While some might have argued that cyberspace freed us from our bodies and gave us freedom over our identities, gender stereotypes and even national affiliations transfer into these virtual worlds where male and female bodies are equal and where real world nations don’t even exist. Perhaps the complications of our virtual identities derive from our insistence of embodiment in virtual worlds, and MMORPGs are showing us how easily real world privileges, affiliations and power structures transfer into virtual worlds.
- Nick Yee, Avatar and Identity http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/gateway_identity.html
Of course this is part of why the fashion industry is thriving in SL, though one can wish that more people would remember to take more enjoyment in the visuals (and their own self-expression) rather than be unduly preoccupied with what they perceive them to represent of negative aspects of the real world. It's always been interesting to note the reactions of people to the different avatar guises/fashions I adopt, and how the various shades of acceptance change as I change in appearance, but that bigotry or a deeper resentment (different from the initial dislike, amusement or hostility that some guises will engender) comes about in reaction to some avatars and fashions is a little saddening in an environment such as this, where so much creativity and potential for self-exploration exists.
While it's very easy to form a certain impression of the individuality of those who've chosen to be much more expressive when it comes to their appearance, in SL, there's so much variety and so much of what deviates from the "norm" that it's become mainstream in its own right. It's become more difficult to be unique or unusual, as creators/designers push the envelope and players come up with imaginative ways to be different from the rest who've purchased the same set of avatar mods, and subcultures within subcultures rise to popularity and gain wider acceptance. In most of SL's subgroups it seems to be a bit of a constant grind for those who take enjoyment or pride in setting themselves apart from the crowd appearance-wise, as the crowd rapidly integrates the trend/subculture and adopts its trappings.
While I was sitting here and poring through links, I remembered a random line I'd written in one of my profile picks that had been inspired by the Decadents' concept of Artifice and how appropriate it would be for SL. I was actually in glee, and not unsurprised, when I dug up this essay on virtual reality and Huysman's work A Rebours, which makes for some interesting and relevant points (perhaps the bit on "the triumph of the phallogocentric lust to recreate the world without the intermediary of fleshy women's bodies; it hints at the need of intersubjective sexuality and the reign of masturbatory rationality in its deracinated, permanently pornographic form" was a bit much to include, but what the hell).
Anyway, enough random rambling, off I go :)