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America’s Next Top Models

123 Runway Blvd.


New York, NY 12242

December 4, 2009

Kevin Brooks
322 E Minard Hall
North Dakota State University

Dear Professor Brooks,

We propose a Personal Esteem And Calming Environment (PEACE) to the Virtual


Peace Garden in Second Life for individual entertainment and interaction that is
educational. Our credentials are attached along with an abstract of our proposal and
the proposal in detail.

PEACE is intended for visitors to see themselves as they really are and to encourage
positive self image. We want this space to promote the notion that personality is
more important than body image.

While using this space, visitors can see firsthand the disproportionate reality of their
bodies. PEACE is meant as a learning tool to bring awareness of self-image to
interactive users. The media’s distorted perception and influence on body image
results from various television shows, magazine articles, and advertisements.
Certain genres of television shows such as soap operas and thin models portrayed
in food advertisements are two examples of using the media to distort
representation of ideal body types.

After gathering research about body image in the media, we feel that PEACE is an
appropriate advance for resolving the issue of low self esteem. Our proposal
includes the design of a three step healing process. Avatars will confront an
unrealistic portrayal of their body, spend time meditating on their experience, and
socialize with other avatars that have been through similar events. Visitors will have
the chance to reflect on their own internal battles as well as interact with others in a
nondiscriminatory space.

We believe our proposal for PEACE meets your request for the Virtual Peace Garden
in SL. The reality of this social issue is one that needs to be addressed on multiple
levels—even in the virtual world. We want to share our enthusiasm for PEACE and
look forward to hearing from you as you proceed with this project.

With best regards,


Brittney Frey and Kirsten Staloch
Brittney Frey and Kirsten Staloch
Partners
America’s Next Top Models
Credentials

Brittney Frey
“Body dissatisfaction is a serious issue, even in the virtual world. Our job is to
help others see themselves as beautiful as they truly are. No ifs, ands, or big
butts…”

 Third Year Architecture Student


 Fluent user in Second Life
 Currently enrolled in Women and Gender Studies course
 Researched information on Second Life and body image
 Aware of the negative effects of the media through television, magazines,
and advertisements

Link to portfolio http://brittneyfrey.wordpress.com/

Kirsten Staloch
“You can’t believe everything you see or hear on TV. We need to let people
know that personality is more important than fitting in to America’s ‘out of this
world’ standards.”

 Third Year Architecture Student


 Avid use of Second Life as one of favorite pastimes
 Previously enrolled in Women Studies and Women, Men, Love and Family
courses
 Researched information on Second Life and body image
 Aware of the negative effects of the media through television, magazines,
and advertisements

Link to portfolio http://ks6602.wordpress.com/


Executive Summary

The problem of people’s perception of body image today is largely affected by the
media and its saturation through television, magazines, and advertisements. We
understand the difference between being healthy and looking good and we feel it is
important to help others see themselves in a different way.

Through extensive research, we found that the media is saturated with elite body
types of men and women. We also know the effect that these images have on entire
populations. Second Life is a big instigator of negative body images because users
have the ability to change their avatars to anyone or anything they desire.

The solution is to implement a Personal Esteem And Calming Environment (PEACE)


into SL. When users log on, they will be required to:

1. See their real body under disproportionate circumstances

2. Internally reflect and meditate on what they saw

3. Socialize with other avatars without any outside pressures of body image

This will help to bring awareness to the problem of low self-esteem to visitors so
that they can begin to love themselves for who they really are.

Our hope is that SL users will realize that material wealth and good looks are not a
necessary part of finding happiness. By interacting with others, without all the
added appeal, users will look past the surface and see others for who they are on
the inside.
Proposing PEACE

The media plays a large role in distorting people’s perception of body image and
size. These assumptions are often carried over into Second Life. Avatars have the
ability to alter their appearance in any way, shape, or form. We propose a virtual
space where users can learn about societal pressures on body image. They will also
have a chance to reflect on their personal choices. We hope to raise awareness
about media distortion and to encourage healthy self esteem.

Social Issue

Body image is the perception people in society have of themselves and others. It
includes many components such as size, shape, weight, movement and
performance. American’s are flooded by the media’s view on elite body types for
men and women. This means comparing the tall, dark and handsome guy with the
short, bald man. We are also referring to the pressures women feel to look like the
models they see in the media.

According to Shaw and Lee (2009) in their book Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions,
psychologists have defined the term lookism as the tendency to associate good
looks and thinness with success. This in mind, the media conveys and unspoken
desire to be thin, much like the models, actors and products that are advertised.

In the book The


Media and Body
Image (Gunter &
Waykes, 2005),
there was a study
done in 1996 that
revealed high
school girls’ body
image
dissatisfaction and
drive for thinness
was relative to
certain types of
television
programming
viewed during the
previous week.

Women and
negative media
affects on body image are prevalent, however, there have not been media-based
male articles. In Heineckon’s (2002) book Measuring Up, she states that
advertisements are “structured and ‘hyperritualized’ images of gender.” Genders
are encouraged to take on different roles expressed through the media. This can be
seen in SL, with avatars sporting designer clothes, thin waists, and large breasts.

Another study, done by Forrest and Stuhldrehet in 2007, talks about college
students’ views on body image. The results are shown in the graph below. The
study was
conducted in two
phases, and the
students surveyed
in phase two are not
necessarily the
same students from
phase one. Phase
two is more recent,
and shows the
dissatisfaction that
college students have of their body. Males are increasingly more likely to subject to
societal pressures compared to earlier studies. However, females still face more
dissatisfaction than the male population.

The media is also responsible for this increase in dissatisfaction. Body images are
constantly changing, but women are more aware of the effects of the media and
body ideals every day. The book Action Chicks (Inness, 2004) includes essays about
female-action-fighting-television-stars such as Buffy, Charlie’s Angels and Tomb
Raider. All of the shows include the female main characters as life saving, death
defying, controlling women. But take a look at the way each woman is dressed; they
may get rough and tumble but they always look good while doing it.

Body Image and Second Life

We took our research of body dissatisfaction in women


and men and applied it to Second Life. We started to link
people’s disgust of body image in real life with how it
carries over into the virtual world. SL is used as a
medium to temporarily boost self-esteem. However, SL
users need to face life as it is and ground themselves in
the reality of body image.

SL allows users fly around and visit with others under a


false pretense, completely separate from their real lives.
With this new life, people are given the option to create
an avatar in any way, shape, or form, regardless of their actual appearance. They
can alter every aspect of who they are including
height, weight, skin tone, eye color, hairstyle,
etc.

In the book My Avatar, Myself Tudor (2007) discovers that “Second Life users are in
a gendered dialect where they create spectacular embodiments of themselves for
the visual pleasure of others.” To actually meet an avatar in SL that looks like their
user is rare. Tudor also adds most avatars are white males and females that
suggest that around fifty percent of avatars are gendered differently than their
creators. The observation that most avatars are white suggests that users are
submitting to ideas that the media puts into play; you have to be good-looking, thin,
and Caucasian to be accepted.

The concept of SL started in 1999—the age of the millennium and all the new
technology that came with it. This virtual reality caters to individuals that are
looking for communication in a different world. Since the start of SL, there have
been qualms about having SL.

In the book “I avatar: the culture and


consequences of having a second life” by
Meadows (2007), he talks about negative
experiences people have had because of SL.
Meadows recalled a situation that happened
three years ago with three female avatars. Each
created YouTube videos about their character
and submitted controversial comments to one
another. In the end, the media revealed that one
of the women was actually a film company
interested in YouTube. Viewers of the show were
upset because the one was not real but merely a
made up character. Meadows concludes that, “In
reality all three were avatars, and all three were
fictional”

In the previous account, SL was used as a false


front. However, in reality all avatars are
imaginary. We cannot see the users behind the
computer screen; we merely interact with pixels.
In addition, the media’s influence is apparent through the available options for body
shape and size in SL.

Proposal

The journey begins with the creation of a SL account. Each user will be required to
submit a photograph of him or herself as a necessary part of creating an account.
The computer will take that image and generate an avatar from the photograph.
This avatar will become the base character for each SL membership. Using the
avatar as a guide, users will be able to transform body image and clothing style to
personal preference. This is the basis for our proposal, which we will refer to
throughout.

After the initial creation of an account, users will be automatically transported to


the Personal Esteem And Calming Environment (PEACE) every time they log into SL.
The PEACE is on the Virtual Peace Island and users will exit into the public gathering
space in the center of the island. We chose this place because it sees many visitors
and our focus is on people with positive interactions.

The PEACE is a realm where users are encouraged to live out their true selves while
voluntarily accepting or denying who they really are. In this space, avatars will be
stripped of their chosen appearance and required to wear gender-neutral clothing.
By doing so, the importance of appearance fades while the significance of
personality becomes apparent.

The PEACE will be comprised of three parts. When the avatar first enters, he or she
will be guided through a sequence of mirrors that will distort and twist their body
into unrealistic proportions. The mirrors will portray body size differently during
each experience. After viewing their body disproportionately, avatars will enter a
space of meditation. Through the use of dim lighting, avatars will be encouraged to
relax and reflect on what they see. They will write a few short notes about their
feelings each time. It will also be a space for personal healing if needed. The last
part of the process will guide avatars to a common greeting space, where they can
interact with other avatars in a comfortable, non-judgmental setting.

Avatars will be given the option to leave the PEACE after seven minutes; however,
they are not required to leave. As soon as an avatar exits the limits of the PEACE
they will appear with their chosen style in the center of the Virtual Peace Island. An
avatar’s appearance is alterable at anytime. Each time a SL user changes their
appearance, whether it simply be the length of their hair or the style of their shirt,
they will be required to take a brief survey.

There will be two types of surveys, one regarding changes to the body type and the
other regarding changes to clothing style. The survey is to bring attention to the
reality of their actions. Below is a sample survey that a user would have to take
after making changes to their body type.

1. What was the reason for changing your body size?


2. Is your new body image closer or farther in accuracy to your actual
body image?
3. What advantages does this new body image give you?
4. When was the last time you made changes to your body type?

Feasibility

We understand that various external factors may limit the potential of our space.
Hypothetically, visitors will automatically be transported to PEACE immediately after
logging into SL. By doing so, we solve the issue of getting avatars to visit our space.
Even though users are required to visit, this space is intended for personal gain and
the impact and success of the space rests fully in the hands of the visitor.
We also understand the technicality of stripping individual avatars of material
wealth while in PEACE and then converting them back as they leave. Again, we
stress the idea behind this transformation and not so much the process itself. Our
proposal aims to bring awareness to the issue of media distortion of body image.
Although it may not be physically viable in all aspects, we hope that the message
will come across loud and clear.

Ultimate Results

Our hope is that SL users will begin to realize that personality is more important
than appearance. By requiring users to see themselves as they truly are and
engaging it in a positive atmosphere, we hope that they can carry that self-esteem
into the real world.

The PEACE is right for the Virtual Peace Garden because it focuses on personal
healing and a positive self-image. Often times, users look to SL as an escape from
the real life they live, so that they can live out a fantasy of fitting in. In the PEACE,
visitors are encouraged to interact with others in a virtual setting with real
intentions—seeing beyond the body type itself and looking at the inside.

We feel that the PEACE will bring positive emotions and attitudes to majority of SL
users. In relation to media saturation, we feel that the PEACE should be a place
where users can gain positive feedback and engage in mentally stimulating
interactions without the negative connotations of the media.