Volume 21, Issue 1, 2017
Gili Yaron, Guy Widdershoven, Jenny Slatman
Recovering a "Disfigured" Face
Cosmesis in the Everyday Use of Facial Prostheses
Prosthetic devices that replace an absent body part are generally considered to be either cosmetic or functional. Functional prostheses aim to restore (some degree of) lost physical functioning. Cosmetic prostheses attempt to restore a “normal” appearance to bodies that lack (one or more) limbs by emulating the absent body part’s looks. In this article, we investigate how cosmetic prostheses establish a normal appearance by drawing on the stories of the users of a specific type of artificial limb: the facial prosthesis. Given that prostheses are first and foremost devices worn upon the body, such an analysis requires an understanding of the ways in which bodies and technologies interact. We thus interpret users’ stories by critically engaging with the work of disability researcher and Actor-Network theorist Myriam Winance, as well as with the postphenomenological scholarship of Don Ihde and Peter-Paul Verbeek. Using this framework, we explore users’ attempts to achieve a proper fit between their faces and their prostheses, the technological transparency such a fit enables, and the ways in which transparency mediates users’ everyday exchanges with others. We conclude that a normal appearance, when it is achieved by means of prosthetics, enables the device’s user to navigate a precarious social environment as they encounter and interact with others in public.