Body (and head) shaming in Second Life, and the definition of self.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Second_Life_logo.svg

Becca observes that, as in real life, Body Shaming is a thing in Second Life. She then goes on to talk about mesh heads vs system heads, and the fact that how we look in Second Life defines us even more than in real life. 

Last week I joined a Facebook Group called “Second Life Friends” and there was a discussion on facelights, so I decided to post a link to an old blog article I wrote back in 2012 that is as still as relevant now as it was then.

During the resulting Facebook thread, I got body shamed by a poster over the fact that I do not as yet use a mesh head, and who poured scorn on me and my look, as if how I look made my opinion irrelevant.

Then, yesterday, I updated my post “Unencumbered by the trappings of Real Life” about whether there should still be a clear separation between Second Life and real life, or should Second Life be merely an extension or augmentation of our online presence.

I posted it to the same group, and it started off a lively debate. The debate deviated somewhat into the whole thing of mesh heads again. On the whole it was a civil and interesting debate, and my replies to it gave rise to this article.

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Unencumbered by the trappings of Real Life (revisited)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Second_Life_logo.svgBecca asks: “Should there be a clear separation between Second Life and real life, or should Second Life be merely an extension or augmentation of our online presence?”

Back in 2012 I wrote an article called “Unencumbered by the trappings of real life“. Some things are still as true then as they are now, whilst other things are a little out of date, so I have decided to revisit it and update it.

Some of the people I meet in Second Life want to know all about my real life, about how I look or where I live, or how old I am, or any number of other things. And I tell them that, quite apart from privacy, I simply don’t see things like that as having any relevance to my Second Life. And, further, I don’t particularly want them to volunteer anything about themselves either. I’m simply not interested in their “skinvelope” (or, as I have heard others refer to it, their “meatsack” or “meat rider”, which I confess aren’t phrases I’m particularly enamoured with) and want to get to know the real person, unencumbered by the trappings of real life. Some of these people have got quite defensive about my attitude and asked how I can know the real person when I say I don’t want to know the real life person. Some have even called me crazy. Well, allow me to explain what I mean.

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Lack of engagement

Inara Pey recently blogged on the state of Second Life, and her comments on ‘Engagement’ and general malaise struck a real chord with me.

In the 5½ years I have been in SL, I’ve experienced the usual ebb and flow of interest that I think most long-timers do, but I’ve found myself in a particularly long ebb lately, to the extent that I felt I was mainly logging on in order to be with my SL hubby. He had been feeling much the same, and sadly a few weeks ago announced to me that a number of factors, including increased workload, RL, and this same lack of engagement, meant he did not know when he would next be logging into SL again. We’d been together well over a year, which is a long time in Second Life terms. We still email each other every day (he never fails to leave an email for me when he goes to bed so that it is waiting for me when I wake up), but I have no idea when I will see him again in SL.

Since then I have gone from logging in every day to rarely logging in, and when I do log in it’s been for a specific reason such as a music event (usually the wonderful Gina Gracemount or the amazing Tukso Okey) or to spend time with my friend Bunny. But most of the time, I find that other things are holding my interest more. My own RL has got a little busier and is filling my evenings more, such that I don’t have as much time available to spend on SL. But the fact is that if I was bursting to go on SL, like I once was, then I know I would find the time. So this really corroborates what Inara is saying.

Perhaps I should be trying to find new things in SL to experience, maybe increase my circle of friends, perhaps try to re-ignite my love of SL photography. But I just find myself without any real motivation to do so. My SL photography is particularly depressing, because I can take ages (hours, even) over a SL picture and then find myself lucky to get 200 views in a month, yet with my RL photography I can post a picture of me in a nice dress and get 200 views in a day. I’m not saying that in a self-aggrandising way, but to illustrate how soul-destroying that is for the SL photography. I have a very similar experience with blogging.

So where does this leave me, where does it leave my SL, my SL photography and also this blog? I don’t know. Certainly this is the first time since August 2012 where I’ve felt I have had anything I wanted to say and I don’t know when I next will either.

Second Life increasingly a misnomer?

There has always been a blur between Second Life (SL) and real life (RL), with residents choosing how separate they want to keep the two.
However, it seems to me that Linden Lab (LL) are losing sight of what SL is meant to be. Or, if you prefer to rephrase that, they are moving SL in directions that are different from how they started out. And, increasingly, those changes are removing some of the choice residents have as to how separate the two remain.

For me, the clue is in the name “Second Life” – an alternative life, secondary and separate from your real one. But it seems that is becoming less and less the focus of SL, with residents being encouraged (and in some cases forced) to involve their RL more and more in their SL.

So when did this rot start to set in?

Some might say it started with Age Verification where you were required to provide some form of RL identification. This was probably the first time you were required to disclose your RL identity. Up until then, provided you didn’t have payment information on file and were using a free email address like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc., there was no link between your RL identity and your SL one.

Others might say it started when LL stopped the idea of a firstname & lastname and instead moved to having just a username and an optional Display Name. In many ways this weakened the separation between SL and RL – a username is just a login for a website or service. You were no longer creating an identity or character; you were just creating an account. Perhaps the distinction is subtle, but I think it is relevant and significant.

Others might say that it was the introduction of Viewer 2.0 and the different way in which it presented profiles, no longer calling the tabs “2nd Life” and “1st Life” but “Avatar” and “More Info”.
Or perhaps Viewer 2.0’s emphasis on voice chat, with text-based interaction being de-emphasised and harder to find in the User Interface.

But, for me, what really highlights the fundamental shift in attitude are the profiles at http://my.secondlife.com

One of the sections of your profile is called “Social Identities” where you are able to link with your Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Plurk, Twitter and YouTube accounts.
Now I happen to know that Facebook and LinkedIn are adamant that you must use your real name and real identity to have an account with them. Yes, many SL residents do have a Facebook account for their Avatar but you are on borrowed time there – when Facebook get round to noticing they *will* delete that account.
So Linden Lab are encouraging you to link your SL account with RL services that only have relevance to your RL.

Of course, you could argue that just because LL allow you to do this it doesn’t mean you have to – and you would obviously be right. But I think it highlights a push by LL to make Second Life just another social media / social networking tool; a glorified 3D chatroom and messaging facility for the casual user, with the immersion and roleplay that many of us enjoy being of secondary importance. There is even talk of a reduced functionality internet browser-based Viewer to make SL “more accessible” to more people. And if that doesn’t sound foreboding to you, then it probably should do.

So one has to beg the question at what point Linden Lab should rename “Second Life” to “Augmented Life”?

 


Update:

Here are some links to the issue of Facebook deleting accounts of SL avatars

http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Forums-Blogs-Answers-and/Facebook-deleting-Secondlife-Avatars/td-p/887663
http://community.secondlife.com/t5/General-Discussion-Forum/Deletion-Of-Hundreds-Of-Second-Life-Facebook-Accounts-Being/td-p/884697
http://virtualoutworlding.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/your-avatar-identity-in-facebook-issues.html

Child Avatars – does a rose of shorter height smell as sweet?

Seeing double, originally uploaded by Becca Ashbourne.

I’ve recently started playing with a shorter version of my shape. As you can see from the picture, the skin and hair are the same, just the shape is shorter. It’s not a permanent change – I still consider the taller shape as my “normal” one.

I’ve found peoples’ reaction to be quite intriguing. Guys seem to find the smaller shape quite appealing and “cute” and I get chatted up a lot more. But they also seem to think that I’m younger.

This raises some very interesting questions about perception and attitudes. What has changed here? I’m still the same person in Real Life, my SL profile is still the same, so are my Groups, my Picks, my RL profile and my web link (which actually links to SLProfiles.com and gives a much more full profile, photos, links to this blog, and the like). In short, ample evidence that I am not purporting to be an underage or child avatar when wearing that shape and yet there is a perception that I may be. In fact, a DJ at a club recently took it upon herself to IM me and imply that I was indeed underage and might be banned from the club. This was despite me being a semi-regular there and having had no problems before. I managed to talk to the owner of the club later on and he confirmed that he had no problems with me in that shape and with that profile.

So when did height become the sole indicator of perceived age in Second Life? We already know that SL has a bit of an issue with avatar gigantism so perhaps my smaller shape coming in at 5ft (152cm) tall is short, yet in RL that is the height of singer Kylie Minogue. My RL grandmother was even shorter.

There seems to be an almost pathological fear of any suggestion of youth in SL. People genuinely role-playing children (which I am not, as I have already stated) are viewed with deep suspicion and many places have signs up saying “No Child Avatars” in much the same way as places in 1970’s Britain had a sign saying “No dogs, Blacks or Irish”.

Sure, it makes people uncomfortable and question why anyone would want to present like that but you could equally pose that question about furries, vampires, werewolves, animals, transgender people (whether that be guys in girlsuits, or genuine transgender people expressing their ‘true’ gender), robots, or any number of ways in which a person’s avatar does not match their real life. In fact I suspect that the number of people whose avatar is exactly like their RL self is very small indeed.

It seems incredibly blinkered to assume that peoples’ choice of avatar is solely sexually motivated yet this is the brush that very much tars anyone below a certain height and I think that this is the crux of the matter. With the media screaming that every singleton man is a paedophile, and that the internet is awash with child pornography, and braying crowds wanting to lynch paediatricians (don’t laugh – I really do think that some people are that stupid), it’s probably no wonder that people are fearful of guilt by association.

So, where does this leave my experiment in shortness? I don’t know right now. I’ll continue to investigate, treading carefully in order to avoid any suggestion of wrongdoing as I have invested far too much time and money in this avatar – it’s my 3rd rezzday next month. And perhaps I will report back in a subsequent blog entry on my experiences.