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The Alternative Limb Project: The Importance Of Agency In Aesthetic Designs For Amputees

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Sophie Oliveira Barata wearing a black jacket and a white skirt and she has an alternative limb on one of her arms with lots of black tape around it and a white cast.
Source: The Alternative Limb Project

Often, when one mentions the word “prosthetics” in reference to mainstream media, what might come to mind are crude, antiquated designs, akin to Captain Hook’s hook or the pirate “peg-leg.”

However, Sophie Oliveira Barata is a specialist consultant and founder of the Alternative Limb Project, which is an enterprise focused on designing and producing artificial limbs for amputees by utilizing cutting-edge technology such as 3-D printing/modeling and electronics. The Alternative Limb Project creates prosthetics ranging from a variety of styles, from humanoid to sci-fi.

Within mainstream media, there are often limited and inauthentic portrayals of the disabled community. Those with disabilities are portrayed as the substance of tragedy.

Oftentimes, media tends to showcase disabled individuals as the subject of pity and suffering, such as the film “Me Before You.”

Regarding this film, many disabled critics pointed out the damaging tropes and messages in the film that suggest life as a disabled person is not worth living. This equates a disabled person’s life as less valuable, less vibrant than a non-disabled person’s life. However, nowadays, more disabled celebrities are challenging these stereotypes, defining their own image within the public realm.

For instance, Viktoria Modesta, singer, song-writer, alternative beauty model, and one of the Alternative Limb Project’s most famous clients, in her famous music video, “Prototype”, opens with the line, “Forget what you knew about disability,” finishing with her iconic black spike leg in a dark aerial-like ballet.

Originally, Modesta’s life had been defined by a lack of choice, undergoing at least fifteen surgeries for her leg, which had been affected by an accident caused by a doctor’s negligence at birth, before having to fight physicians for five years to agree to her decision for a voluntary below-the-knee amputation.

For Modesta, the limbs she uses, designed in collaboration with Barata, serve as extensions of her unique artistic image. This includes a prosthetic leg, made with Swarovski crystals, she performed with at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In regards to her unusual aesthetic, Modesta saw her prosthetics as an artistic opportunity, quoting on the Alternative Limb Project site,

“My natural curiosity and strong belief is that it’s important to take control of your own body and most importantly improve it or reflect your personality through altered body image.”

For the innovative designer herself, Barata saw the importance of allowing her clients to choose their aesthetics in order to provide them with a sense of self-determination and agency. In a 2015 TEDMED talk, Barata discussed how patients for whom she created realistic-looking limbs were given a sense of “self-confidence, body balance, and most importantly, control.”

Barata also mentioned how not every patient desired that same realistic design. Some preferred designs that were more personalized to their specific tastes and interests.

As quoted on her website,

“Working with amputees, I realized how important it was to produce a bespoke limb; creating a hyper-realistic limb wasn’t just about looking real but also being unique, just as bodies are unique.

With the Alternative Limb Project, I wanted to take this idea to the next level and look at how we could design limbs as an expression and as an exploration into the re-imagining of the body.”

For each client, Barata’s process involves individual consultations, including colors and style, measuring, check-fitting, and sculpting desired ideas into reality.

Within our society, there are often stigmatized notions surrounding disability. There are limited perceptions of what members of the disabled community can and cannot do, how they should act, and what they look like.

For individuals like Viktoria Modesta, a powerful performer who has refused to cater to society’s expectations for people with disabilities, her incredibly designed prosthetic only serves to create part of her unique artistic image.

Platforms like the Alternative Limb Project help provide freedom of self-determination to amputees. This helps to affirm the autonomy and agency of those whom society often fails to recognize or respect. It also acts as a brilliant fusion between art and scientific innovation, as well as part of an empowering movement for body diversity and expression.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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Why wearing a mask is everyone’s business

Carolyn Martinez

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A dark-haired woman wearing a white medical mask.
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Almost 20 million people have contracted COVID-19 and there have been over half a million deaths as well. Public health experts have emphasized the use of face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In response, extremist groups have taken to rallying against the use of masks, claiming the required use of masks is an infringement on their rights.

“Masks make us slaves,” mentioned a lady from Berlin. 

“Let kids be kids. No masks,” mentioned another from a Salt Lake City protest. 

The use of masks has been encouraged extensively for its effectiveness in retaining bodily fluid that spreads germs and, if contracted, COVID-19. There are countless graphics and scientific studies that prove the benefits of using masks in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Even so, a Florida restaurant owner, against mandated mask use, offered an anti-mask extremist group free meals at his restaurant, which violated Orange County’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Now, Florida is the world’s new epicenter for the virus.

Many people protest outside of a building, people carry the US Flag and other flags, many people carry signs with black and red text.
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The use of masks, as well as the handle of the virus, has become a political topic to be debated rather than a humanitarian emergency.

When public officials require the use of masks, there is a perception that constitutional rights are being infringed. However, in that thought, there’s a selfish disregard for those that don’t have basic human needs met, such as access to proper healthcare. 

This pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted systemic disparities that exist in low-income families’ lack of access to healthcare.

Those that feel so inclined to attend rallies and protest the use of masks feel secure in their access to healthcare, the quality of treatment they may be receiving, and the fact that they can financially afford to be incapacitated by the virus. That is not a luxury that everyone has. 

A man with a beard and a black shirt shouts at a police officer with a mask on and a police uniform.
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Nevertheless, those against the use of masks are constantly in contention with the public officials that require them.

Treating masks as something worth debating invalidates the lives of those who don’t have any of the aforementioned luxuries.

Additionally, it creates an excess of conversation around something timely that can cost people’s lives. 

Some people have taken to social media to voice these protests.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but with the Black Lives Matter movement necessitating protest and attention, communities of color have had to endure two intense traumas.

Politicians have taken the opportunity to politicize the pandemic at the expense of communities of color. And as the aforementioned tweet pointed out, some people just don’t recognize oppression and thus minimize others’ experiences for their benefit. 

People have forgotten to listen to the real experts, those that are informed on the risks of the virus, and are knowledgeable about how it spreads and how to contain it. Instead, they focus on those wanting to start speculative arguments, while millions continue to die.

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4 Psychedelic Drugs That Are Shockingly Beneficial in Treating Mental Health Issues

Anna Leikvold

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Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.

The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”

Unfortunately, for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.

 Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.

A red mushroom with white dots growing in dirt, referred to as a magic mushroom.
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Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)

Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer. 

In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.

Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.

 Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship. 

Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma. 

“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.

Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.

Swirling colorful patterns depicting the affects of LSD.
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LSD

A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.

 LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing. 

In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.

“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.” 

They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.”  While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone. 

MDMA

MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research. 

“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.

These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.

If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.

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How I Began to Live More Meaningfully and How You Can Too

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A young brunette lady wearing a grey sweater and a blue backpack with a logo on it and jeans walks to her university.
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It took me a while to get to this point. I first realized—and I mean really realized— I had a problem during my freshman year of college. But my issues went back years and years. 

I think we’d all like to believe that our problem can be summed up in one little diagnosis or one word, but that’s not how it works at all.

For me, my anxiety feeds into my body image issues, which feed into a lack of self-esteem, which then circles back to my anxiety. 

When I did realize that I wasn’t okay and that the way I was feeling wasn’t sustainable, I decided to do nothing. I actively decided that there was no possible way to change how I felt and that I would always feel this way.

I would never be able to look in the mirror and not ache. I would never be able to break free of the self-pitying, cynical voice in my head. I wouldn’t be able to break away from my social anxiety and the constant fear that I wasn’t good enough and never would be. 

A black and white picture of a young woman wearing a sweater with small beaded designs on it, while covering one hand with another hand.
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I continued to believe this and live this way for a year. I smiled, laughed, and got good grades, but I actually wished I was someone completely different; someone, better. Not everyone wears their anxiety publicly; like covering myself up with a coat, mine was kept hidden until no one was looking. 

It wasn’t until the fall of my sophomore year that I finally told a friend that I was struggling. I spent that entire quarter in a fog—I cried walking to and from class, sometimes leaving in the middle of lectures to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I had a single dorm room at the time, and I spent most of my time there, crying alone instead of in my usual haunts with friends. 

It was there, in my room, that I finally told my friend everything. It was pure coincidence; she would often come bang on my door to scare me and then I’d invite her in and we’d chat and watch TV together. But this time, she caught me crying. Of course, I told her to go away; I convinced myself that I could handle everything alone like I always had. 

But she didn’t leave. She waited outside the door listening, I guess. She waited a few more minutes, and knocked more softly and asked again if she could come in. I wiped off my face, put on my goofy, self-deprecating grin, and opened the door.

I probably lied, said something about what an idiot I was, pretended I was crying over a TV show or commercial. 

A young buzzed man wearing a dark jacket with multicolored stripes and a young dark haired woman wearing a dark red sweater talk with each other at the Counseling and Psychological Services.
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What my friend did next saved me. She just sat cross-legged on my bed and waited for me to tell her everything, so I did. I told her the full truth that I had never told anyone before (and have told only one other person since). She listened and broke in rarely. And when I was all done, she told me I should go to the Counseling and Psychological Services at our university

When I resolutely told her that I could still deal with it alone, she didn’t push me any farther. She just said that she valued me, even when I didn’t value myself. That she would always listen, though she couldn’t promise that she wouldn’t offer advice afterward.

She said that she loved me and that when I look in the mirror, I should tell myself I am beautiful, even if I didn’t believe it at first.

She saw the signs that my own mother didn’t. She noticed the way my smile would drop when no one was looking. She noticed when I would leave our circle of friends to be alone, only to come back with another fake grin.

She noticed how I avoided my own reflection like the plague. She had noticed that her friend could still smile and carry on while being in pain on the inside. 

At the time, it felt inconsequential. I would go on to talk to her many times, and it was only because of her that I finally did seek help by calling a therapist.

I came to the realization that it simply wasn’t fair to treat her and her acts of friendship as therapy.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend who will take on that role while they are also trying to take care of themselves. She not only listened, but she pushed me to seek help and understood my emotions and pain though they were illogical and nonsensical at times. 

I definitely should have sought help sooner. I assumed the painful conversations I had with my friend were not helping me, but I was wrong. I began to accept myself for who I was instead of hating myself for the person I thought I saw in the mirror.

No one deserves to hate themselves, though I spent a lot of time convincing myself otherwise. I hated myself for being so pitiful and for crying so much. I hated myself for not being able to control my eating better and for not looking like an Insta-model. 

Frankly, it wasn’t fair of me to lean so heavily on a friend for so long, but I can’t express how grateful I am to her for letting me do so. During that period, I wasn’t giving back to that relationship nearly as much as I received. She did not deserve to bear the full brunt of my problems on her shoulders the way she did.

I’ve only just started therapy over quarantine, but it has not yet cured all my problems. Just a few months of counseling have not “fixed” me, nor have my anxieties and pain melted away.

But, I do know that I am getting there instead of just wallowing in my own feelings and self-directed anger. It honestly feels really good to take action against this negative attitude that has weighed me down for years. Some days, I even feel good when looking at myself in the mirror.

If you or your friend is suffering silently, please consider calling a hotline or the counseling service at your university or place of work. Money is secondary. What others think of you is secondary. You deserve to live meaningfully; you are worth more than the barriers that stand between you and your mental health.

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