Beauty: the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
From John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
“Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else...You don’t have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build...Be awake to the details around you, but don’t be self-conscious. ‘Okay. I’m at a wedding. The bride has on blue. The groom is wearing a red carnation. They are serving chopped liver on doilies.’ Relax, enjoy the wedding, and be present with an open heart. You will naturally take in your environment, and later, sitting at your desk, you will be able to recall just how it was dancing with the bride’s redheaded mother, seeing the bit of red lipstick smeared on her front tooth when she smiled, and smelling her perfume mixed with perspiration.”
From Natalie Goldberg, Writing down the Bones
In a thought-provoking response to one of my own posts, Burgundy Mirajkar pointed out that beauty is, by definition, difficult to attain, and that human traits are often highly prized for their rarity. She closed with this statement:
"Perhaps what we'll begin to see is the development of technologically unattainable beauty standards in-world."
In Second Life, perfect human beauty is easy to attain---or to obtain. For about the cost of a latte and a scone at Starbucks, you can buy shape, hair and skin to make your avatar a 'perfect ten' by human standards. With a little persistence and a good eye, you can pick them up for free. As a result, perfect tens are a dime a dozen. They are as blandly pretty as Barbie dolls, with as little variation.
The similarity, avatar to avatar, is so great that if I were to turn off the names hovering over other avatars' heads, I wouldn't be able to tell one from the other, friends from strangers. What's truly eye-catching is a unique avatar---someone recognizable from across a crowded room, who stands out by virtue of the vivid, loving detail put into their creation. Someone who is unlike anyone else.
I have a few favorites. Rosie Barthelmess is one. Jopsy Pendragon, with his elf ears and his bare feet, is another one. I had always thought of these avatars as interesting, rather than beautiful. Digital representations of fascinating minds, rather than virtual flesh. I had pegged the Barbie avs as the beautiful people, but now I'm not so sure. Now I wonder if the Barbies are just ordinary and the true beauties of the world are the iconic avatars, as distinct and recognizable as logos.
Will we see the development of technologically unattainable beauty standards? Maybe.
As of right now, differences in technology do affect the way that avatars look, but only to the avatar with the technology. A high-powered graphics card profoundly affects the way that you see the virtual world and the way that your avatar looks in it, but only for you. Your appearance on someone else's screen is limited by their graphics processing, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Perhaps in the future, we will have other ways to gain an appearance advantage technologically---real-time motion-capture animation overrides, anyone?
Until then, it seems that the best way to stand out in the crowd is to stand out in the crowd. Perhaps, in a world where you can easily have any feature you can imagine, beauty lies in the rarity of your choices.
The most expensive and highly prized pieces of avatar customization in Second Life are rare---limited edition items, like the Anastasia suit, from the Zullay Designs Couture collection, shown above. The craftsmanship on the outfit is exquisite, with beautiful prim and texture detailing, but it only rates the L$35,000 ($131.58 US) price tag because it is absolutely unique. Only one will be sold.