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Journal article

Face, authenticity, transformations and aesthetics in Second Life

19 Mar 2013

In such 3D virtual environments (3DVEs) as Second Life, one can ‘be’ re-created as avatar in whatever form one wants to be, facilitated by extensive beauty and cosmetic industries to help the residents of this world achieve a particular kind of glamorous image – limited only by their imaginations and Linden Dollar accounts. Yet, others in 3DVEs are working hard to re-create their avatars to be replicas of their ‘offline’ selves, appearing as they do in actuality. Such phenomena provide a rich opportunity to explore the cultural contexts of ‘self-making’, the process of ‘becoming’ and the transformative, often transgressive, processes of ‘beauty practices’ as bodily praxis and serious play. Drawing on their international ethnographic research undertaken in Second Life, the authors explore the phenomenon of image, affect, subjectivity and representation in this alternative arena. We focus specifically on three interrelated and paradoxical aspects of self-making in this 3D virtual world: first, the ways in which many of our respondents described their avatar personae as symbolically representing their ‘authentic inner selves’; second, the ways our respondents used photography and video to verify and authenticate these ‘inner selves’, through capturing representations of their avatar bodies in action; and, third, the ways ‘authenticity’, for many of our respondents, depended on their avatar image aligning as closely as possible with their bodily appearance off-screen. The concept of what residents of Second Life understand as constituting the ‘authentic inner self’ both in and outside of the virtual world becomes particularly pertinent here.

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