Appearance is important to us for many reasons that might at first elude the new Second Life resident. Our Basilique Salon on Wednesday the 14th May revealed many of these reasons, which I shared in my last post. As usual, there was too much to fit in only one post, so here we have the second of this series of posts sharing residents’ views about appearance in Second Life.
Finding our tribes
“I see change of appearance happens the same way in RL as in SL” said Donna. “People change appearance when they are in different social context. In RL, you put up a different “face” when you are in the office, or at home, or with friends. The purpose I guess is the make communication more effective.
“You have a choice, you can choose your appearance to fit into the context or not fit into the context… facial expressions, fashions, or colors… they are symbols carrying information.
“I notice,” Donna continued, “that people speak to you differently based on the way you dressed, so appearance can act like a filter making it easier for you to connect with the ‘right’ people”
I asked Donna what she meant by fitting in with the “right people”. Who are the right people?
“(I’m) still searching for the right people,” she replied, “but I know the wrong people. I hate to use the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – meaningless. But you know there are certain way to dress that attract unwanted attentions, same as in RL. Conversations can go very differently (because) the appearance is communicating.”
I asked Donna if she had ever chosen to not speak to someone on the basis of their appearance alone?
“Sometimes,” she answered, “not because they do not fit my taste, it is more because they spend little effort in making the communication more meaningful.”
Food, water, and compliments
I will sometimes get random IMs from strangers complimenting me on nothing but my appearance, and I personally find it to be one of the most uninteresting ways to start a conversation. Others, however, feel it’s a route to connection.
“I never just IM someone to compliment them on their looks” said Caitlin. “It does happen to me though, and in those cases, usually a club, I talk to them and don’t even see them? Because..well, not important?”
“I travel around the grid a lot, I club, I explore” continued Caitlin, “But I am too shy to start a convo – but never to shy to answer. Funny enough, most convo starters in SL are…about (my) looks?”
“I would absolutely compliment a person/avi.” said Wither.
Mona agreed: “Appearances are a common choice for an ice-breaker, I think.”
“In all worlds.” said Kay: “‘I love your shoes!'”
Renard said that he “rarely compliments looks…I usually find something in the profile that piques my interest, and I comment, or ask, about that.”
“Well,” Caitlin responded “admitting the ones that start a conversation with: ‘hey I read your profile and blog and you rock’..makes me swoon more than ‘omfg your miniskirts make me go all hard’.”
I agree, the former is a compliment of your mind and the latter… just isn’t.
A full box of crayons
Aelva introduced the concept of the avatar as a blank canvas.
“I will change a couple of times a day,” said Aelva. “Pixie, to faun, to “human” to alien warrior goddess, or whatever I’m in the mood for, and I believe it all can fit in my personality. I’d be bored in RL looking the exact same way too, but in SL, its like we got hundreds more crayons in our boxes. So if we have 100 crayons, why only use 2 or 3?”
“About the crayons and using them” answered Caitlin, “Not all of SL residents are capable of doing that, I always try to imagine how SL is for them, for some…it’s easy and comfy to just… well go with the flow and follow the trends. There is nothing wrong with blending in, in a group or whatever if that makes you feel good. In the end..it is THEIR SL”
“And some of us, just don’t fit that box” replied Aelva.
Mona added: “Furthermore… We may very well be perfectly satisfied with one or two basic looks and not want to change around a lot.”
On barriers and bleed
“One thing that catches my attention,” said Kris, “is the link people require back to RL. Somewhere along the line I think I consciously severed that.”
We were intrigued. How does one sever that very common curiosity that compels so many to want to know the human behind the avatar?
“I think, there was a turning point when someone I loved told me about their RL, it wasn’t what i expected… and I found it didn’t matter.”
Ella mentioned that she had unexpectedly noticed that dressing her avatar had made her relook at the way she dresses in RL.
“It’s made me realise that I should dress to make myself smile, and I have started doing that more and more. It has changed my morning dressing routine.
“I really strive to not dress for others, but myself (not always good at this). But SL has really brought that home to me: Who am I dressing for? I used to think I didn’t care that much about others judging me. But that definitely came up when I first joined – not knowing the land here, and wondering how to play things.
“All in all though I do think that avatars matter. It’s a sorting tool for sure (rightly or wrongly). I do wonder when I see people who don’t take any effort… it doesn’t compel me to chat. The more different styles invite conversation.”
Signifiers of association and experience
Kay introduced a new idea that we’d not yet discussed – that how we seem might signify considerably more beneath the surface.
“Once you find your way around in SL, it seems to me that reaching your own idea of ‘handsome’ or ‘pretty’ isn’t very difficult. But that doesn’t mean that it’s interesting or meaningful for you.
“When Donna talked about changing for context,” continued Kay, “it made me think of how appearance can be a group signifier here. My appearance may say I’m goth, or furry, or steampunk, or into some type of roleplay and strengthen associations with others in that group. The wonderful thing about SL is that I can change that in seconds for my next adventure.
“Appearance here is also a signifier of experience. I love seeing a diverse range of avatars, but I do cringe when I see “mistakes” — skin matching that isn’t even close, or a lack of an alpha, for example. I would be less likely to approach someone with those appearance issues.
“My RL husband,” Kay said, “couldn’t care less what he wears in RL, but his partner here is a bit of a fashionista, so he is very careful and changes all the time.”
Kris asked Kay: “Do you ever wish SL would rub off on your husband’s RL?”
Kay answered: “No, not really. I love him for who he is, not what he wears.”
And with that lovely sentiment, I’d like to finish off this already over-long post featuring the highlights of our discussion about appearance in Second Life. Oh, and this artfully beautiful song about beauty and art, from the ridiculously talented Tim Minchin…
Please join us next Wednesday, 1PM, at the Basilique Salon where we’ll delve into yet another interesting topic to chat about. As always, your comments are welcome!
Feature Photo Credit: Caitlin Tobias