My conventionally pretty avatar is not a Barbie

25 May

This morning after watching Nico Rosberg zoom to the podium in Monaco, I checked out the recent Designing Worlds discussion about attracting and retaining new Second Life residents. It’s almost an hour long and has some good ideas, but nothing surprising if you read a bunch of SL blogs like I do. Of course the SL bikini ad came up again. There was some chuckling in the discussion when one of the participants said that from what she has seen, people who remain in SL for years aren’t those who wear bikinis all the time. Right!  Nude beaches are at least as popular as those where bikinis are worn.

Yes, I know that wasn’t her point.  I agree that SL has a skewed reputation in the outside world and it can be frustrating to see ads and media coverage that reinforce that idea of SL as nothing but a flirting and cybersex hangout for idealized humanoids.  We want more rounded representation.  As someone who has specifically spent time searching for the places where groups of avatars congregate, however, I’m convinced that socializing — sometimes with music, sometimes in a region with a sexual theme — draws far more people than any other category of activity. The Lindens didn’t pull that bikini ad concept out of nowhere.  Also, clubs and adult areas have plenty of visitors with avatars four or more years old. I don’t believe there is a correlation between SL longevity and what some see as higher pursuits.

I’m fascinated by the variety of experiences in Second Life and I chafe when some ways of (Second) living, within the ToS, are looked down upon or treated as frivolous. The term “Barbie” was used in the discussion to refer to some avatars, too. My personal opinion is that there is nothing superior about preferring a niche experience in SL, whether in how one spends time or designs his avatar. Virtual beaches don’t only attract bimbos and himbos and I’ve met some real assholes in thought-provoking artistic sims.  It doesn’t take great intelligence to adjust avatar shape sliders nor does it signify moral correctness to reject idealistic proportions or perfect hair. That “Barbie” on the beach may very well have a successful, ambitious, well-read, artistic human on the other side of the keyboard, who chooses to spend her leisure time relaxing in a form she finds pleasing. She could also be boring and dumb. Either way, she should be able to live her SL as she wishes without intelligent, outspoken resident advocates chuckling condescendingly about her behavior.


Tall and blonde, NOT a Barbie

Appearance in SL can mean a lot of different things. A few us us chatted at length about this in the Basilique Salon a week and a half ago (read summaries of the discussion: part 1, part 2) and I think we barely scratched the surface. I’ve gone places inworld where I felt uncomfortable and judged because my avatar was conventional, where there was pressure to show quirkiness or RL verisimilitude or be treated like a dullard lemming. It’s a strange reverse lookism and I wonder if some of it is a reaction to the pressure to conform to beauty standards in RL. That can spill over into SL, with dress codes and bans for non-human avatars even in places that are not meant to be historical recreations.

The look of my primary avatar evolved over time. My first avatar had cherry red hair, green eyes, and curves, as I did in real life.  When shapes and skins evolved, I made her younger and “cute” to fit in with how I was spending my inworld time then (sometimes as a half-copper wind-up roaming the steampunk sims).  A few years ago, I put her aside to create Kay, who I planned to reflect the RL me better than what my previous avatar had become. Initially, Kay looked enough like RL me that the photo on the 1st Life tab of my profile had a spliced image of her face and mine, half and half.. She had light brown hair to match mine (without the bright dye job) and I modified her shape to be rather conventional so that I didn’t have to spend time adjusting every clothing prim, which I find tedious. I updated her skin a couple years ago and by chance found that I liked the way it looked with light blonde and white hair, so that’s what I’ve purchased since. Mesh came along and standard size Small was closest to her; I made those adjustments. Her eyeballs were a rather old design and I got some nice blue ones that suited her just fine as a store gift. I like being able to have a polished appearance, which meant that I built up a folder of makeup as well as adding mesh fingernails and feet. Does she look like RL me anymore? Not much, except in skin color and that we both occasionally wear glasses. Her appearance is the result of incremental changes and whims by a human who doesn’t much care about using her avatar as an exact RL substitute, to showcase fashion trends, or signal her eccentricity. I have a lot of options so I can adjust as my travel or situation demands, but I come back to this base look.  For now.

I have great respect and admiration for the SL residents who design, build, perform, write, lead communities, teach, organize, advocate, conduct business, and otherwise add richness and depth to the world. Everyday I benefit from their dedication and creativity. It would make my outside life a lot easier if SL had a reputation as a creative and entrepreneurial hotspot, too. Perhaps we can continue to work toward that end without incidentally disparaging residents who use SL for a little escapism or fun in whatever way they choose. Just because it isn’t my preferred Second Life doesn’t mean it isn’t a vital and important way of existing for someone else.

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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Culture, Side Topics, Usage Patterns


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