Posted in General, Opinion, Privacy & identity, Second Life

Body (and head) shaming in Second Life, and the definition of self.

Becca observes that, as in real life, Body Shaming is a thing in Second Life. She then goes on to talk about mesh heads vs system heads, and the fact that how we look in Second Life defines us even more than in real life. 

UPDATE: Since writing this article I have indeed finally moved over to a mesh head, so this article is rather out of date now!

Last week I joined a Facebook Group called “Second Life Friends” and there was a discussion on facelights, so I decided to post a link to an old blog article I wrote back in 2012 that is as still as relevant now as it was then.

During the resulting Facebook thread, I got body shamed by a poster over the fact that I do not as yet use a mesh head, and who poured scorn on me and my look, as if how I look made my opinion irrelevant.

Then, yesterday, I updated my post “Unencumbered by the trappings of Real Life” about whether there should still be a clear separation between Second Life and real life, or should Second Life be merely an extension or augmentation of our online presence.

I posted it to the same group, and it started off a lively debate. The debate deviated somewhat into the whole thing of mesh heads again. On the whole it was a civil and interesting debate, and my replies to it gave rise to this article.

I find myself facing the same dilemma as I did over the mesh body, but this one is even more emotive. Whilst there is a strong and compelling argument to use a mesh body, since you can adjust them and fairly easily arrive at something that is “right”[1], and have clothes fit the body you make, rather than your shape being constrained to a rigid set of ‘standard sizes’, the argument for a mesh head is harder to make.

It’s true that the polygon count of the classic / system head isn’t really good enough these days. But I just can’t get a mesh head to look like “me” right now, and I think that your face is the overriding physical attribute that defines you and differentiates you.

In many ways, because Second Life allows you to choose how you look, your physical appearance arguably says more about you in Second Life than it does in real life (as I alluded to in my previous post). So for me it is important that I look like “me”, otherwise how can I be myself?

Right now, a mesh head looks too much like a mask, or a plastic Barbie doll head, too lifeless, too homogeneous, for me to be signed up to using one. I’ll explain why.

Think of it as a morphogenic resonance[2], if you will. For me it is not a case of simply creating an avatar that looks nice, it has to be “me”. Something has to click. It would be like having a tailor-made suit or dress made, and when you put it on you say to the tailor or dressmaker “no, this isn’t quite right”. Of course, they will adjust it until it is right and that’s where my analogy falls down.

Perhaps a better analogy would be a visit to an Optometrist when they put various lenses in front of your eyes and ask “Better? Or worse?” and home in on the correct prescription for your eyes. It is not correct until everything comes into focus. But, again, the analogy falls down as eventually they will find the right lens.

But regardless of the analogy, I don’t feel like mesh heads allow me to get the correct look yet;  they don’t yet achieve the resonance or focus that I desire. Perhaps the fault is in me as much as the head, or perhaps the technology isn’t there yet.

It’s certainly true that mesh heads allow you to make a very pretty, if mainstream, face. But it feels like a mask to me right now. I doesn’t yet click and give me the resonance of “yes, that is me”. I also find that mesh heads look too perfect, too supermodel / magazine model, whereas I have a softer more ‘girl next door’ look.

I also feel that, whilst mesh heads look fantastic in photographs, they look oddly lifeless in the (virtual) flesh. Or, as my girlfriend put it, “they all have this dour turd-in-mouth expression”. Perhaps this will change as Bento animations mature.

I think what I am talking about is indicative of someone who has been in Second Life a long time. Like most oldies, I have grown with my avi, and it with me. My shape and face I created myself – they were not bought from someone. They evolved with me as my sense of self evolved. My tattoos are personal and unique and I made them myself, and learned how to make tattoos in SL, then learned how to make Appliers to apply them. My avatar has literally become an extension of me, the inner me; the morphogenic resonance of the real me. I’ve seen the technology move on, through prims, flexis, sculpts, rigged mesh, fitmesh, and now Bento. Younger, newer, Residents probably haven’t bonded with their avatar the same way, haven’t been in the same skin with the same tattoos for years, haven’t made that connection of self. They probably just bought their shape in a shop. To them their avatar is just that – a placemarker or walking emoticon for their online presence – and a mesh head is just a prettier upgrade to their cartoon character. They can’t understand why I would not be upgrading my ‘character’ to the latest shiny, and look down on me for it.

Funnily enough, I have never had anyone complain to me to my face in Second Life that I look sub-standard. In fact, quite the opposite; I regularly get complimented by complete strangers about my looks. It’s almost as if Second Life is too real for somebody to “say it to my face” but on Facebook it is far enough removed for the keyboard warrior to come out. Which if you think about it, is rather interesting as you could argue that in both cases it is simply typing words into a keyboard. Yet it seems that Second Life is real enough not to bring out the keyboard warrior in most people.

Of course, I have had my fair share of people who are prepared to be rude to my face in Second Life as much as in real life, but that isn’t really what I was getting at.

I think the writing is on the wall for system heads, just like it was for system bodies. Eventually you won’t be able to get new skin, makeup, accessories, and hair. But I think that day is further off for heads than it is for bodies, and I think that many girls like me will be staying with a system head, but mesh body, for a while.

But the days are definitely numbered.



[1] For most people, at least. People with more extreme body shapes have found that they can’t get the look they want and have to stay with a classic body.
[2] When I say “morphogenic resonance”, I’m not referring to Rupert Sheldrake‘s theory of morphic resonance. It is more of an allusion to the Morphogenic field in the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett. I’m trying to convey that my avatar has to resonate with the mental picture of myself in my head. In order to look ‘right’ my avatar has to coincide, or resonate, with the mental projection of myself, otherwise it is not “me” but simply a computer character. I realise that this will sound quite odd to some people.

3 thoughts on “Body (and head) shaming in Second Life, and the definition of self.

  1. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attached shoes on the shoulder of a Resident. I’ve watched Particles glitter in the dark at a club. Flexi hair stuck to people’s backsides. Seen whole sims flooded with flying penises.

    All these moments will be lost. Like pixels in rain

    Time to log

  2. I am a full mesh avatar. Mesh head, eyes, body, hair, clothes, and accessories. I love being mesh because it really helps you to get good photos. I respect everyone’s opinion in such matter and I most definitely respect everyone’s choice in whether to be a complete mesh or not.

    Though I must say, in my opinion, mesh heads aren’t exactly lifeless. A lot of creators are now working hard just to make the meshies look more a like in reality. This is just my opinion. ?

    I love both system and mesh heads. Who wouldn’t love the system? It is where we came from after all.

  3. I totally get the resonance. In a completely different way for myself, but I get it. For me, I know how my character, Akala, should look, how I want her to look and I put off the mesh body and later, mesh head for quite awhile myself. While I have an account from 2006, my real SL starts around 2012. But I have the same attachment to my character because I created her all the way back to 2002, maybe further back it’s been so long for me now. I’ve been roleplaying as Akala, and a handful of other characters for many years now, and having them look as I desire is very important to me. I finally did bump up to Mesh body and head recently, I’m very glad I did, but I waited until I could shape the body as I saw fit, and once Bento head’s started coming, researched before I dove in, then finally just did so. Honestly, I found it surprisingly easy to get where I was happy with the face, and I love the new one I think more than the old but I didn’t have as long to get attached to that one as most of the other 10+ year veteran SLers. Still I say keep taking your time. Anyone talks down to you about it you call The Nekonian Empire, and I’ll happily lend you a Dreadnought to take it out on them with, if you don’t use some of your own tools 😉

Let me know what you think!

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