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Blogger Challenge #2: Raw

We live in a world that is dominated by post-processed images. The already thin model is deemed still not thin enough, but it’s okay, because with a few clicks in Photoshop… voila! She might be fired later, but the shoot isn’t lost entirely.

Wrinkles are airbrushed out. Teeth are whitened. “Imperfections” like freckles or moles, things that are a literal part of us, are erased.

Some of these photos are works of art. They’re undeniably beautiful. They are designed to sell us, at the minimum, products. On a broader scale, false hope. In mascara ads, the models wear extensions, fake lashes and then even beyond that the pictures are enhanced. No mascara will make my thin, straight lashes look like these. I’d need expertly applied false lashes or extensions to achieve that look, and for the vast majority of women buying that mascara, this is the reality.

I was talking to my SL sister a few months ago. I said to her, you know… I see more and more pictures on Flickr from SL models, bloggers, photograhers, residents… that are heavily post-processed. And they are gorgeous, amazing, stunning works of art. I am in awe of the talent that some of you possess. The ability to draw hair, to reshape an avatar face in a way that seems natural… to take an SL avatar and make it, at first glance, look like a real model from a real photoshoot. It’s amazing. It inspires me to do better in my own post-processing. And I do plenty of it myself.

But it struck me, during this conversation with Isley, that in some ways we’ve begun to do with SL what we – or others – do to RL. We’ve taken it and made it… well, not real. Now, obviously SL isn’t real to begin with, but what I mean is, if someone who has never been in Second Life sees some of these pictures and is prompted to join, she will be sorely disappointed to learn that her avatar will never just magically look that way. Just as in RL, many women – and young girls – face the heartbreaking reality that they will never look like the models in the ads. But even the models or celebrities don’t look like the person in the ad! Cindy Crawford once famously said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”

I think disclaimers in advertising should be required. We all know damn well that mascara won’t make our lashes look like that. I’ve never understood how those ads don’t get called out for false advertising. Weight loss ads already have to say things like “results not typical,” though I think most of us try to ignore those disclaimers because it’s not what we want to hear. The false promises of the beauty and diet industries are so seductive and we want to believe. We’re conditioned to want to believe.

That said, I don’t think post-processing has to be a negative thing, or that it doesn’t have value in and of itself. If we view it as art instead of reality, it can be appreciated for the talent that is involved in the creation of these images. We can stop thinking “I could look this way,” and then beating ourselves up when we don’t, if only we stopped believing that ANYONE looks that way.

I’ll find myself tweaking bumps on my SL nose, just the way I might’ve on my RL nose, or fixing a perceived flaw on my skin like I might’ve in RL (I’m saving the detailed story of this for my own blog post for this challenge). And it’s okay if you do this. We all get to choose how to edit our images, if we do so at all, and that’s true for SL or RL. But for me, sometimes I think to myself… is this all that different from when I’d edit my RL body? It is, but it also isn’t. Again, more on that in my own post but for now… here is my challenge.

Take an SL picture of your avatar and don’t edit it. You can crop it, but other than that rely only on a natural, realistic WL and your own beautiful, unique avatar to tell a beautiful story. A raw story told with a raw photograph.

If you decide to participate, please share your links in the comments on this post. I want to see what “raw” means for you.

I’d like to leave you with two amazing TED talks that helped inspire this challenge. I’m going to caution that both are likely NSFW (one is for sure due to artistic nudity). The first one is by Jean Kilbourne, author of Can’t Buy My Love. I read this book in college, as research for a speech on how the media portrays women. The second is by photographer Jade Beall whose book A Beautiful Body Project has become an international sensation. Jean’s talk is more cerebral and more facts based. Jade’s is more emotional, more experiential. But both are brilliant and beautiful and worth watching if this is a topic that interests you.

~Lucie

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What Is Project EveryBody?

The below text will serve as the “About PE” page, but I wanted to post it as the official first post of Project EveryBody. If you’d like to be a part of this project, please contact Lucie Bluebird. You can also participate simply by adding this page to your blogroll, or sharing it via Plurk, Twitter, facebook… or just passing it along to a friend who might be interested.

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 guilty 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 exaggerated, 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 29, 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.

~Lucie Bluebird

Please note: I am normally a big fan of free speech, even when I disagree with it. However, I want this to be a safe place for everyone and so comments will be moderated and anything I consider to be rude, bullying or pro body shaming will be removed. There are plenty of places on the web where you can engage in that sort of behavior, if you so desire. This, however, will not be one of them.