Monday, October 5, 2009

Escaping Reality

I had heard about Second Life for a while before I finally signed up three years ago. Aside from my strange fascination with all sorts of techie geekdom, I was captivated with the idea of a utopian virtual society, where you could be anything you chose to be, free from judgement, where oddity was embraced and everyone was free to experience a life different from their "first life."

Of course, what I found was something entirely different. Sure, you were free to wander the grid in your freebie skin, prim hair and $L2 jeans, but the SL elite were also free to inform you of your errors in judgement and publicly humiliate you.

In those first days, I became great at finding the best modifiable freebies, then tweaking and adjusting them until I got what I wanted. I think I'm still wearing my first freebie shape, that I've stretched, shrunk, twisted and mutilated like a plastic surgeon on heroin.

One day, I landed at an infohub, having worked on my look for days but still wearing my system issue helmet hair and was approached by a handsome man with pale skin, a tall, lean shape and freakin' fabulous hair. He was dressed in a dark suit and had entrancing eyes that a girl would follow anywhere. He sent me an IM saying, "Great look, but you need hair. Follow me"

He tped me to another location (no, I didn't hesitate for a second to follow him... he was damned fine,) which turned out to be Calla hair, gave me $200, helped me pick out a new do, showed me how to adjust it and then *poof* he was gone.

He was my Hairy Godfather.

Now, three years later, I've watched the fashion industry in Second Life explode with fashion shows, trendy publications with models and photographers everywhere. Skins are more realistic, the clothes are mindblowing and we've even got prim feet.

But I think we've lost something as well.

A few days ago, I was privvy to a conversation among some members of the fashion industry. Someone shared a picture of an avatar she'd seen in a store and commented how pretty it was. I took a look and I agreed, the avatar she'd seen was quite lovely. But others started chiming in..

  • Her shoulders were too wide
  • Her hips were too narrow
  • Her nose was "wrong"
  • All her clothes came from the same label
  • She was too tall
  • Her hair was wrong for her face
Maybe I'm wrong but, if our avatars have to conform to some idealistic standard of beauty to be considered attractive, haven't we just recreated one of the worst aspects of our first lives?

Fanstasy sims with dragons, trolls and faeries have been replaced with strip malls and mega shopping sims. Elaborate builds where you could walk along and pick up copies of trees, flowers and little prim critters that were "free to copy" now all come with a price. Perfect prim feet are replacing long, flowing mermaid tails and  I don't remember the last time I saw someone walking on an SL road.. just exploring.

In our quest to create things more realistic, we've stumbled and instead made them more like reality. I thought that's what we were trying to escape.


Lalo Telling said...

Mahala ~

You make an excellent point! It also meshes with other recent topics I've been following, which to me all seem to lead back to the virtual fashion "industry" as it manifests currently in SL. First, a discussion thread at SLUniverse about content theft. Second, "Is Virtual Consumerism Built on Social Pressure?" at Pixels and Policy.

Especially in the last case, I think you should add your voice to the debate. While I think PixPol is dead wrong about furries (and other RPers), I do agree with you here: people collectively have dragged peer pressure and "fashion police" mentality into a world we initially entered to escape such nonsense.

Yordie Sands said...

Hi Mahala... I agree with you observations, but don't really share the sense of peer pressure.

You ask, "if our avatars have to conform to some idealistic standard of beauty to be considered attractive, haven't we just recreated one of the worst aspects of our first lives?"

I don't think creating our avies to represent our standard of beauty is bad, unless you are simply creating it to be part of some group standard. My avie is a rather conventional beauty, but the truth is, I'm a rather conventional woman.

Like you, I'm amazed at how few avies explore the road systems on the continents. I'm amazed at how many people lock themselves into narrow roles they play in real life.

And I understand the feeling of peer pressure you talk about, but I don't see how any type of pressure can take away an avie's ability to be anything they want to be here. They may not find social acceptance everywhere, but there is definitely a place for virtually every type of expression.

Yes, freebies are very important. It's dishearting to go to a sim that is using freebies (e.g., for trees) and yet the owner makes them not copiable. If we make the newbie experience richer, like with easy access to freebies, we help assure that SL will keep good people.

Oops... i do ramble. hugzzz

Mahala Roviana said...

Oh girl I love your rambling, ramble on!


Terri Zhangsun said...

When I first joined SL and noticed that there are fashion magazines. I thought "Crap, now I have to try and live up to some standard of beauty in SL and RL" Of course, I am a total fail at it in RL but it is easier in SL with everything being soooo "Perfect". I am finding the whole boob cleavage thing kind of funny though because I already thought we had perfect breasts or the potential to have perfect breasts in SL but I guess things can always be made better. Ok, am I making any sense and does this even seem related to your post? LOL!

Anonymous said...

"Crap, now I have to try and live up to some standard of beauty in SL and RL"

No you don't. Nobody does.

(My previous comment got eaten I think, so here goes...)

I admit the occasional guilty laugh while looking at the "fug" blogs. When people go WAY over the top, like with gigantic prim tits or selectively ommitting garments, yeah, it's fun to point and snicker. But when it comes to those people who are just a little different--maybe they're shorter, or have smaller boobs, or a bigger butt, or whatever--the people who go out of their way to dump on them are so sad that they don't even have worth in their Second life.

If some snob feels just a tiny bit better about herself by pointing out my "flaws", then I'm glad I could provide that for her. Clearly she is so pathetic that she needs it.

Ricco Saenz said...

Great post! Actually, I started commenting on it, but my comments became so long that I thought they'd be better if I developed them as a new post, which you can read here.

Chic Aeon said...

Peer pressure is only there if we let it be and the people that conform in SL(R) are most likely the ones that conform in RL. The fashion industry is gigantic now -- perhaps too much so -- but we are the ones that make choices.

We all have a sense of what we believe is beautiful and in our fantasy world, we can make ourselves as we choose to be. But one person's idea of beauty is not that of another. And if we change ourselves to be the perfect Barbie doll, we are the ones at fault.

I see many, many ladies (and guys) on the fashion feeds. True, some have that same look and aside from being pretty flat chested (my personal preference) I could be lumped into that group. I can't say I think all of the fashion bloggers are beauties, but some that I would not put in that category have the most style.

There are a few that have bodies very unlikely in real life and they pull it off with aplomb. Good for them!

So, I don't think we can shake fingers at others. Anyone that falls into a trap of being something they don't want to be only has themselves to blame.

Loved your hair story :D

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