Metaverses, avatars and body dysmorphia

“Go away, miss, that fringe that favors you so much, this is the Police, not the Cibeles Catwalk”, an agent told me the last time I had to renew my DNI. According to him, with the hair on my face, I couldn’t be recognized. I replied that my bangs were as much a part of my identity as my dimples. After some discussion, we reached an agreement: I could go out with bangs in the photo if you could also see my eyebrows. win-win.

I tell you this anecdote so that you reflect on the importance of the image you have of yourself and the attributes that make it up. Do you think your beard represents you, your height, or your glasses maybe? And now imagine how I felt when, at the dawn of the internet, a platform I wanted to access didn’t include bangs among its avatar hair styling options.

Of course, my case is not serious, but think of all those people who do not feel comfortable in the body they were born with or those who are undergoing a gender transition process. What will happen to them when we all live in the metaverse, as threatened mark zuckerberg?

To interact in these environments we will need a virtual representation of ourselves: an avatar. So it’s time to ask: what options will companies in the metaverse offer us to design our virtual ‘I’? Right now, the key trends are two.

What options will the companies of the metaverse offer us to design our virtual ‘I’?

On the one hand, there is the hyper-personalization, that is, the one that would allow an avatar to be built with any desired feature. Your virtual self could have hair of any color and include attributes typical of both genders, such as a beard and chest at the same time, for example. In short: we could design an image of ourselves that reflects the one with which we identify ourselves in our heads.

This option would be a blessing for those who do not feel comfortable in their body and would help make visible minority groups, such as non-binary people, who still struggle to be recognized as part of society. Unfortunately, I have no doubt that there will be many who do not share this idea.

Since the matter of transsexuality is still incredibly politicizedI wouldn’t be surprised if some corporate leaders and product developers are unwilling to offer these options. Or that it doesn’t even cross their minds, as it used to happen with my bangs.

But aren’t we living in the age of personalization? There is no CEO who does not fill his mouth talking about how his company adapts to the needs and tastes of each client. So shouldn’t they offer total freedom to design your virtual avatareven if they do not agree with what it represents?

The hyper-personalization of avatars would allow breaking the physical barriers imposed on us by the body with which we are born. However, it also has its risks. As social networks have already shown, the idealization and overrepresentation of certain physical characteristics corners and marginalizes others, and promotes body dysmorphia.

The effect of the avalanche of images of normatively perfect bodies that we see on the internet has its own name. The ‘Spanchat dysmorphia’ or the ‘Instagram face’ reflect an increasingly worrying problem that is especially prevalent with adolescents: the standardization of physical ideals unattainable and, above all, unreal.

More and more young people aspire to have fair skin, big eyes and a small nose, while hiding their true selves behind photoshopped images. “I know girls who don’t even have a photo without a filter on Instagram, they don’t look like them”, a friend told me when I told him what this column was about.

More and more young people aspire to have light skin, big eyes and a small nose, while hiding their true selves

To fight against this problem another tendency arises: the hyperrealismwhich basically consists of “realistic and stylized” virtual representations that create a deep feeling that we are present among people, as Zuckerberg himself described when he presented his idea of ​​​​the metaverse a few weeks ago.

Meta’s promotional video showed him how a virtual clone of himself, and that’s just what he wants for everyone else. The proposal makes sense considering that his vision for the metaverse is for it to be a virtual replica of the world, where we can do everything we do on the physical plane, from dating to working.

And if it doesn’t look cool to join a work video call in your pajamas or disguise, what would my colleagues and clients think if I showed up to a metaversic meeting looking nothing like me? Who would recognize me if I appeared without bangs?!

In addition to faithfully representing us, hyper-realistic avatars would avoid physical homogenization and underrepresentation of minority communities. That is to say, they would prevent all the avatars from being tall, handsome and, ahem, white, and would help younger people to find referents similar to them, with less characteristic features. instragrammablelike dark skin and afro hair.

It may be that the future of the metaverse is a completely faithful representation of reality or that, contrary to what Zuckerberg predicts, it consists of let’s get rid of our real image and immerse ourselves in a world where each one shows himself as he wants. Which is the right answer? I honestly don’t know, the only thing I know for sure is that my avatar will have bangs.

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