So, I wore a dress today for the first time since….well, I don’t remember when. I even wore it to church, which was pretty amazing considering that I’m in the nursery with a bunch of rowdy toddlers. But…I wanted to feel pretty, and I haven’t felt that way in a long, LONG time. It’s hard to feel that way when you look like I do – society doesn’t reward women who don’t fit the ideal. Instead, we (all of us – even I fall prey to it now and then) tell women that they’re flawed, ugly, undesirable, etc. because they’re not 6 feet talll and 110 pounds with looks like Kate Moss or Giselle Bunchen. So, I wore it, and I did feel pretty. Several people told me the dress looked good on me, and that I looked good – I haven’t heard that in a LONG time.

It’s getting to be summer here – at least weather wise, and feeling pretty in a pretty dress while standing in the sunshine and smelling the lilacs was like receiving a little gift from above. And then…back to the real world, when I looked in the mirror.

It’s funny, though, because in Second Life, nearly everyone is drop dead gorgeous. I have to admit that I created my avatar to be that way as well…I could make her look like me in real life, but if I can control appearance and size why would I want to? I talk about self-acceptance, but I’m not happy with the way I look. I’ve been exercising for about a year now, with no substantial weight loss, so I saw my doctor this last week – I am now on what amounts to a starvation diet – 1000 calories per day with one hour of aerobic exercise every day. I am losing weight, but I wonder if I’m losing my sanity along with weight – is it worth the sacrifice? I want to look good, and feel good about myself. I generally have good self-esteem nowadays – until I look in a mirror. I want to be accepted – and yet I still have trouble accepting myself.

What prompted the change was the way people reacted to my avatar in Second LIfe (SL). I will NEVER look like my avatar – no matter how much I work, because there is no way to make a 42-year old woman who has birthed and nursed three babies look like a twenty year old who has never had children and looks like she eats less than Lindsey Lohan. However, I also think there are steps I can take to look and feel better. When I am on SL as my avatar, I feel pretty. I know that it is a virtual mock-up of a fantasy, but my personality reflects the difference. I’m flirty, active and fun…and I feel attractive. In the mundane world of real life, I’m a flabby, tired mother who spends a great deal of time chasing kids, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes – it’s hard to feel attractive when you smell like diapers and have spots of smushed peas and carrots on your clothes and in your hair.

So what’s the point? A friend of mine on SL and I were chatting about how easy it is to get sucked into this virtual world. It’s easy to want to escape real life, because real life is not always fun. It’s messy, dirty and you can’t always hide between an attractive exterior. It’s also more intense. I think in part that’s because it’s overwhelming at first to find yourself in this beautiful “world” where the normal inhibitions of everyday living are absent – in it’s own way, it’s addictive.

And therein lies the trouble…Am I my avatar, or is she me? I think it’s a little bit of both, and people continue to be people, whether in virtual reality or not. He told me of people who have exacted revenge by destroying the virtual property of people that have jilted them, and of others who have been hurt by the actions of people they thought of as friends. Even though it’s “play” for many, for others, the lure of social contact and an end to loneliness seems like a lifeline.  When the two collide, people get hurt.

Ironically enough, it seems easier to trust people online -we think we are anonymous when on SL, but in reality, there are probably ways to find out to whom we’re speaking. Psychological research has found that people tend to be more open and less inhibited when they think they are anonymous; this is as true on SL as in any research study. The possibility of real life hurt and damage is very much present, and we (myself included) act as though we have blinders on. We’d like to think that the people we trust with our identities and our secrets are trustworthy, but that’s not always the case.

So, back to the issue at hand – for a long time, I wouldn’t let my online friends see pictures of me, because I was afraid that after seeing what I really look like, they would see the real me instead of the attractive avatar. Dishonest? Probably…but also grounded in real-life experience. There’s nothing like getting to know someone, only to see a look of disgust or shock in their eyes when they see the real you for the first time. I’ve found, through experience, that no matter how great your personality is, some people will always judge you by how you look. And I want to keep feeling pretty.

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