I created Project EveryBody for multiple reasons. Body acceptance has become a near and dear to my heart issue in the past 8 years in real life. As a fat woman, I’ve spent much of my life ashamed and shamed. However, I saw pretty early on that fat, thin or “normal” women, girls, men, boys… people… hated their bodies. Hated themselves. At 15, I spent seven weeks hospitalized for non-purging bulimia. It was only “non-purging” because I (thankfully) was incapable, despite many attempts, to make myself vomit, and I understood how the body worked well enough to know that laxative abuse wasn’t going to lose me any actual weight. But my desperation to be thin had led me to a point where I’d spend a half hour at a time after a meal trying desperately to throw up the shame I’d felt, to throw up the calories I didn’t deserve, shoudn’t have eaten, didn’t need… to the point where my voice was hoarse and it hurt to swallow. But at least I never succeeded.
I was one of the lucky ones that way, as I’d learn in my hospital stay. A few years ago, one of the girls who was with me there, died. She was 37, and the anorexia that had dominated her entire adult life, that had begun when, as a naturally petite young woman she felt too fat, had taken its toll on her heart. Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric conditions. Kathi was so smart, so talented and so sweet. Her loss really resonated with me, and by that point I’d already stopped dieting, stopped the endless cycle of body shaming. Or at least, I’d tried to. It’s not so easy, it turns out. Not only in my own head, about my own body, but about other people’s bodies, too.
When I joined Second Life I took the default avatar shape and made it my own. It was a proportional nightmare. In RL, I have short legs and a long torso. In SL? My original av had her legs at 100! I could have the longest, loveliest legs… not like my RL short little stumps. In RL, I have sparse, short eyelashes. In SL, my first av have her lashes at 100. This was before prim lashes were a major thing and certainly before I had the skills to adjust them. Now, there’s nothing even remotely wrong about taking your Second Life avatar and doing… whatever you want that can be done with it, but for me the problem was I’d focused – without even really recognizing it – on my RL body’s flaws and I’d “fixed” them in my virtual self. Now, there’s something to be said for being what I can’t in RL. I can’t make my eyelashes look like the gorgeous mesh ones I wear now. Not without extensions and mascara, anyway. I can’t make my legs be longer than they are in RL. So, in some ways, as long as I recognize it’s just an SL avatar, where is the harm? And in some ways, there is none.
But over time, and as I became a blogger and more active in SL social networking via Twitter, Plurk, facebook… I noticed an ugly trend, one I was guilt of participating in. I noticed a trend where we’d post a picture of an avatar that seemed different in a way that wasn’t acceptable to us. Whether an avatar who was born a long time ago but never updated (aka an “oldbie”) or the avatar with ridiculous, non-realistic proportions, or one who was transgender, or a furry or whatever… anything different that stood out in some way. I have been guilty of doing that double take or wondering, either to myself or to a friend, “what is she thinking?” or “who thinks that looks good?”
I’m ashamed of this behavior. I should know better. I don’t allow myself – or those around me – to do this in real life anymore. Why has it persisted in being okay in Second Life? And yes, some have argued, “well you have a choice in Second Life! You don’t have to look like X.” It’s not without validity, as we do all have a choice and far more freedom in Second Life. We can make our avatars thin one minute and fat the next. We can be short one day and tall the next day. We can swap hair colors, clothing and skin tones in a couple of simple clicks. So, yes. In Second Life we can do anything (within the constraints of the program) to our avatars. But why does this make it okay to shame one avatar because he or she looks somehow different from ours?
There are those who would argue, despite overwhelming statistics to suggest otherwise, that my RL fat body is a choice. There are those who would say it is less deserving of respect, or that it should be shamed for its own good. Once, I agreed with this. Once I kept my head down, I bit my tongue, I hid who I was deep inside. Today? To those who would say these things, I loudly and without hesitation say “fuck off.” This is my body. You don’t know it. You haven’t lived inside of it. You don’t know how it feels or what it’s been through. You don’t know what it does for me every day. You don’t get to say what my body should be or how it should look.
If I will defend my RL body this way, if I will defend other people’s RL bodies this way, why then is it okay to not defend SL bodies, the ones we actually DO choose for ourselves. Choice is one of our most precious freedoms.
And so was born Project EveryBody. My goal is to turn this into a Second Life art installation that celebrates avatars of all shapes and sizes. My goal is to help us realize that if we want to be more open minded and less judgmental in real life a great place to start that process is Second Life.
So, as of this day, April 27, 2014, I, Lucie Bluebird, hereby pledge to no longer participate in the shaming of any avatar for how it looks. Your avatar is yours, with which to do what you please, and mine is mine, with which to do the very same. I’m not perfect, and I’m sure, like anyone, I will slip and have moments where I fall into this behavior that is so deeply ingrained in our psyches, in our culture, that its pervasiveness followed us from the real world to this virtual one. But I pledge to work very hard at stopping that, and at pointing out to others why I won’t participate in it any longer. It might make me less “fun,” but it is my belief that it will make me a happier person… and happier people are more “fun,” anyway.
What about you? Will you stand up in support for others? For yourself? Will you say… enough. Enough with the body shaming, in either world?
If you will, then welcome… welcome to Project EveryBody.
If you’re just not there yet, or you think this is a silly project, or that people are “too sensitive,” well… I hope you’ll sit back and watch. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.