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13 Dec

Within the metaverse, everyone looks the identical

Virtual reality offers the likelihood to create the wonder looks of your wildest fantasies. But will it just find yourself making us more insecure than ever?

From filters to followers, social media’s negative impact on our mental health has been well documented. Experts note a direct link between social media filters and lower self-esteem, and the way we appear online is increasingly distanced from how we present ourselves in our daily lives.

The metaverse has the potential to make this even worse. Even though it could offer a chance for greater experimentation and an escape from oppressive beauty standards, it could also open the door to greater levels of perfectionism and self-criticism. We already know that filters are damaging for our self-esteem: could creating perfect avatars result in an identical experience? 

Our current definition of the metaverse is “a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work.” (Think Decentraland, INVU, or Zuckerberg’s Meta). As in gaming, the avatars in these worlds could be highly customisable which, in theory, could give us all the chance to specific ourselves in any way we wish. Your avatar doesn’t even need to be human, either: in Meta’s awkward ‘Social within the metaverse’ clip, one person shows up as a robot. Whether through otherworldly avatars or ambitious make-up, the metaverse could add more layers of fun and experimentation to the way in which we present ourselves. In any case, not every social media filter makes you hate the way in which you look; some just offer you dog ears or tell you which of them Euphoria character you need to date. 

But making a perfect avatar to represent ourselves virtually could create its own problems. If Instagram is anything to go by, it’s unlikely we’ll rush to customize our avatars with features that society deems ‘undesirable.’ The proliferation of filters and photo editing apps already proves that if we will create more beautiful versions of ourselves online then we are going to. Details like eye bags, scars and pimples won’t exist in any respect within the metaverse. There’s huge scope for self-expression beyond the norm, but what’s more more likely to occur is that the majority people will create versions of themselves that adhere to current beauty ideals, resulting in a largely homogenised aesthetic.

Experts are already looking into how aspirational representations of ourselves within the metaverse could impact body image and self-esteem. “Within the metaverse, there’s less ability to create an accurate version of yourself,” says virtual reality metaverse expert Kara Komarni. “We’re already inclined to idolise online versions of ourselves, but our avatars could find yourself becoming something that we’ll never find a way to succeed in. It’s quite obvious that it will possibly affect our self-esteem as we compare ourselves to those versions of ourselves that should not real. That is something that the creators of the metaverse needs to be sensitive to because we don’t need to be reinforcing beauty standards when avatars offer the chance to make them a bit more neutral.”  

Komarni suggests that perhaps not allowing an enormous level of customisation could actually make people within the metaverse more equal. “We wish to rejoice diversity, but perhaps that might be through clothing or artefacts slightly than enhancing our faces or bodies,” she says. Nonetheless, not seeing yourself represented can have an equally negative impact on self-esteem. Video games have been criticised up to now in the case of avatar customisation for specializing in Eurocentric features while offering limited options in the case of hair texture and skin tones. 

In 2020, a petition calling for more inclusive hairstyles on Animal Crossing reached over 57,000 signatures. Nintendo listened and added more hairstyles in order that more people of color could create avatars that represented their real selves. The sport had previously been celebrated for its diversity, offering gender-neutral characters and customisations including birthmarks, freckles, moles and Vitiligo. Also in 2020, a petition was began so as to add more skin tones to Sims 4. It received greater than 86,000 signatures and creators listened, updating the sport that autumn.

Studies show that underrepresentation can affect self-esteem and other people’s sense of belonging. Unless there’s a various team of developers, creators of the metaverse risk perpetuating the identical boundaries of marginalisation and exclusion that exist within the physical world. Equal representation within the metaverse could contribute positively to acceptance and inclusion within the physical world. Animal Crossing’s customisation settings, reminiscent of the choice so as to add birthmarks, brought people joy at with the ability to create avatars that felt like accurate representations of themselves. Greater customisation allows people to just accept and rejoice features that at one point of their real-world lives may need been insecurities.

Equally, just like the web, the metaverse could provide the prospect to maneuver through the virtual world with a greater level of anonymity, free from superficial judgements that individuals make based on appearances in the actual world. This might allow users to bypass certain stereotypes and assumptions. For instance, trans people could present because the gender they wish to within the metaverse, but won’t find a way to or feel protected enough to do in real life.

But what happens if we find yourself preferring our virtual life to our real life? “The minute it becomes damaging is if you shift to preferring a virtual life which affects your ability to interact in non-virtual life,” says Komarni. “You would be rewarded for looking a certain way as an avatar when perhaps in real life this isn’t the case. The precedent for that’s already there with Instagram.”

The metaverse might be a chance to experiment with virtual appearances beyond social media filters. It could unburden us from the bounds society puts on our appearances within the physical world. But it surely could be naïve to assume the metaverse as a utopia where beauty standards don’t exist. If Facebook and Instagram are anything to go by, Zuckerberg’s metaverse can be motivated by profit over people, allowing established beauty standards to duplicate and flourish in a latest setting. 

That said, social media has helped widen our definition of beauty beyond what we see in mainstream media and campaigns. The metaverse has the potential to take this even further. If used the appropriate way, it’s possible we could create a world where physical appearances have less of a sway on our mental health and self-esteem. With endlessly customisable avatars, the metaverse could provide an area where persons are judged less for the way they appear.

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