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Beauty is [such a] Pain

What does my Second Life usage say about me in “real life”?

Today’s Second Life tutorial class with Denyse Rodrigues was an eye-opener for me. One of the SL benefits we talked about in class was the opportunity it provides its users to drop the physical limitations of person-to-person interaction. Without these limitations, users can transcend gender and age biases. Persons with physical disabilities have the opportunity to walk, run and even fly. The way we look in real life is no longer a factor in socialization.

But what about the way we look online? SL gives users the oppourtunity to design their avatars, with customization options for hairstyle, body shape, clothing and even facial bone structure. Want higher cheekbones? No problem. A smaller butt? Just a few adjustments and you’re as slim as you want to be. The best part is, if users get tired of their avatar’s look, they can change it anytime with just a few clicks of their cursor.

Clearly, this is not how it works in “real life”. (I put “real life” in quotations because I don’t want to undermine the realness of online life.) For those of us who chose to socialize in person, our saggy cheekbones and big bums are far more permanent. When SL gives us the option to adjust and perfect our look at the click of a cursor, are they liberating us from physical limitations? Or are they placing an even larger emphasis on physical appearance?

I can only speak for myself, but I was far more concerned with my avatar’s appearance than I am concerned with my “real life” appearance. (And I’m a girl who likes to spend an hour on my hair and makeup when I go out to socialize.) In fact, I’m ashamed to say that I spent the entire class period tweaking the shape of my eyes, augmenting my breasts and applying makeup. I was so concerned with my avatar’s look that I forgot that the purpose of the exercise was to get out of the virtual beauty shop and socialize with my classmates online. Before I knew it, the class was over and all I had accomplished was a really bad digital smokey eye makeup job.

I can only chaulk my behaviour up to one of two things:

a) My makeover madness was just a manifestation of who I am in real life: self-conscious and image-obsessed. SL simply emphasised my vain tendencies.

b) By providing so many avatar appearance options, SL creates an unrealistic environment where appearance is valued over character just as much–if not more–than it does in “real life”.

So is it me? Or is it SL? Maybe me and SL are a just a bad combination for eachother. Either way I think I’ll stick to being self-conscious and image-obsessed in real life. Worrying about my appearance in one realm is enough for me!

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May 28, 2009 - Posted by | Comment on Course Material | , , , , , , , ,

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