When Amy Purdy was 19 years old, she contracted a strain of bacterial meningitis. The illness almost ended her life. Before she finally beat it back, her kidneys had failed, it had claimed her spleen, and both of her legs had to be amputated below the knees.
But instead of spiraling into what would have been the most justifiable abyss of self-pity ever, Purdy opted for another tack. That devastating blow to her body would instead be a mere momentary setback, she decided; a unique opportunity, even. Hell, if she was going to find a way to do stuff as well as everybody else—she was going to do it better.
She began working closely with a prosthetics manufacturer to design legs and feet that would enable her not just to walk again, but to run, snowboard, and, yeah, model. So she did. She now counts pro snowboarding medals, an appearance on ‘the Amazing Race,’ a viral TED talk, a fashion shoot with Nikki Sixx, and founding the nonprofit Adaptive Action Sports on her ever-lengthening list of achievements. She is 33.
And she knows as well as anyone that she’s not “normal.” She is not bashful about the fact that advanced prosthetic limbs propel her through civil society, and she does not need your pitying glances or cooed ‘awws’. Because she is a cyborg, and she knows it. Or better yet, call her a fembot. She does. Her blog, after all, is called Through the Eyes of a Fembot.
I caught up with Purdy at this year’s PopTech conference, where she delivered another standing ovation-garnering performance. We talked about the fembot’s life in modern America, owning bionic body parts, and embracing an altered, even enhanced, existence.
Motherboard: So you’re a fembot. You own it. What does the term mean to you—what’s your relationship to the idea?
Amy Purdy: I think it’s just having fun with your situation, and realizing it doesn’t have to be a disability or a disadvantage. Robots have universally been considered cool. And I can’t help that I look part robot myself. And that kind of sparked a cool instinct to me. The kids in the neighborhood would call me a robot, and I would think—that’s amazing.