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Female amputees grapple with prosthetics for men

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 18, 2015

woman-amputee.jpg

Motherboard has an interesting story about how women who lose limbs are finding prosthetic devices are made for men: “Man Hands.”

When Jen Lacey gets her toes done, she does both feet, even though one of them is made of rubber. “I always paint my toenails,” she says, “because it’s cute, and I want to be as regular as possible.” But for a long time, even with the painted toes, her prosthetic foot looked ridiculous. The rubber foot shell she had was wide, big and ugly. “I called it a sasquatch foot,” she jokes. “It’s an ugly man foot.”

Part of the problem is that most prosthetic devices are designed by men and most prosthetists are men.

There are a few reasons for all this male-centric design. The history of prosthetics is, in large part, a history of war. One of the earliest written records of a prosthetic device comes from the Rigveda, an ancient sacred text from India. Ironically, that amputee is a woman—the warrior queen Vishpala loses her leg in battle and is fitted with a replacement so she can return and fight again. But after that, the history of prosthetics is nearly entirely a history of men—Roman generals, knights, soldiers, dukes.

Every year, 30 percent of those undergoing an amputation are women. In other words, it’s the 70 percent that’s male that drives the market.