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I’m constantly amused by the things that are hard in Real Life and easy in Second Life, and vice-versa. Second Life lets me fly and have wings, but it’s impossible for me to raise one eyebrow. I can wear gorgeous clothing made by the most brilliant designers in the (Second) world, but can’t always prevent it from occupying the same space as my limbs. And so it goes!

The skin I wear most, Gala Pale Katydid

And one of the things that Second Life makes possible that I really love and wouldn’t have even thought about in Real Life is changing my skin. At first this appealed to me because I was able to go from having the complexion of a piece of copy paper to having almost indecently creamy skin with a faint cast of rose to it (that’s my Gala pale skin. I think it’s probably clear that I love Gala skins, for which tip I thank the really interesting Second Life fashion blog Linden Lifestyles).

My usual coloration in Second Life is the same as in Real Life: skin on the pale side, dark brown hair, green eyes. This seems to mean that I can wear almost any darker color, or white, but not pastels-unless (I discovered before long) I wear a darker skin.

The tan version of that same lovely Gala skin

And then I started experimenting even more. I made a green-tinted faerie skin for Faerie Kate, and I’ve come to love the effect I get from a very dark skin I have from Pixel Dolls (for L$50, ridiculously cheap!), which friends often refer to as a dark tan and I think of as a sort of darker Indian (from India) tone.

My dark skin from Pixel Dolls

All this playing with complexion is odd for me insofar as I’m fairly conservative with my appearance in other respects. I virtually always have long, brown hair, green eyes, and the shape I created when I entered Second Life and have only tweaked slightly since then. Without those things I don’t entirely feel like me, and I like feeling like me. Yet I seem to be able to turn green or chocolate brown without a qualm.

Before I depart from the frothy side of the discussion, I’ll comment that when I use skin to accessorize my clothing, I then tend to change my eyes and hair to match my skin. All of this coordination gives me a degree of control over my appearance that is unmatched in the Real World outside of Hollywood makeup departments. With my dark skin, I tend to wear a more intense pair of green eyes that throw off a bit of sparkle and a lighter shade of long, brown hair. With my faerie skin I depart from my normal coloring and wear short, red hair and gold eyes. (Gold eyes! How cool is that?)

My faerie skin. This is a tintable skin from Cryogen Labs; the
more human-looking version is below.

And since the same skin can have a very different effect in different lighting, sometimes the lighting determines the skin, which determines the clothing…well, you get the idea. You can see why I change into a new outfit at the drop of a hat (but you can still snicker at my doing that if you’d like).

As you will have picked up, I don’t quite feel like myself in red hair and gold eyes, but then, it would be disappointing if I turned into a faerie and felt normal!

All right, on to slightly deeper matters. Some questions: first of all, why are there so few people of real color in Second Life? Are avatar complexions reflecting Real Life complexions, so that the absence of people with any real richness of melanin in their skins means that Second Life is populated with overwhelmingly by a bunch of white folks?

Alternatively, maybe for people of color in America and other places with racial intolerance problems, it’s a relief to be able to exist in an environment where you can make your skin color a non-issue, good or bad. Or maybe there’s widespread, active prejudice in Second Life that I haven’t seen yet. Even in my dark skin, my features are unmistakeably European, so maybe I’ve been spared because of that, or have just been lucky. I hope this isn’t the case, though. I’m hoping that Second Life is by and large a more enlightened place than Real Life. Sometimes it really seems to me to be, the occasion griefer or unevolved individual aside.

Or maybe it’s just that it’s hard to find a good skin in Second Life that looks authentically African or Asian, say. For one thing, it’s harder to have detail show up well on quite dark skins. But then, that can be all there is to it: I see avatars with more Asian features, but those avatars are usually whiter even than me in my Gala pale skin. Would it help for me to dig up some of the places that sell good non-European skins and post them here? I’m guessing not, but I’ll be happy to dig them up if I can find them.

It’s interesting: it seems to me that in Second Life, more of us are green or blue or purple than are black or taupe or golden-brown.

And why aren’t more of us pale folk playing around with skin color the way we seem so comfortable playing with hair color or eye color or size or gender or species? Maybe it’s just unappealing to take on an appearance that you know comes with the danger of being targeted by ignorami? Or maybe it seems presumptuous or rude to take on a different skin color when skin color can be such a touchy issue? I don’t know, but in any case I really do recommend trying it if you have any inclination. It’s fun, and it might help make the place feel friendlier to residents of all Real Life skin colors (whatever skin they wear in Second Life).

Now back to the frothy stuff: what makes a good skin? Don’t think you should stop reading now (providing I haven’t lost you already) if your avi is male. You especially I want to talk to! And why? Because skins are an easy way to make a male avatar look *much* more attractive. Trust me on this.

A Second Life default skin. Do you see what I’m saying here?

Now, first of all skins are a bit expensive by Second Life standards. The good ones usually start at about L$1,000, which is just under $4 U.S. You can easily get up to L$5,000 or even higher, especially if you want a variety of makeup or facial hair options. (I don’t recommend mixing the two, by the way…but then again, it’s Second Life! I take it back: do what you want.) I can understand that there are many residents who just don’t want to get into spending noticeable amounts of Real Life money in Second Life, but if you’re not opposed to it in principle, I recommend a nice skin even if you’re not really interested in appearance overall.

Here’s the thing: an avatar with a good skin not only looks nicer, but also looks more real. More than that, the right kind of skin can give you a kind of glow or a sheen or what have you, depending. The things that mark a good skin in general are the effect of the complexion and the quantity and quality of detail. A couple of months ago I put up a post basically wondering what was wrong with my freebie darker skin, which I really liked because of the coloration and the makeup. I finally began to understand why it didn’t measure up to, say, my Gala pale skin as I got used to looking at avatars in Second Life: in the freebie skin, my features were a bit blurred and undifferentiated. In some of the skins I’ve bought since, as well as that Gala pale skin, my face comes through with much more clarity and richness. In Real Life, you can’t buy beauty. In second Life, it’s available for the price of some discernment and a fairly low number of Real Life dollars.

The CS default skin, which is great for a freebie, but falls short
of some of the better non-freebie skins

Why this took so long for me to cotton to I think can be explained by this anecdote, which I don’t even know for sure is true, but which is certainly illustrative: when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and traveled around demonstrating it. People literally *couldn’t tell the difference* between the scratchy, tinny recorded sounds and real life sounds. Today, any of us would instantly be able to tell the recording from the real life sound, and greatly prefer the real life sound for richness and clarity. It’s the same thing with skins: as you are in Second Life longer (and I’m speaking in terms of total hours spent, not in months since you started your account) there’s a chance that some avatars will start seeming more beautiful to you, or that you’ll begin to notice the skins of avatars that have seemed more beautiful to you all along.

It’s hard to find a skin that’s just right. First, there’s the coloration, or shade. Then there’s the detail, tone, and complexion in general; a lot of skins fail at this stage because they’re too flat (although those skins still represent far more artistic skill than I have, by the way!). Then there are the details of muscles and ears and fingernails. There’s the question of how the muscles are defined. The physique might be really “cut,” with sharply-defined muscles, or smoother, and all of this plays on individual preference.

Then there’s the either meaningless or rather important question of how the genitalia and nipples look. This is much more important for women than for men, since men have to buy their genitalia separately from their skins in any case. Some skins have very fuzzy or even absent naughty bits, and others skip the whole question with mandatory, unremovable underwear. This can be a problem even if you’re never tempted to get naked, because the design of some Second Life clothing is such that underclothes will sometimes peek out in an undesirable fashion. Sometimes they have to be dispensed with altogether. (Um, I’m not making my wardrobe sound slutty, am I?)

And finally there’s makeup for women, or facial hair (sometimes including sideburns) for men. Natural-looking facial hair seems to be a bit hard to find for men, although fortunately for most of the population clean-shaven seems to be the preference anyway.

Makeup is a little harder, because if as a woman you wear none at all, that tends to stick out in a world where makeup is so widely used. (My friend Chilly makes it look very good, however, so it can be done.) After all, it takes hardly a moment to apply and can be perfect forever without ever having to redo it. It’s kind of a less-creepy version of that disturbing Real Life phenomenon of makeup tattoos.

My own problem with makeup on skins I find tends to be that most skins have more of it than I want. For instance, I really like the skin below, from Au Naturel, but like all of the examples from that store, the makeup is dark and heavy. Pretty, yes, but frankly I think I look a bit mean with that much makeup on, at least compared to my usual, less dramatic preferences.

My Au Naturel #6 skin

Gala solves this problem by having a very wide range of makeups in different styles for each skin tone. In my experience, it’s rare for a skin vendor to offer not just different makeup coloration, but different styles of makeup. Fortunately, with some skins (not all!) this can be accomplished with makeup facial tattoos.

There are also tintable skins, including an impressive tintable skin system that lets you choose each part and isn’t really that expensive (I think it totals L$1,500 or so) at Cryogen Labs. Unfortunately, tintable skins achieve that effect by being largely transparent, so the more transparent they are, the less detailed they can be, and the less transparent they are, the less you can tint them.

My tintable skin from Cryogen labs in a more human shade

Why did I want you to hear all of this? Well, two reasons, really-neither of them life-shakingly important, I admit! First of all, I talked about beauty some time back in an entry about “Barbies”, and frankly I think for an avatar to wear a skin that really works for him or her makes Second Life significantly and noticeably more beautiful.

The other reason is just how people might react to you. In Real Life, beauty is hard to come by, whereas as I seem to keep repeating rather tediously, the same isn’t really true in Second Life. In Second Life with a bit of effort one can look both very individual and strikingly beautiful (or handsome, if you prefer the word), and that can change people’s attitudes toward you in a positive way. In Real Life that’s kind of a raw deal, because if you don’t have luck and money on your side, it’s sometimes hard to look beautiful in Real Life, especially if you’re busy with more important things. In Second Life, beauty doesn’t have to be such a big hassle, and it’s nice to be able to have people react positively to you because of your appearance, especially since in a very real way you can claim credit for it.

Ultimately residents are more interesting for what they say and what they do than for what they look like, aren’t they? So don’t take my skinthusiasm too seriously. At the same time, it’s a fascinating element to be able to play with in a world that is even more dependent on what you see than Real Life, and where people can zoom closer to you than they ever should get in Real Life without permission and maybe a bouquet of flowers.

^^^\ Kate /^^^