Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Real World, ‘Xena’ and Army Body Armor Edition

It says a lot about the military that it apparently didn’t occur to anyone that men’s body armor, which female soldiers wear too (they can choose from a range of sizes), might not actually be optimized for women’s bodies or the way women move in combat. The Christian Science Monitor reports that military chemists are trying to solve a basic problem of armor design—that apparently adding curves makes armor heavier—and using Lucy Lawless’s Xena: Warrior Princess costumes as inspiration:

“It rubbed on the hips, and the vests were too long in the front, so that when you had female soldiers climbing stairs or climbing up a hill or a tree, or sitting for a long time in a vehicle, that would create pressure points that in some instances could impact blood flow and cause some discomfort,” Lt. Col. Frank Lozan, who is helping design the body armor, told the Monitor. A subsequent study by the U.S. Army found that the ill-fitting gear actually interfered with how the women were able to perform during combat, making “it difficult for them to properly aim their weapons and enter or exit vehicles.”

Now obviously, that’s an inspiration that should only be taken so literally. The ladies of the U.S. military can probably skip the leather skirts. But the point is that when you start thinking about people in roles or situations that haven’t been open to them previously, you start thinking creatively about what they’d need to succeed in those circumstances. And there’s nothing wrong with scientists looking for inspiration even in unexpected places, when linear thinking hasn’t met the needs of people they’re trying to serve.