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Jenna's Race Project- A Spin on Fierce

Page history last edited by Jenna 12 years, 9 months ago

Second Life provides the opportunity for users to recreate themselves through the virtual image of an avatar. From shape to color, gestures to clothing, the customization options are endless. Overall it is easy to create an avatar in any idealized form of "perfection". My experiences thus far in SL have shown that a majority of residents look "hot" rather than fitting the norms of appearance that exist in first life. This meaning that in comparison to women in real life, it is more common to see a young female with long flowing hair, flat stomach, and sexy curves rather than one of healthy proportion with wrinkles, saddle back hips, slight lovehandles, and flat hair in second life. Essentially, one can assume that a lot of SL users definitely do not make avatars relevantly similar to their true life characters but rather create an enhanced version of themselves or what they wish to be.


Looking Hott Second Life_001 bottom on the lake2_003 SLS new fierce_001

     1-Young Fierce                           2-Sassy Fierce                                                          3-Plump Fierce


My avatar, Fierce Soulstar seen above, has lived in two different "skins" in second life previous to most recent changes for the Gender or Race Switch Project. Fierce had similarly dull experiences during her time as a teen age looking white girl and as a sassy ethnic young lady. I contribute this lack of attention from other avatars to being a "newbie" in SL and not really being in places where social attention was focused on her. For the Gender or Race Switch project Fierce experienced a complete makeover. Although she remained a fierce female, her "skin" was changed to a color portraying Caucasian ethnicity rather than African American.  To further test the role of appearance in second life I also changed her body type. Instead of being young and fit with a trendy hair cut, she became plump and thick with a less unique hairstyle. In making the switch of race, figure, and clothing Fierce embodied a different personality. Even as her creator I questioned what her look said about her avatar personality.The drastic change in image evoked a new definition to the name "Fierce".


To test out the power of Fierce's new image I visited several places in second life. The first place I went was the freebie store, Milky 9. Milky 9 is a familiar place I visited during each stage of Fierce's existence. On previous visits there I was often ignored unless I made the first effort to talk to another avatar. As a plump white female the lack of treatment was about the same until I made an effort to chat with other avatars. I would walk to a crowded section, wherever I saw a cluster of avatars and say a general "hello" in the chat box. Two out of four attempts in different areas received no response. The two avatars who responded to my greetings were Natasha Garagura amd Shimano Treves. The odd thing was they both spoke foreign languages. Shimano was from Brazil so I didn't question his honesty. Natasha only spoke Spanish in response to my chat messages, when she directed her response at another avatar she spoke in English. Her sudden language switch in response to Fierce automatically made me question her motives. Perhaps due to my appearance she wanted to avoid conversation. By speaking in Spanish after I made her aware that I only spoke English, she created a communication barrier between us. Sait Hoxley im-chatted me when I said a general greeting in his area. When I opened the chat I was surprised to see "Hey Sexy" in the window. When I responded "Well, Hello!" he ran away from me. I thought of his greeting as a tease to Fierce's avatar confidence, like a cruel highschool joke. I do not believe he had any real intentions to talk to me; he just wanted to present the option in order to reject me. His running away was insulting especially since he walked up to my avatar initially when he started the chat. While in Milky 9, I also strolled around looking at the poster advertisements for female clothing. As a large avatar, I was searching for a poster that portrayed clothing on a body type similar to mine. The fashion of SL was only modeled by slim or curvy avatars. In addition to their size I also noticed their "skin" was often tan or white both of which represent Caucasian ethnicity.


SLS milky 9

Next I teleported to the Morris Welcome Area which was crowded with diverse looking avatars. The avatars varied greatly in appearance as far as clothing and style but not so much in race. I was ignored the entire time I was there. People were conversing with each other but avoiding my attempts to join or start up conversation. I didn't assume that they were ignoring me because of the fact that I was a plump white female but rather because I was new to the region. The picture below shows the extreme styles each avatar portrayed. Fierce looked out of place just standing among so many extreme "looks". If the appearance of an avatar is the only way to leave a first impression of personality traits in SL, disregarding communication, than Fierce's plain, stocky image made her seem dull in the midst of vibrant avatars.


SLS morris welcome area_001

At the "Memory Bazaar" region I did not run into any large crowds of people. I met a male avatar named R3v Petrolhead. He was very kind and did not show any signs of negatively judging my appearance. The picture below shows a profile view of plump Fierce on a merry go round on the Island.


SLS on a horse_001

While on Dublin Island I met Jasmine Wirefly. In all my SL encounters I have never met an avatar who appeared obese until I met Jasmine. If SL allowed for users to see the appearance meters of other avatars, I'm sure Jasmine's would be at 0% for muscles, 100% body fat, 100% love handles, and 100% stomach bulge. She didn't stay on Dublin long enough to take a picture with me but she continued to chat with me after she teleported to a new region. We barely got past initial hellos before she vanished, which made wonder if she really wanted to leave or if she felt uncomfortable being next to another big avatar. She was incredibly friendly and willing to answer questions after she left. Unlike other chat experiences in the new plump form of Fierce, Jasmine actually wanted to talk back with me. I didn't have to force the conversation along. In real life people tend to gravitate towards other people who have an obvious similarity to them. This is usually associated with the idea that there is a sense of comfort in commonality. Judging from her willingness to open up to me, I believe the same concept applies in second life. In each region I visited in SL as a plump white female, I was a minority while "hot" white females had a dominating presence in large crowds. I felt more confident in approaching Jasmine because she was big like me. When I asked her what made her pick the body image of her avatar she said "I'm a big girl in real life." She also expressed that her avatar was a reflection of her real life image in both race, style, and body type. She claimed that being "big white girl" in SL did not prohibit her activities. Judging from the conversation with her, getting ignored in SL is the closest thing to discrimination for avatars. She explained that her friends of other races often wore "skins" reflecting white ethnicity because "ethnic skins are expensive or lame freebies" which makes being ethnic in SL difficult. The difficulty of expressing ethnicity can be viewed as a flaw on both Linden Lab's and other users part seeing that "skins" are user generated products. If a bigger effort was made to prioritize user's ability to express ethnic backgrounds through easily obtainable skins, SL might become more racially diverse.


I faced no insults for being white but I did experience being "invisible" which I contribute to being "fat". Jasmine only furthered my suspicions in saying that insults directed at her were "never for being white," but were "just for being a whale." My race switch in Second Life did not present any dramatic encounters with racism. I didn't expect that the color switch would lead to racial insults because I changed from a minority "skin" to a more common "skin" tone. This project has showed me more about discrimination in SL regarding  an avatar's overall appearance rather than for the single aspect of race.


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