I noticed something several weeks ago that I haven’t seen mentioned in most of the writing on Second Life. While there has been plenty written about the therapeutic effects of Second Life (for stroke victims, the differently-abled, or demonstrating the effects of schizophrenia, for example), I’ve found a positive side effect that, at least for me, has been very powerful.

Almost all my life I’ve had what my therapist called “negative body image issues“. While in RL I am not overweight and have a well-proportioned body and exercise regularly, I have always felt fat and unattractive when I look in the mirror; to be honest, I’ve always been hypercritical of myself, and this is one of the manifestations of that compulsion.

It’s not the purpose of this post to explore why I feel that way; it’s something that I have been struggling with, and have created my own strategies to cope with. But these feelings have always been a drag on my self-confidence and probably have something to do with why I have always been shy with new people, among many other aspects of my personality.

There have been some great articles written about the gradual evolution of other’s avs to look more like themselves (in particular, Cani’s story with associated comments, here at PXP), as the novelty of being able to have a Barbie-like figure wears off, or as any given resi’s skill with appearance mode sliders improves over time. Additionally, Anya Ixchel wrote an outstanding article about the choices we make in constructing our avatars in SLate Magazine, but from the point of view of a feminist who reconciles the perpetuation of a self-image in her avatar with her feminist point of view.

But as I’ve lived these past seven months as Aenea, wearing my Naughty Designs or Celestial skins and the shape I made for myself back on Orientation Island, any of the outfits I’ve bought for myself and with my constantly changing hair style and color, Aenea’s visual self-identity has crept into my psyche. Unconsciously, and as a result of months of compliments and just watching myself on the screen, I find I carry a mental image of Aenea with me, that colors the self-image that I now see in the mirror in RL. I feel sexier, more attractive and less critical of myself; in general, I feel more relaxed about who I am.

I have no desire to reform Aenea to look more like me, unlike what Cani, Willow and others mention at PXP. I find Aenea aesthetically appealing to me, and she represents an idealized version of my mind’s-eye image of myself.

I’m sure that this may actually perpetuate my body image issues in a sense. But the end result of those issues is primarily represented in the stress or demands which I place upon myself, and that level of stress has declined as a result of being Aenea.

Therefore, I can only see positive effects deriving from this effect — it’s definitely been more effective than what I got from a couple of years of therapy (albeit not entirely focused on that issue alone 🙂 )

I have to hand it to my friend Ananke Kronos, who has designed her av to look like herself, tall and curvy and voluptuous, even if that makes her fashion (and other) choices in SL much more difficult. But I think that speaks a great deal to her confidence in herself and in her identity, and is one of the reasons that I admire her. 🙂

You could say that this is an extension of our philosophy of bringing the positives from Second Life to enrich our first life, but this particular side effect was totally unexpected and unconscious.

I ❀ how that works out.