'The Crown' star Emma Corrin posts about buying her first 'binder.' What is chest binding, and who is it for?

Months after The Crown actress Emma Corrin seemingly came out as "queer" in a succinct Instagram post, the star known for her portrayal of Princess Diana has now shared details about wearing a chest binder — a thick compression undershirt containing spandex that's used to flatten breasts.

"Some time before I bought my first binder…we used boxing wrap," she wrote, tagging photographer David-Simon Dayan. "Thanks for capturing this with me, very intimate, very new, very cool. It's all a journey right. Lots of twists and turns and change and that's ok! Embrace it."

Corrin, who in April posted an image of herself in a bridal gown from a Pop mag photo shoot and captioned it "ur fave queer bride," further noted in the new caption that she uses gc2b brand binders, which are, the website notes, "the original chest binders designed by trans people, for trans people."

Although Corrin has not identified as transgender or non-binary, at least publicly — beyond noting that her pronouns are "she/they" on her Instagram profile (viewable in mobile-only) — a question-and-answer on the gc2b website’s FAQ section addresses the issue of who binding is for, with someone posing the question, "Can I wear a binder even if I’m not trans?" To that, the company (which did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment) answers, "Yes you can! Binders are not something that is limited to people who are trans. Binders can be used by anyone who wants their chest flatter, even some cis men use binders who want to have a flatter appearance… Do what makes you feel comfortable!"

Emma Corrin, pictured on the set of My Policeman in May in Brighton, England, has posted about chest binding on Instagram. (Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Emma Corrin, pictured on the set of My Policeman in May in Brighton, England, has posted about chest binding on Instagram. (Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

The answer is affirmed by Dr. Jason Klein, pediatric endocrinologist and assistant director of the Transgender Youth Health Program at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at New York University Langone Health, who tells Yahoo Life, "People who bind are not necessarily trans and people who are trans do not necessarily bind."

Noting the use of "she/they" pronouns by Corrin (whom Klein does not know), he adds, "There is a full spectrum of gender that is out there, and there are people who do not identify on the binary — not completely male or completely female but somewhere in the middle, or on the spectrum — and anybody might have aspects of their physical appearance that are displeasing to them." Binding breasts, therefore, "can help people achieve an appearance that fits with their gender identity or, at very least, allows them to not be misgendered in society."

As an endocrinologist, Klein adds, "I deal with people who are uncomfortable with their height, who might wear shoes to raise their height — and this is very different than gender and a bad metaphor, but in general, I sense there are people who might do uncomfortable things that make them feel better about their appearance. [Binding] is a way for their outward appearance to match how they feel inside."

Health risks of binding — something raised by a 2019 New York Times article exploring chest binding among transgender and gender-nonconforming teens — include skin irritation and, if binding too tightly, trouble breathing or, in extreme situations, rib fractures. It's why Klein and others recommend not binding for more than an eight-hour stretch, not sleeping in the binder, taking breaks every few hours, and using well-made, properly fitted products — and never resorting to duct tape or ACE bandages, which can be particularly damaging.

While comments on Corrin's Instagram post have been overwhelmingly supportive, with fans noting, "Beauty," "Angel," "queer royalty," "PROUDD" and, "You give me gender envy," some on Twitter took the opportunity to focus on the risks of binding, with one such person noting, "Binders cause tissue/muscle damage and breathing problems. We shouldn't pretend this is cool or edgy." That prompted commenters, in a long thread, to compare the practice to that of foot binding or over-dieting.

But Klein says that's not quite fair or accurate. "Foot binding, I believe, had to do with social ideas of what was beautiful, so this was a practice done to allow a person to match societal opinions of beauty," he says. Chest binding, on the other hand, "is allowing a person’s internal self to be reflected in their outward appearance … and it's hopefully being done in a way is safe and not harmful to them."

Though there is limited data on the topic, the results of a cross-sectional survey, "The Binding Health Project," published in 2016 in the journal Culture, Health & Sexuality, offered a glimpse into the issue of breast binding and health risks. The survey, of 1,800 adults "who were assigned a female sex at birth" and who had experience with binding, noted in its abstract that “There are no peer-reviewed studies that directly assess the health impacts of chest binding, yet transgender community resources commonly discuss symptoms such as pain and scarring."

Of the survey participants, 51.5 percent reported daily binding, while over 97 percent reported at least one of 28 negative outcomes attributed to binding, such as back pain, overheating, chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness and lightheadedness. But, notably, participants also reported an improvement in mood after binding — as well as decreased gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression.

"For many people, binding … is a critical support for their mental health," Sarah Peitzmeier, lead author on the study and assistant professor of Health, Behavior, and Biological Sciences at University of Michigan Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, tells Yahoo Life. "Many participants talked about how binding reduced anxiety, depression or even suicidality. Some people also found it was important for them to bind in order to go out safely in the world without being subject to transphobic discrimination or even violence. People who do experience negative symptoms or physical discomfort can experiment with changing how, how often, or when they bind to try to reduce physical discomfort while maximizing benefits for mental health, gender affirmation and safety."

Someone who can attest to such benefits is Jeff Main, board secretary for Point of Pride, a nonprofit transgender support organization that provides chest binders (in partnership with gc2b) to trans-masculine individuals who cannot otherwise afford or safely obtain them. He says such a service can be life-saving.

"Trans folks who request a binder with us frequently describe how they are simply unable to participate in daily life without a chest binder," he tells Yahoo Life. "One of the most heartbreaking and common experiences we hear is that folks cannot bear to hug their loved ones because they are so overwhelmed by dysphoria about their chest. Youth will hide, shrink away or choose to give up hobbies or activities they once loved."

Main says more than 53 percent of recipients of the Point of Pride program, when surveyed, shared that they "almost always" avoid leaving their home or being in public. But once they receive a binder, he says, this number drops to just 2 percent. "The gift of a binder allows trans folks to show up in the classroom, the workplace – wherever! – to be their authentic selves more comfortably and safely," he says. Without access to binders, he adds, "trans masculine people are far more likely to bind their chests with Ace bandages, tape" and other aforementioned harmful materials.

While binding, for some, may be a first step towards having "top surgery" — a double mastectomy, something Elliot Page spoke about recently as being "life-changing" and "life-saving" — some people, such as many of Klein's patients, may start medical care including puberty blockers before adolescence, and therefore "don't need to worry about binding or even top surgery" because they prevent the development of breasts in the first place. (Which, he notes, is an important point during what has been a nationwide barrage of anti-trans legislation targeting transgender youth.)

For others who may not fit into either category, Peitzmeier notes that binding can have beneficial, non-permanent benefits. "For teens and young adults especially," she says, "binding is a more accessible and reversible way to 'try on' a more masculine or androgynous appearance and learn more about their gender."

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