Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Skin deep

Several weeks ago, a new person showed up at the Blue Note, a jazz club where the norm is to dress either in formals or something reasonably fancy. She was looking very newbie-ish—helmet hair, ill-fitting clothes, maybe even no shoes. People gave her lots of friendly advice about how to change all that, and about places she might like to go where she might feel less out of place. She kept saying that she'd hoped that Second Life would be beyond such shallow things as appearance, that we'd all just accept each other no matter how we looked. She might have been a griefer—someone just making trouble—but she did have a point.

In fact, it seems to me that SL is just the opposite. If anything, appearance matters even more than in real life. And I am as guilty of shallowness as anyone else.

In SL, each agent (entity) is represented by an avatar (appearance). We are basically cartoons. So why do I find some cartoons attractive and others not so much? Why do I get genuine hormonal rushes when I see an attractive male or female avatar and a complete lack of such rushes, if not their opposite, when I see an unattractive avatar? Why am I dying to have sex with one cartoon and completely unable to interest myself in another?

Part of it is that I appreciate the effort and skill it takes to create a pleasing avatar. If someone has not made that effort, it turns me off. Plastic Ken-doll hair just looks awful to me, especially when I know what is available for not much money. Awkward body shapes have a bad tendency to prejudice me against the person. I know it's wrong, but I'm weak.

It's more than appreciating the effort and skill, though. I know we're just cartoons, but some avatars are genuinely attractive to me. This might be ill, but I can't help it. It's a visceral reaction. Nice hair, beautiful skin, violet eyes to die for, a body type I would like in First Life (having a weakness for slender rocker types, I wish the default for men was not something similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime), and creativity in choice of clothing.

Just what is attractive (to me) in SL includes, as you might imagine, a somewhat broader range than in FL. I'm not particularly attracted to furries or space aliens, but I've seen plenty of cute ones. I've seen a green-skinned slave, and she is totally hot. We might have to blame Star Trek for that one—thinking of Susan Oliver's sensuous slave-girl character in one scene of the original pilot—but a friend of mine showed up once as a sort of blue faerie, and she was totally hot as well.

There are also exceptions to my shallowness. There are many people in-world whom I like regardless of their appearance. Even if the appearance is not particularly attractive to me, sometimes it's pleasingly weird. And sometimes, yes, it's the personality of the person that wins me over, just as in FL.

Even if a person has an attractive appearance, looks alone aren't enough. There has to be something more if I want to go beyond gazing. A total hunk or a hot babe who's a jerk is still a jerk regardless of how he or she looks. I adore Patrice's distinctively beautiful face, her green eyes, and her creamy skin (all of which she has chosen purposely), but I would not love her as deeply as I do if I didn't also love her as a person, the person behind the attractive avatar.

So I shall try to be less shallow, but I'm going to continue to enjoy the view.


Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

I think part of it is that in SL, your appearance is under your control in a way it isn't in RL.

In RL, you're stuck with the luck of the genetic draw and the effects of the years. Some changes to one's appearance take years and enormous self-discipline to effect, and others take lots of $$$ for the plastic surgeon.

In SL, you play with the sliders and buy or build the rest. You could set your appearance forever in SL on your first day, in theory.

I've seen a discussion of "Barbies" in which people say that that control gives them the right to judge people in SL by their appearance. I disagree with them and agree with you.

Patrice Cournoyer said...

melissa, I think I agree with you. Even though VĂ©ronique says such niice things about my appearance, some of it was made, some, chosen, but, I have not changed my avi shape or makeup much. Hair, yes! But, the RL person behind the avi, or, the combined personality.. that is the keeper.