Our Bodies, Our (Virtual) Selves




Wolf, Karen L.

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In Second Life, the body is both created and performed. In some ways, Second Life identities are even more telling than offline identities, given that all elements are defined by the user. This study investigates three intersecting elements of selfhood in Second Life: first, the differences (or lack thereof) between constructions of identity in Second Life and actual life; second, the ways in which users express a gendered self in a realm where everything, even gender and genitalia, is infinitely mutable; third, whether Second Life's virtual body allows participants to move away from restrictive notions of gender, or reinforces a narrow conception of gender that is grounded in the body. Using interview data, content analysis, and participant observation, this thesis concludes that Second Life simultaneously reifies gendered bodily ideals while allowing individuals to explore their own gender and sexuality within these ideals. Gendered body norms are further narrowed by an environment where bodies are constructed by individuals invoking the cultural meanings of appearance.



Cyberculture, Virtual body, Embodiment, Gendered bodies, Cyberfeminism, Second Life