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If you’ve been in the LGBT community, you’ve heard of binding.

Binding is the act of flattening your chest, usually by means of ACE bandages or a chest binder. Some people have even used duct tape in a desperate attempt to bind. Although cosplayers often bind their chest for a costume, it’s usually done by transgender or nonbinary people in order to appear more masculine. Binding is a great tool to help people in their dysphoria, but if done wrong, it can lead to serious medical issues.

One popular method of binding is by using ACE bandages. This is often done by people who can’t afford a medical chest-binder, so they resort to whatever they have on hand. ACE bandages are compression wraps and are designed to get tighter with movement. When used to bind, they can get too tight, and cause serious issues for your chest, rib cage and lungs. So how do you bind safely with ACE bandages? The short answer: don’t. The long answer: seriously, don’t.

Since binding with ACE bandages isn’t an option, how are you supposed to bind? There’s a few different answers to this, and they’re based on a range of variables, such as your budget and whether or not you’re out.

The best way to bind is with a chest binder. They can be ordered online and usually range around the $ 30-40 price range, depending on where you choose to buy one from. The most popular brand is gc2b, who make them in various skin tones, as well as black, white, gray and other colors. When buying a binder, you choose one based on your chest measurements, and this prevents you from buying one that’s too small and injuring your chest.

Another popular way of binding is by layering shirts or sports bras. This is often done by those who aren’t out and don’t want to risk their binder being found. Baggy shirts don’t actually bind the chest, but they do make it difficult to see the chest. It’s not as effective as a chest-binder, but it’s much safer than ACE bandages. Sports bras allow for movement, unlike the compression bandages, and are actually made to be worn around the chest.

Now that you’re armed with a binder or sports bras, how do you continue to be safe?

The biggest factor is how long you’re binding for. It’s recommended that you bind for less than eight hours at a time. After that, your body needs a breather from the binder. It’s important to remember that while binding your chest is great for dysphoria, it’s not the best for your physical health. Making sure to take breaks will prevent restricted breathing. These breaks can be used to wash your binders and they do still need to be washed occasionally, just like regular clothes.

It’s also recommended that you don’t bind during physical activity. Never exercise in your binder. Restricted breathing could cause you to pass out. Some people say that swimming in a binder is acceptable, but others say you shouldn’t. Ultimately, it depends on the brand of the binder. Some companies make binders specifically made for swimming that are skin-toned. Many people just resort to wearing a sports bra and a T-shirt while swimming.

If you ever feel like you can’t breathe, or that breathing is particularly difficult, take off the binder. If this feeling occurs every time you wear the binder, it’s possible you got one that’s too small. Depending on how you got the binder, it’s possible to swap it for a larger one. If not, abandon that binder completely (or donate it to an LGBT person in need) and either buy a larger one or try a different method of binding described above.

When buying binders, make sure you’re getting yours from a reputable source. If the price is extremely low compared to other companies, it might not be a very good website. Check reviews on multiple websites before making your decision. The Center for Young Women’s Health has an article about how to take your own measurements in order to buy a bra. Even though that isn’t what you’re looking for, the bra measurements are what’s used to fit you for a binder, so give it a look if you’re unsure about which size binder to get.

The need to bind may be strong, but the need to stay healthy is even stronger. Make sure to find the binding method that works best for you and your situation, and make sure you follow the guidelines provided by the binder company.

And seriously, don’t bind with ACE bandages.

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