I've found a lot of information about clothing, shoes, eyes, skins, and hair in various Second Life-related newsletters and blogs, especially Linden Lifestyles. But information on shapes? For me, at least, it's been hard to find.
A shape defines what we look like even more than skin or hair. I think that its default settings give a general outline to eye shape, nose length, mouth size, and even such things as forehead height, as well as all the various body measurements. The default is the starting point. If a shape is modifiable, all these settings can be changed, but the shape defines the range in which that change can occur. I think.
(Of course, I might be completely wrong about that. Maybe any shape can become any other shape with the right manipulation of the sliders. I need to buy the book!)
As anyone in SL does, I have changed pretty much everything from my generic beginning as Female Shape and Outfit. Until yesterday, however, the shape I was using was a modifiable freebie from Opium, a line by Alaska Metropolitan. I think I got it when I bought my first skin, also from Opium (from the old 1.0 starter range). It's called Centerfold. When I first put it on, or put me on it, I was startled by the change from my previous skinny shape. Boobs out to there! I toned those down rather quickly, partly because I didn't want centerfold-sized boobs and partly because I have not yet found a shape, modifiable or otherwise, that does large breasts very realistically (in my not-so-humble opinion). I went in the other direction down south, giving a boost to both bum and hips. Ye gods, centerfolds are no longer rounded! These days, Marilyn Monroe would probably be considered to be on the chunky side.
Even more importantly to me, I modified the facial characteristics. Because my fictional back-story is that I am a Métis princess (the Métis are descendants of French settlers of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the Indian women they married), I increased the epicanthal fold of the eyelid, set the outer eye corners to 100 (up), and raised the cheekbones. Combined with my non-white skin and generally dark hair, the overall look seemed reasonably effective.
Once I was happy with those settings, I was reluctant to change. Yet I wondered if a shape that cost money would somehow be better than a free shape. You'd think so. My one foray into the world of non-modifiable shapes, however, was a disaster. I can't remember which store I was in, but it had four lines of shapes: petite, medium, full-figured, and pregnant. That was the day I found out that in SL I am petite, despite being the equivalent of nearly six feet tall. I bought (no demo) a medium shape that seemed to have the look I wanted. Whoa! Nothing of the sort! Not only did I become unrecognizably large; I also got a completely different face shape, which had not been apparent from the model. After that experience, I held onto my free modified Centerfold, tweaking it from time to time.
Who buys these non-modifiable ones? How could I become someone else's idea of how my face and body should look? Jeez, the celebrity ones I've seen don't even look like the celebs, judging by the comparison pictures in the displays. I know that Patrice's shape can't be modified, but it's a custom creation, made just for her. Is that what many people do?
I can't bring myself to ask. It just seems too personal a question, even for my close friends. It feels like inquiring if they've had a boob job or liposuction. So I muddled along in ignorance, wondering if and how I could improve upon what I had. I visited stores that included the keyword "shape" in their list. At many of these, I couldn't find any shapes. At others, I found only non-modifiable ones.
Finally, I found a Japanese store called Nana. And I found modifiable shapes that I liked! I'm not sure if 200 lira is enough for a shape, because I have nothing to go on. But I bought two: Akaso, a petite but still rounded Japanese shape, and Mikka, a Blasian (black-Asian) shape. I modified Akaso and saved the modification separately, and that's the one I'm currently using.
Is a 200-lira shape better than a free one? Am I prettier and sexier? No idea. The three photos above are my new Akaso shape, modified; my old Centerfold shape, modified; and Mikka, unmodified. I can't decide which I like better, and indeed I can't see a lot of difference (except in Mikka's eye shape). More experimenting needed. I doubt that my quest for the shape that's right for me has ended.
Postscript: OK, I see more differences now. The most noticeable to me is the Akaso nose, which looks better to me than Centerfold. As well, the face of both Akaso and Mikka is a bit longer, less round. That could be adjusted on Centerfold, but it's nice that it's there already in my new shape. Mikka is clearly the most different, with even more exotic eyes, a broader nose (as expected), and a larger default breast size. I like her, although I'm not sure that she's me. I will stay with the modified Akaso for now.