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Anorexia in SL?

February 28, 2007

When we create our avatars, or avies, in Second Life, it seems that we generally take one of two routes. Some of us attempt to manufacture an approximation of our real-world self. Sure, we may shave off a few pounds, add a little more muscle tone, and try our hands at rhinoplasty, but for the most part, we have created an avie that resembles us in our everyday lives. On the other hand, there are those who take advantage of the freedoms provided by a virtual environment and produce sex gods or goddesses, furries, nekos, dragons, knights, princesses, wizards, vulcans, klingons, elves, dwarves, fairies, wookies . . . well, the list just goes on. So, for most of us (excluding the few who are brutally honest in their avies or even make them less attractive than their RL selves), we either present our self images or what we would like to be.

If we accept this as the case, then there are some avies that are really problematic for me, because whether they represent a true self or an imagined self, they seem to reflect real-life issues that wreak havoc on the lives of many women in our society (note: I’m writing this as an American). Specifically, I’m referring to those avatars who are so thin that they appear to be anorexic.

Obviously, self image among women is a subject that has been discussed thoroughly. We constantly hear about the influences our culture has over the way a woman perceives herself. We hear about the early indoctrination we receive through toys like Barbie which present an unrealistic model of the female form. We hear about magazines and the way they focus on a woman’s body, commonly by choosing to show full-body shots of women (while men are usually shown from the waist up or closer). We see music videos in which women are all very fit and scantily clad, presented as objects of desire. It’s all well-documented and has become a part of the public consciousness.

Yet, even though I am aware of the problem and know of women who have struggled with this issue, there is something about seeing ultra-thin avies in SL that I find very disturbing. I know that women who suffer from anorexia have a distorted self image, often seeing themselves as fat even though their they are almost skeletal in appearance. That this image is carried over into SL—either as a representation of the true or ideal self—causes me to realize just how ingrained this image is.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this, but the other night when I was in an SL club and saw a newbie named Neo—her legs, her arms . . . her entire body so pitifully thin—I immediately felt for her. Of course, she may be quite healthy in RL and actually have a good body image, but she brought to mind all of the other women I have encountered in SL who, though not as skinny as Neo, still have avies that appear overly skinny and unhealthy by RL standards.

So, I’ve managed to add to add to the discussion of the problem, but where do the answers lie? Even as I write this, I realize that my own avie—though I tried to make her a good representation of the RL me—is a bit thinner. Fitter. Sexier. She is me if I were to hit the gym for a few months. She is me if I paid for a little cosmetic surgery. She is me without the occasional blemish and freckles that mark my skin. By allowing myself these fixes, how far removed am I from the anorexic avies? Aren’t we all giving in to the same notions of beauty?

I wonder if the time will come when we quit focusing on the exterior so much. Flipping through the TV channels, it doesn’t appear that is coming anytime soon.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind tonight. I’ll revert back to my stories of shopping trips and hanging out with friends soon enough 😉

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