The Aim of Art – Appearances in Second Life – Part 1

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

Aristotle

As Linden Lab releases “much-better looking” avatars, we asked the question, do appearances matter in Second Life? The answers came back strongly favouring “yes”, but not for reasons one might at first think.

Appearance is a facade – a cover we might use to express ourselves, or to obfuscate. It’s also an expression of our experiences, identity, and creativity, and a means of fitting in and pleasing others.

We use our appearance to express group belonging. We use it to signify our status.

Because we live in a predominantly visual world, our appearances are gateways to beauty, to approach one another, and to help address our non-virtual insecurities.

Some of us have severed the ties between appearances in both worlds, while others are surprised by the bleed that influences our appearance in both directions.

Our appearance is all these things, in varying degrees.

The facades we erect

“Attractiveness is pretty easy to find in SL, but finding intelligence with it much more difficult. I say it is important, but it is a facade.” said Renard.

“Why do you think it’s a facade? Do you mean it’s fake?” I asked.

“No, facade is the cover… It doesn’t always represent the person.” Renard replied.

“It may seem like a facade as Renard said…” answered Mona, “But, at least to me, our SL appearance is how we want to reimagine ourselves in this virtual domain.”

The use of the word facade is interesting, as Renard says, it’s a cover, but it also suggests a false representation. It’s an interesting word choice for our appearance in Second Life.

“Facade has some sort of negative vibe in it for me” said Caitlin.

“We actually do cover part of ourselves, though. I think we try to hide some parts we’re not pleased with… Or hide from them.” added Mona.

Our bodies, our histories

Caitlin in Second Life
Caitlin in Second Life – Photo by Caitlin Tobias

“My avatar,” started Caitlin, “is, as you may notice, not completely human. I sport elf ears and demonhands and have a soft spot for pale to white skins.”

“I do have a friend who, if I meet him in SL..cannot stand my demon hands. He is the only one I detach them for. It creeps him out”, she said.

I was curious: “Why did you adopt the look you did. Does it remind you of something? Or are you aiming to express something about you? And if so, what?”

“My look has a reason,” answered Caitlin, “I have been completely human for most of my SL. Till….at some point, well, hurt happened…drama if you will and I got lost. I lost friends, I lost faith in sl-humanity and I needed to change something. So I got demon hands, the ears I already had.

“Call it mutilation if you will, maybe that was it, something died for me at some point and I used my avatar to express it. A part of me died and I showed it like that.

“By now my hands are so much a part of me, they stayed.”

“And,” I asked, “when the hurt finally heals…do you think the hands will go away?”

“I am not sure,” replied Caitlin, “Lately, I have been spotted without them and then it did not feel right anymore? I made new friends, I did a restart and they all know me with these hands… I only take them off for one special friend and in case I go exploring to RP sims with strict rules, as you can imagine I cannot wear them in Berlin 1920.”

“Or Jo will boot your ass out!” I laughed, admittedly aiming to lighten things up.

Our avatars, our identities

Mona in Second Life
Mona in Second Life – Photo by Mona Eberhardt

“We express ourselves through this facade that we call SL appearance.” Mona followed up on the story we’d just heard.

“By “expressing ourselves”, I mean even creating here a new self. A new identity. Of course, it’s not always easy or possible to separate it from our RL personality.

“Our RL self does show through. Our RL actually determines what we are here and how we look far more than we’d want to admit. We express feelings, dreams, desires, fetishes, fears, unpleasant experiences, the whole gamut.”

“It’s easy to look good in SL, actually. As long as you’re an avid shopper and somewhat adept at editing stuff, you can begin with a proportionate basic shape and build from there.

“Does an avatar’s appearance, though, send messages? It does. It speaks volumes. Caitlin mentioned the story of her demon hands. Many of us have our reasons for choosing this appearance or the other. This expression is also a message we send to others. They do pick it up, and, of course, how they decode it is up to them.

“Do I feel uncomfortable with certain looks? Yes. There is a certain style I see in so many fashion blogs that creeps me out. And there are some fantasy avatars that I also find disturbing.

“But… When it comes to all other appearances… Do they matter? I’d say they do, to some degree. I appreciate a nicely put together avie. And I like to dress myself up and improve my looks as I can… Although this look has been adopted by me for sentimental reasons, and I’m more than likely to keep being in it for… Well, until I eventually get bored of SL or the whole virtual world is replaced by some other platform.”

What a start, I thought… at this moment, I was feeling that the mood in the room had become very thoughtful and sombre, on a level that exceeded earlier Salons. Perhaps it was just my perception; was this a topic that cut beyond skin deep?

In my next post, I’ll continue the conversation. Please comment on your reactions, impressions and ideas so far – and of course make plans to join us next week for another couple of hours of stimulating conversation in Second Life!

Featured Photo Credit: Caitlin Tobias

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