Being Beautiful

July 9, 2007

Rod Serling introduces an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” with this passage:

Given the chance, what young girl wouldn’t happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let’s call it the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future when science has developed a means of giving everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow—but it happens now in the Twilight Zone.*

In this episode, a teenage girl is forced to transform herself from looking average into being beautiful. Throughout the episode, the girl resists, even though she is pressured by all those around her to go through the transformation. She debates with them, asking if it is so wrong to want to not be beautiful like everyone else. No one can seem to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to improve her appearance. Given that the technology exists to make anyone handsome or pretty, it makes no sense to them why she would refuse to use it. In the end, the girl goes through the transformation, and not only does she look just like #12 (the model number for the body she’s given, which happens to be the same chosen by one of her friends), she thinks just like everyone else, too.

I mention this episode because it reminds me very much of what opportunities are given to us in SL. At some point, you’ve likely heard someone say, “In SL, everyone can be beautiful,” and generally, that is the case. What has been on my mind recently are the ethical choices we make when we design our avies.

How is avie design linked to ethics? I’ll get to that 🙂

Normal Chloe

If you know me very well at all, you probably recognize this as my avie. Though I’ve gone through various skins, hair, etc., my avie has used practically the same shape my entire time in SL (I did make some minor modifications along the way). The idea in designing this avie was to make her somewhat representative of the RL me. Granted, she’s a slightly improved version, but I like to think we’re similar. My goal with this avie was to make her cute, but not overtly sexy, since that’s generally how I see the RL me.

Sexy Chloe

I made this shape recently, wanting to test the idea that “anyone in SL can be beautiful.” The idea was to change the proportions of my avie to fall into stereotypical ideas of what is sexy: larger breasts, a smaller waist, longer hair, etc. A lot of tweaking was involved to get the shape just how I wanted it (it’s not quite as easy as some would lead you to believe). When I finished, I believed I had managed a good approximation of what is typically considered sexy (at least, typical to America).

Voluptuous Chloe

This was the last shape I made. I decided that with this shape, I wanted to explore the other end of the spectrum, in terms of body shape. I wanted to make a full-figured avie, but I did not want to make her unattractive. I wanted her to be realistic—representative of many women I know of in RL.

I really believe that all three of these avies are beautiful in their own way, and I think that many people would agree with me. Why is it, then, that most women avies I come across resemble Shape 2, with much fewer resembling Shape 1 and practically none resembling Shape 3?

This is where I return to the topic of ethics when it comes to avie design. Hadn’t forgotten about that, had you? 🙂

We get seemingly constant pressure to try to fit within a very narrow idea of beauty, which just happens to most closely resemble Shape 2. We need to be thinner. Have larger breasts. Etc., etc., etc. It drives some women to eating disorders. It drives some others to plastic surgeons. For many, it affects self-esteem. All because they don’t naturally fit into this ideal of beauty.

But now we have SL, and anyone can be beautiful. Sure, we had to wait until 2003 for this particular incarnation of “the transformation” (Serling missed it by a few years), but now we have the option to create the body we want. The face we want. And we can inhabit a world in which practically everyone else is beautiful, too.

But, is it ethical to do so? By giving in and creating these idealized avies, aren’t we merely perpetuating the ideals that have plagued us in RL? By making the big-breasted, small-waisted avie, aren’t we confirming the belief that this is the way everyone wants to appear?

You may wonder why I’m making an issue of this. Part of it is probably my background in literature and always looking for the subtext. Part of it is likely boredom at seeing so many similar shapes. The biggest part of it, though, is that recently I’ve seen some lovely and interesting avies change to appear more like Shape 2, and that bothers me. Is there no room for diversity in the SL universe?

Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. It wouldn’t be the first time 🙂 It doesn’t help that I’m typing this at 6 AM, either, after a night of not sleeping.

Anyway, don’t be surprised if you see me walking around in Shape 3 now and then, though no shape will ever replace my default. And Shape 2 . . . well, you may want to say your goodbyes now, because you’re not likely to see much more of her 🙂

Let’s keep SL interesting, people, and maybe resist the idealized notion of beauty that keeps getting pushed on us at the same time. There *is* room for diversity 🙂

*text taken from The Original Twilight Zone Episode Guide



  1. Hear! Hear!

    I’m optimistic that as “beautiful” avs become the norm, more and more people will experiment with other looks as a desire to stand out. I doubt it will ever be anything approaching a majority or even 50%, but I expect with so many creative and thoughtful people here we will see some sort of movement along these lines. I imagine early SL was much more like this, and has drifted toward the “center” and will swing back some as the novelty of RL beauty wears off for many.

    Though I’m not nearly as creative with my appearance as I often wish, I am the author of my own shape and have not purchased anyone else’s ideal. I also choose to be pale, somewhat approximating RL, though I’ve often wished for a little more pigment so I wouldn’t combust on the beach or blind the other bathers with my reflection. Somehow it feels truer to me. Strangely, my shape and appearance is vaguely like my RL shape and appearance, though I’m not as muscular and am not 6’10”. But I’ve tried to make my av not a massive male, nor smaller than RL.

    However, in the future, I can see myself as some sort of pure energy form with a constantly changing face–especially as emotive animations become more integrated. Maybe not all the time, but as an option. In a way, I think this is my eternal form.

    Whew. I probably should just have posted this myself, but you got me thinking this morning, Chloe.

    P.S. Hurray for literature. Sometime we’ll have to discuss SL and the evolution of the novel.

  2. Nicely thought out piece, Chloe. It ties in with a couple of the things I want to blog about soon. I have always wondered just how my avie ended up with the shape she has – she is certainly nothing like the RL me! I have spent a lot of time comparing her to others because I really don’t want to be just another Barbie lookalike. I was delighted last week, when doing my first ever modelling assignment, to be told that the photographer loved my avies wide shoulders! They are something I have been paranoid and proud about at different times, and it was great that someone else noticed and appreciated them. I wouldn’t change my shape for anything or anyone (though the whole male avie experience needs more exploring when i get the time) and applaud all of those in SL who dare to be different. Btw, I think your normal shape suits you just fine, the ‘sexier’ shape buys into way too many stereotypes for you, and I find it very interesting what clothes you chose for the larger shape 🙂

  3. A thought-provoking post and as Phoenix mentioned, something she and I have talked about a lot lately. SL allows us to choose how we look, within some pretty loose restrictions, so what we choose to be seen as is a profound reflection of something, even when we don’t know quite what that something is. I am fascinated by how we subtly change behavioral responses according to our avatar’s appearance too.

    My first avatar was a pretty good likeness of the RL me, but he didn’t last long. There are valid reasons to do that, but I personally gain more from the confidence I gain in SL from looking good, and that manifests in greater confidence in RL too. Odd, I know, but very common. For me it just helps remind me that looks don’t tell you much about a person in any life.

    As for my “true” shape, I am still awaiting a really good wolf avatar, in both lives ;o)

  4. Of course I’ve already discussed all this with you privately, but I’ll make my opinion public here. First off, great post. I’m really happy you wrote all of this. I love reading your op-ed posts.

    Second (for everyone else), when Chloe first told me she was making a “Sexy Chloe” av, I swear my heart dropped into my stomach and the first thing I said to her was “Nooo!!! Why???” and then she showed me it and I was said something along the lines of “I don’t like it…I want my Chloe back.” And then she told me the purpose of the av, and I calmed down. Then she showed me her “overweight” av, which I personally though was incredibly well-done. In fact, I said to her that she could even sell the shape…that’s how good I thought it was.

    That aside, as I have said to Chloe and others many times, although my av doesn’t look like I do irl (obviously!), I feel it really is my “avatar”. However, it doesn’t exactly conform to the popular notion of beautiful or sexy. In fact, I was aiming for simply “cute”. I have tiny breasts, a little mouth, large eyes, a small, waify frame, and a rather boyish body with narrow hips. But you know what? It’s me, and it’s who I feel comfortable as. The irony is that a lot of people really like my av and are attracted to me, which is something I honestly did not expect.

    So, if you think you need a Barbie av for people to think you’re hot, think again. I say, be yourself…and people will appreciate you for who you are. Kinda like RL 😉

  5. Well I have to say I find shape 1 more attractive… Maybe it’s just the alt girl in me, but I think the mainstream tends to suck…

    My shape is what I would like to look like in RL, sure… But it’s also not a barbie girl… It’s tall because I am (& I get really tired of trying to get the proportions right at my RL height). And RL I have dark blonde hair that people assume is brown (I’m blonde darn it, take a look fresh out of the shower!), so I went black/red in SL… But still it’s the me I wish I could be… It may not be super attractive to the ‘mainstream’, but I can’t care less what they think… Of course since I got my neko parts I’m just super sexy cute… Which works for me…

    RL I’ve learned from being considered ‘abnormal’ that what other people think doesn’t matter, it’s what’s inside that matters. My girl… Or I guess I should say ex-girl now *sigh* that’s gonna take some getting used to… Is more like your type 3 and she hates it, but because it’s her I find her the sexiest person alive… ^_^

    & Tobie… Your AV is just so cute… I wanted to make my AV get up when I saw her in SL and just glomp her so bad… Probably while switching to some weird combination of baby talk and kittenese… ^_- So I think you succeeded on the cute end…

  6. Hmm.. it is all interesting… well being a man, I find all 3 shapes attractive.

    The great thing about SL is having the ability to take on many forms, but one thing that seems not to change is the personality controling those forms.

    I think the form people tend to stick with is the one that gets them the most attention from others.

  7. “& Tobie… Your AV is just so cute… I wanted to make my AV get up when I saw her in SL and just glomp her so bad… Probably while switching to some weird combination of baby talk and kittenese… ^_- So I think you succeeded on the cute end…”

    And this is the point where Tobie blushes profusely and looks down, biting her lip and smiling, slightly embarrassed.

  8. Oh yeah, one more thing…I *highly* encourage everyone to make their own shape and/or skin. I made my shape myself, and my white skin is one I made myself. The tan skin is one I purchased.

    There’s really no better (or easier!) way to make a unique avatar than to DIY.

    After all, you don’t want to be just another #12, do you? 😉

  9. My opinion is everyone born in SL is born beautiful. You have to make yourself ugly to be ugly. I think it is like that in RL too.

  10. Interestingly, I think I suffer from a kind of SL-reverse-discrimination. That is, I tend to dismiss (or, perhaps, fail to notice?) avatars that fall into the conventional ideals of “hott and beautiful” (i.e. strippers and Barbie/Ken types). I’m not sure if this is because I’m annoyed with people buying into the stereotype or if there are just so many of them that they all blend together.

    Do SLers subconsciously worry that, if they aren’t conventionally beautiful, people will be less likely to interact with them?

  11. Gah, so much I want to respond to here, but I don’t have the time now! I’ll come back to this later. Promise 🙂

  12. Some days ago i was on a shapes store called Lemon that has old men, overweighted male and female avatars, etc… Some days ago i see some photos by Dakota Buck where she looks as wonderful as usual but her shape is more voluptuous then the “average” avatar.
    Chloe, is very interesting you gave an ethical dimension to the election of our avie, in fact we have to give an ethical dimension to all our actions or creations.

  13. OK, prepare for a massive comment here, as I’m responding to everyone. Thank you all for responding to my post. I love discussing these types of issues with others.

    Alex: I hope you’re right about more people getting tired of only seeing beautiful avies and trying out new shapes. I think I understand what you mean by “eternal form” as well. I’ve used various skins, hair, etc., in order to change around my avie’s looks, but my shape has remained relatively unchanged. For me, the shape seems kind of the soul of the avie. It’s the one part of the avie that anyone can manipulate to whatever form he/she desires.

    Phoenix: I’m still looking forward to reading your upcoming blog posts 🙂 I think it’s great that you have a feature that you worry about a bit, yet you’re comfortable enough with it that you refuse to change it (I’ve felt the same way about my legs before, thinking they were too long). My normal shape is what I’m comfortable in, though I do plan on trying out the larger shape now and then (by the way, I realized when going through my inventory that clothing my larger form wasn’t an easy task, as it’s not a body type designers seem very interested in accommodating).

    Wolf: It is interesting how much a shape can factor into our behavior. I’m quite sure that many people feel freer to be more outgoing with a sexier/more attractive shape, as I’m certain that others react more positively towards them. I mean, we all try to look good (otherwise, why would I spend so much on clothes, hair, and skins?). I would just like to see more people expand their perceptions of what beautiful is. Oh, and I do hope you finally find that wolf avie 😉

    Tobie: I think one of the reasons so many are attracted to you is that you’ve done such an excellent job of capturing the cute kitten look. If you were using a shape like shape 2, I don’t think you’d get nearly the attention. Well, at least not until people got to know you and what a great person you are 🙂

    Shadow: Obviously, I like shape 1 better as well 😉 That *is* me. It’s the shape I’m comfortable in. You mention that your avie is “the me I wish I could be.” I really think that’s the case for most of us (nothing to back this up, though), which is why it bothers me so much to see so many giving in to stereotypical ideas about beauty. Genetically, very few of us have a chance to ever have a body like that, yet it’s what we’re taught—implicitly, if not explicitly—to strive for. I think it’s great that you felt the way you did about your ex-girlfriend, and I’m sorry that didn’t end up working out :/

    Ginseng: I’m not sure I agree with people sticking with the form that gets them the most attention from others. Not surprisingly, the pic for shape 2 has received the most views out of the three in my Flickr stream, but I have no intention of switching to it. I guess I do agree to an extent. I think people stick with the form they are most comfortable in, which for some may be the one that gets them the most attention. I’m glad that you find all three shapes attractive, though. I think they all have a different kind of beauty to them, and I think it’s great when people can find that beauty in each.

    Tobie (again): Oh, quit the bashful act. You know you love it 🙂
    *kisses her cute little neko*

    Tobie (again again): I really want to try to make a skin sometime, though it’s a little discouraging, as I know it would take me a long time to come up with one that looks as good as those I’ve bought. I agree about the shape, though. Anyone can manipulate his/her shape. There’s no cost involved other than time, and it’s as simple as moving sliders around to taste. Like I said, I really consider the shape the soul of the avie, so having someone else craft it is unthinkable to me.

    Seraphine: I get what you’re saying, and I agree to an extent. I’ve known many people who, though not physically stunning, seem incredibly beautiful because of who they are. And I’ve known people who are very physically attractive who have acted so distastefully that they seem very ugly. I don’t feel it applies as much in SL, as I believe that many in-world relationships are much more superficial than in RL.

    Dirk: I think you may dismiss those Barbie and Ken avies because they do not represent what you want from SL (yes, I’m assuming again). And I do believe that some people with self-esteem issues may believe that they have to create a very sexy avie to attract others. The problem is, the people they’re likely to attract with those shapes are probably not the ones who will help their self-esteem.

    Raul: I *have* to check out that store. Sounds very cool 🙂 I love Dakota’s avie, too. I think she’s stunning. As for ethics, I do agree that practically every thing we do and choice we make has some kind of ethics applied to it. This is just one ethical dilemma that’s been bothering me recently 🙂

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