The 21st century is full of opportunities for women that their mothers and grandmothers never had, but in many ways it is still a man’s world and to the thousands of young women serving in the United States military one of the first steps to changing that is combat gear designed with the female body in mind. An article published at the beginning of this week by The Christian Science Monitor highlighted an issue with protective body armor that many female military personal feel needs to be resolved immediately, as well as one rather unexpected sources of inspiration for a solution.
Of course it goes without saying that fashion doesn’t merit a lot of concern in a war zone, and when it comes to rocking the “purely utilitarian” look your average soldier’s uniform is about as utility oriented as it gets, but the problem facing many female service members is that their armor does not properly fulfill its role simply because it was never designed for them. The issue really came to the foreground for the US military back in 2009 when a number of women serving with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a highly decorated unit with a history of being in the thick of the fighting since World War II, began to complain about their ill-fitting body armor. The protective armor that is issued to soldiers in combat zones can be custom selected based on one of eleven sizes, however all the sizes were originally designed for men.
“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,” says Lt. Col. Frank Lozano, part of the Army team currently working to develop better female body armor. Col. Lozano’s comments echo the concerns of a recently released report by the Army that notes the ill-fitting body armor is more than just a matter of discomfort because it can affect a female soldier’s ability to aim her weapon or enter and exit a vehicle rapidly, both of which would diminish combat effectiveness and put her in further danger.
Some proposed solutions for the new body armor include bra-shaped darting built into the chest plate and narrower shoulders. The problem is that unlike haute couture body armor’s design is heavily influenced by its purpose: stopping a bullet! And Army designers point out that the more curves you put into the design the more weak points you create. But perhaps most fascinating part of this whole story is the inspiration of one of their proposed solutions, using armor plates shaped in such a way that they would spread out the impact of a bullet. Their inspirational model? The armor worn by Lucy Lawless’s 90’s TV persona “Xena: Warrior Princess”.