll talk clothes later, which will help even more.

Compression clothing

Whenever I need to bind, a simple compression sports bra (without any padding or lifting structures) will flatten my chest. This may be enough for folks with small to medium breasts. They come in many colors and start out around $15.

Compression exercise shirts can also fulfill the same task. They also often come in even tighter options and can have a slimming effect on the rest of your torso.

Binders

Binders, as the name suggests, are tops specifically designed for binding. They’re even tighter than most compression tops, and they often work better for folks with larger busts.

Buy a Binder

Binders are available online starting at around $30. If you don’t have a credit card (or don’t want anyone to see the purchase on your statement), buy a prepaid debit card at a store. You can also have it shipped to a trusted friend’s address (with their permission) if you don’t want anyone at your place to find out about it.

Just like any online shopping, quality and sizing can be difficult to judge. Since I’ve never personally bought a binder, I’ll leave measurement instructions and reviews with price comparisions to the experts.

Request/exchange a binder

If you can’t afford to buy a binder, there are organizations that offer them for free. Sometimes they are giveaways of brand new ones, and other times they’re donation networks. Searching  for”binder giveaway” on YouTube, Tumblr, and Reddit will go a long way. Just to be safe, here’s an index of ongoing binder exchange programs.

Putting on and taking off a binder

Getting a binder on and off the first time can be…daunting. It takes practice, and it’s best to laugh through the first few times.

Show time. There are generally two methods. You can try putting it on like a regular sports bra, but many people get frustrated and stuck that way. You might try folding the bottom up to the straps, putting it on over your head, and pulling the bottom down. The other way is demonstrated by nathansaysnothing below.

That is, turn the binder inside-out and upside down and step into it. Pull the straps up, move each breast to squished straight back towards you (since pulling the breast and nipple downward while binding can harm the skin), and adjust for comfort.

To get out, pull the front half up as high as you can, grip the back from the bottom, and pull over your head, keeping your arms high. If that doesn’t work, do the nathansaysnothing method in reverse: pull your arms through the head hole and pull down.

If you experience any chafing, you may consider applying a layer of baby powder or wearing a thin shirt underneath.

Taking care of it

Make sure you hand wash your binder with detergent in the sink regularly (once a week recommended). Or wash on gentle, cold cycle in washing machine, no bleach allowed. Regular washing will prevent infection and keep it from smelling.

Do not machine dry. Heat will make it shrink up and break down the elastic. Then hang up whenever you’re not wearing it to extend its lifespan.

DIY

If you’re strapped for cash and have some crafting skills, you can make your own binding supplies. This also lets you customize the binder specifically to you.

High-waisted shapewear

Begin with a pair of tight, high-waisted compression underwear. You may want to choose a smaller size to increase the compression.

A pair of regular underwear to begin with.

Cut a slit a few inches long and perpendicular to the crotch of the underwear. This will form a head hole.

Now put it on like a crop top. If necessary, roll up the “arm bands” until the elastic covers the breasts and safety pin it together.

Camisole binding

Camis, preferably if they are lined, can provide enough squeeze to smooth out some chests. It can also be a fairly cheap method. Start by putting it on backwards (sliders forward to make them less visible).

Next shorten the shoulder straps to as small as possible.

Now fold the cami up on itself a couple times until it covers the breasts.

Sew from scratch

If you’re one of those talented folks that can sew, you might consider making your own binder from fabric, elastic, and a zipper. Check out this tutorial from MissLia500 for one example.

Dress for success

Binding is a good first step towards presenting with a smaller chest, but clothing choice will help even more. Layering is your friend. Both for the sake of appearance and to keep from boiling alive. With each layer, get progressively baggier.

T-shirts with graphic designs are often a great base layer. The extra stiffness of the graphic can hide curves and distract attention away from what’s underneath. For further layers, button-down shirts with plaid or horizontal stripes work great (vertical stripes can end up drawing attention to any curves). Hoodies are another excellent choice. Plus, they’re basically cozy blankets with sleeves, so why would you ever not wear one?

Always try things on at stores before buying them. It’s tempting not to, but testing them out will save a lot of time, money, and heartache. Other than that, I’ll leave it to someone who actually knows fashion to give advice on “mens” clothing that fits folks assigned female at birth (AFAB).

You do you

People bind for lots of different reasons. Your strategy will depend on what you want to accomplish and what you have access to. Hopefully, your goal is about feeling more comfortable in how you look (something you can control) rather than how others see you (which you can’t control). Do whatever makes you happiest and forget the rest.

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