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There’s been a wonderful conversation flowering on the ol’ blogosphere about the form of your avatar. Back in mid-July, I posted this about how common it was to be very skinny in Second Life and wondering if full-figured avatars might be something we could strive to have more of. Later I followed up with this post about Rosie Barthelmess, who’s a beautiful example of such an avatar.

A couple of weeks later, and as far as I know unconnected to my posts, Iris Ophelia put up this great primer on how to be beautifully full-figured in Second Life.

My lovely friend Kedawen Darrow took this to heart and expanded her own shape rather gorgeously, documenting it on her new blog.

New World Notes subsequently covered that (that Hamlet’s always keeping his eyes open for pretty girls).

My other lovely friend Sophrosyne Stenvaag found all this a little concerning, and pointed out the virtues of using an avatar as an ideal self

… which Hamlet Au also discussed on New World Notes, pointing out that you can use your First Life shape in your visions of idealization as well.

Phew, that was quite a ride! Still with me?

A hidden root of this discussion is the question of what an avatar is for in the first place. We need a placeholder for ourselves in the virtual world, but what ought that placeholder to be? Should it be the expression of our deepest selves? Or of the selves we want to be? Or of our daily mood? Should it be a faithful copy of our First Life self? Maybe an avatar is a mask, something we devise because we want people to treat us a certain way. Or maybe it should be as beautiful as possible. Or maybe it should be whatever’s the most fun. Or maybe all this focus on what an avatar looks like is ridiculous and we should be paying attention to what we *do* with our Second Lives instead of how we look?

Well, if you’ve read much of my blog or met me in Second Life (or in First Life, in which case you had just better keep your secret knowledge to yourself, pal!), you may have noticed that I’m kind of an advocate of everythingness. The more the merrier, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (ew), it takes all kinds to make a world, you take the high road and I’ll take the low road…and here I’ll just keep being me and say that there must be dozens of things we can use our avatars for: to be part of a group, to be beautiful, to express ourselves, to make wishes, to learn, to stay out of the way while we focus on more important things, to remake ourselves, to remind us, to create desire, to create art…

Me as a Nubian flying mermaid. But I also dress up as fanciful things!

Which only means that I don’t think getting curvy is anything to worry about for someone who doesn’t want that, and I definitely don’t think anyone ought to feel obligated to create an avatar that resembles their First Life self if they don’t want to, and that art and beauty and self-expression and understanding are all wonderful things. I’m all for a world full of child avatars of adults and beauty queens and dashing fox-men and tinies and faerie and mermaids and people who look real and everyone else who’s out there being something that it makes them happy or wise or smart or fulfilled to be.

Let me back up now, a moment, to Soph’s discussion. Soph, who’s a leading and well-spoken proponent of the position that Second Lives can be totally separate from First Lives. In her post about realistic avatar shapes, she poses the question: why come to Second Life? Her answer is “To create things, to do things, that can’t be done better elsewhere.”

I certainly agree that Second Life is a great place to do things that can’t be done, or can’t be done as well, in First Life. But that’s not *all* it’s for. After all, I can go out to clubs in First Life, and dance there, and meet people, and have conversations. I can go clothes shopping in First Life. I can even build things in First Life. And in some ways, I can do those things better in First Life than in Second Life.

But Second Life has its own set of advantages, so that the same activity has different advantages in different lives. For instance, in Second Life I can build large things – buildings, for instance – quickly, but in First Life if I were to build a house, it would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and would keep the rain off. Dancing is more fun in First Life, but it’s much easier to have a conversation while doing it in Second Life.

So…only do things in Second Life that you can do better there? No, I don’t think so! That’s one good approach to Second Life, but it’s not the only good one!

Some of this gets to the uncomfortable question of whether a person uses Second Life to get away from First Life or to complement it. Soph says “Look at you, there in your atomic world. No, I mean it. Stop and look … Is that your ideal? Is that the best you can do?” (See: she’s a great blogger, even when I disagree with her!)

As for me, my answer is…um, yes. No matter how beautiful the views are in Second Life, there are more gorgeous ones in First Life, and I can go out and touch them if I want. I have wonderful family and friends, I’m happy with how I look and with my health, my work is satisfying even if it’s dull sometimes, my house is relaxing and a happy place to be…my First Life isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty wonderful, and yes, it’s the best I can do. Chances are your First Life has some wonderful parts to it too, even if there are rough parts. First Life is the main show. Second Life can have real friendships, emotions, successes and joys, but it can’t offer real sustenance, a real place to stay, a real embrace, or a real plate of waffles with real (or fake) maple syrup. Really!

Now, it’s my theory that people come to Second Life to meet needs in our lives, but we go visit friends or take hikes in the woods for the same reasons. Second Life isn’t a do-over for First Life. It’s just another place to grow and be.

I’m more enthusiastic about Mygdala March’s point of view in this whole great whopping discussion, which is that Second Life is not supposed to be a precise imitation of First Life. She mentions several things that I find (frankly) a little creepy in Second Life: deserted stations and pregnancies. And I find them creepy just because of what she’s saying, that they’re imitations of First Life things that are kind of false in Second Life. The reason a cash register or information desk is neat is that there’s a person at it. The reason pregnancy is beautiful is that there’s a new life coming out of it. If they’re just images of those things without the humanity behind them… *shiver*.

Well, that’s enough from me on the subject. I’m curious to see where the conversation goes next!

^^^\ Kate /^^^

PS – OK, who else thinks it’s Kit Meredith‘s turn to post on this subject now?

PPS – You may wonder how I can possibly keep up with all these posts. I answer you with an evil laugh and say: this! (Shh, it’s not officially open yet.)