As with every season, hit Netflix show Sex Education attempts to spark important conversations around sexuality. But in Season 3, the series also seeks to highlight issues around gender identity and the challenges non-binary people face.
Although new school principal Headmistress Hope (played by Jemima Kirke) is at first perceived as “cool” and promises to change Moordale High for the better, it soon becomes clear that she has a slightly different agenda.
Part of the school’s reformation to distance it from the label of “Sex School” is to introduce a new school uniform. Hope feels that the move will create a clear definition between the pupils’ studies and personal lives, but is also strict about how students adhere to the new policy.
This in turn becomes problematic for the school’s non-binary students, who are not only forced to conform to the gendered dress code, but are also made to choose between the line for “boys” and the one for “girls,” and are taught about reproductive health in a very gendered way, that discounts their identity.
One of the more vocal students standing up for non-binary rights is Cal (played by Dua Saleh), who not only battles with Hope on a regular basis about the school’s antiquated policies, but also becomes a figurehead for the student movement against the new rules.
Despite agreeing with Cal, Layla (Robyn Holdaway), a fellow non-binary student, struggles to stand up against Hope publicly. It’s only in the final episode of Season 3 that we get more of an insight into their character, with the episode opening with them applying a chest binder with safety pins. As they are applying the garment, there are visible marks under their arms and cuts from the pins and bandages.
Later on in the same episode, Layla follows Cal int the bathrooms, where they apologise for “not speaking up.” They then enlist Cal’s help to find a better, more comfortable solution to the bandages. Cal explains they used to use the method, but they “almost broke a rib.” After trying a fitted binder “designed for safer breast compression,” Layla exclaims “it feels so much better!”
Newsweek spoke to Dr. Paul Banwell, a leading cosmetic surgeon and visiting professor of plastic surgery to Harvard Medical School, to find out more about binders – including the different types, how they are used and the potential health implications they can have.
What Are Chest Binders?
Sometimes known as breast binders, they are used to diminish the appearance of breasts.
Dr. Paul Banwell told Newsweek: “It’s essentially a compression undergarment that binds the breasts to the body creating a flatter chest.
“The binder pushes down on the skin and tissue that creates bumps on the chest in order for them to look and feel flatter.”
Binders come in varying lengths depending on the wearer’s personal preference.
Who Might Use a Chest Binder?
“Someone navigating their gender identity may opt to use a chest binder to make their presenting gender and their gender identity more compatible,” Banwell said.
They are most typically used by trans and non-binary people who do not want their chest to look feminine and can reduce feelings of dysphoria around gender, without pursuing invasive surgery.
What Should I Consider Before Purchasing a Binder?
Trying to find the right size binder can be tricky.
Check customer reviews to get an idea of which products are true to size.
Banwell explained that the most important thing is to make sure it doesn’t restrict your breathing. If it causes pain, cuts or difficulty breathing, then you may need to go up a size or two.
A binder that fits correctly should allow for normal breathing.
How Long Can I Wear a Binder For?
They should not be worn for longer than 8-12 hours in a day and you should take it off to sleep.
They are also not recommended for wear during exercise, instead you should look for a sports bra that has a similar flattening effect.
What Can I Use Instead of a Binder?
Binders are not for everyone and there are other methods of flattening the chest area which may suit you better.
As explained above, sometimes sports bras can be used in place of a dedicated binder.
“It won’t provide as much compression as a specially designed binder but it can be a first step,” Banwell said.
You could also try kinetic tape as Banwell explained: “This is a type of medical tape that can be used for chest binding.
“You should never use other tapes as binders – for example plastic or duct tape – as these could restrict breathing as well as irritate the skin.”
He added: “Trial and error may help to decide which binder is right for you… It’s largely down to personal preference.”
If using a binder to help navigate your gender identity isn’t helping, Banwell suggested seeking medical advice to decipher whether counselling, hormone medication or surgery may be more appropriate for you.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Chest Binding?
Banwell explained: “There are a number of risks associated with using a chest binder which include restricted breathing if they are too tight, skin irritation and chafed broken skin, overheating, and in severe cases bruised or damaged ribs.
“People with existing underlying conditions such as asthma, Scoliosis and Lupus should seek medical advice before using one.”
Sex Education seasons 1-3 are available to stream on Netflix now.