Chest binding is arguably one of the easiest, cheapest, and least permanently-body-affecting ways for assigned female at birth (AFAB), transgender, or gender nonconforming people to express their identities. The internet is awash with advice for purchasing, wearing, and maintaining binders. But for plus size people who want to bind their chests, helpful information can be hard to come by. Much like properly-fitting binders themselves.
I’m AFAB and transmasculine, and last week, I got my first binder. Considering my bra size is 48DD, however, finding a binder that would fit me wasn’t easy. Going into my first purchase, I expected some difficulty with sizing. But as I began shopping around for binders, I realized that I am at the absolute top of nearly every company’s size chart. I came across a 5XL here, a 3X there, with a couple of companies not making binders in my size at all.
I'd been looking forward to trying binding for years, and while wearing my newly-acquired one felt just as good in some ways as I’d imagined it would, my overall experience of binding as a plus size person for the first time wasn’t without its rough patches. So I’m here to share my advice with fellow fat humans regarding what to do, what not to do, and what to expect when you set out to bind your chest. Here are nine tips for surviving the process.
1. Find Companies That Offer Custom Sizing
Mer-scale Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
One-size-fits-all might work for many binder-wearing individuals. But for us plus size people, it’s not likely to. Many companies will ask you to give them your bust measurement, but in my experience, this is not enough to deduce whether a binder will fit you correctly.
Ideally, you should look for brands that offer custom sizing. Their binders will be a little more expensive, but if you want to bind on a regular basis, the extra cost should be worth it.
Some companies I recommend checking out for sizing are Gc2b, which offers personalized sizing through its support email. Shapeshifters also sells completely customized, made-to-order binders with measurements to fit the length of your back, your bust, your underbust, and your waist (if you want a longer product).
2. Take Time To Adjust To Your New Shape
Fantastical Beasts Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
If you bind correctly, you shouldn't do any lasting damage to your body. But you will need to be prepared to see some changes in your body's shape. I’m someone who has never liked having large breasts, but when I put on a binder for the first time, looked down, and saw them disappear, it was disconcerting, to say the least.
Like many transgender people, I experience body dysphoria. But it was a shock to experience this dysphoria brought on by a flat chest. I wore the binder despite those feelings, however. After a couple of days, they actually faded and I settled into the new routine.
The relationship many plus size people have to their bodies is complex, given how ingrained social fat shaming is in many Western cultures and the world at large. It's only natural to take some time to adjust to yet another practice or shape that might be subject to stigma and taboo of its own.
I certainly don’t advise pushing yourself to do something that causes dysphoria over and over again. But I do suggest you give yourself a little time to adjust if you don’t like what you see at first.
3. Remember That Putting Your Binder On (And Taking It Off) Might Feel Impossible
Mesh Binder, $45, Shapeshifters
I had to ask my wife to help me take my binder off the first five times I wore it. Binders are usually made of thick, unyielding layers of material, after all.
I tried putting my binder on over my shoulders, but my shoulders are wider than, well, every other part of my body. I also attempted stepping into the binder and using the straps to pull it up, as per the company's instructions. That didn’t work, either.
If you have big shoulders, back fat, side fat, or a plus size stomach, you’re likely going to have similar difficulties. It’s a good idea to have someone you trust there with you the first time you try a new binder on — and the first time you take it off. Eventually, the material will soften a little and mold to your body, giving you an easier time.
4. Know That Length Matters
Galaxy Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
Some brands recommend sucking in your stomach if you want added tummy compression while wearing their longer binders. Longer binders can often act as shapewear, which can be both good and bad.
For me, the shapewear vibe helps smooth out my chest and stomach so that I feel more flat-bodied and masculine in the front. Longer binders also offer more space within to shove stuff in. To put it bluntly, you’re basically going to be shoving your boobs into your armpits. The added length means more material to help disguise any lumpiness that might occur if you have a big chest like I do.
However, longer binders are also known to slip very easily. On a trip to the grocery store, I found I couldn’t even reach for mid-shelf jars without my binder riding up and dislodging my careful arrangement of the boobs.
There’s an easy fix to the slippage issue: Wear a tank top under your binder. That should hold everything in place and keep the material from moving around. However, I do not recommend doing this during the summer, especially if you have a thick binder. This is because....
5. You Should Be Prepared For Heat
Floral Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
Binding can mean wearing at least two layers of clothing, one of which is meant to be a compression garment. From my experiences, plus size binders are almost always thicker than smaller ones. So you’re probably going to sweat — and you’re also probably going to sweat through your binder.
My advice is to always pay attention to how long you’ve had your binder on and how much water you’ve been drinking, and be sure that you’re drinking enough H2O for someone of your height and weight.
If you do sweat through your binder, be sure to clean it regularly while paying careful attention to the care instructions given by the company. Despite how tough they might feel, binders can be delicate garments, and mishandling them might ruin their structure.
6. Know That Binding Can Change Your Fashion Choices
Diagonal Rainbow Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
I have a weakness for flannel shirts, and I almost always have to buy them from the men’s department because women’s versions don’t fit my shoulders. Of course, men’s shirts aren’t usually cut to contain 48DD of breasts inside them. But now that I have a relatively flat chest in a binder, I can wear men’s shirts without popping buttons.
Binding regularly might also mean that you have to cut some shirts from your closet. Binders almost always have thick shoulder straps, so unless you’re completely comfortable showing them off — I’m personally not — it’s bye-bye tank tops and strappy shirts.
You may also become a total pro at layering: My binder has a high front that pretty much rests on my collar bone, so I started pairing T-shirts with my flannel over-shirts to conceal the binder’s shiny nylon.
Of course, if you’re A-OK with (or even excited about) showing off your binder, you should definitely go for it.
7. Get Ready For Body Parts To Get Trapped
Feathered Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
Until you figure out precisely how to fit everything within a binder, you’re likely going to end up with some pinches and sore spots. The proper way to align your breasts is to push them out and away from your sternum, towards your sides. But if you have fat on your sides, like I do, your breasts might run out of places to go.
Figuring out positioning may take a couple of wears, or it may take weeks. If you’re uncomfortable, try putting your binder on differently, or adjusting your breasts to a more downward position. Don’t push yourself if you’re in pain, though.
The lack of room for plus size folks with big breasts in binders is something that simply isn’t addressed by most binder companies. It’s an unfortunate fact that, for some of us, binding may never be physically comfortable enough to let us establish a regular routine. If you try a ready-made product and just can’t seem to get it to fit correctly, I suggest turning to a company that does custom sizing.
8. Consider The Prospect Of Never Being Completely Flat
Lace Binder, $50, Shapeshifters
My goal for binding was to appear completely flat, but after trying two different products, I now know it’s not going to happen. My breasts are just too big, and I weigh too much for binders that simply aren’t built to accommodate humans who aren’t thin. I can’t deny that I’m disappointed. I hoped that some miracle would allow me to get the cisgender-dude-flat-chest I wanted. But evidently, this is not to be.
If binding doesn’t give you the result you’re looking for, my main piece of advice is not to improvise. Do not try to improve your binder or add an extra layer to it by using a second binder or, heaven help me, a drugstore bandage. Not achieving the aesthetic you’re going for can be crushing, for sure, especially when binding is presented as a gender panacea accessible to all. But it’s not your fault.
If you love binding but would still like to look flatter, I recommend a company that does custom sizing once again. I also suggest altering your wardrobe a little if you want to mask your chest more. Layering your shirts and wearing blazers can be effective ways of toning down what your binder can’t compress.
9. Listen To Your Body
Mesh Binder, $45, Shapeshifters
Above all, make sure that you’re paying attention to what your body is telling you. Be on the lookout in case sort-of-sore turns into bad-sore. As someone who has gone through horrific bouts of gender dysphoria, I can say with absolute empathy that I know how it feels to be desperate to change your body. But needlessly hurting yourself isn’t going to make dysphoria better.
Some things to watch out for: Any kind of bruising, redness, or swelling, especially under your arms; trouble breathing or chest tightness; soreness that last more than a couple of binder-free days; and dehydration if your binder makes you sweat.
The most important thing throughout the process is to take care of yourself, especially when others aren’t looking out for you. As plus size fashion continues to flourish, we can only hope that it will inspire more binder companies to take people of size into account when it comes to the limits of their sizing charts and the design of their products.
Images: Courtesy Brands