It’s predicted that by 2035, as many as half of all adult relationships will start out online. This timeline may now be even shorter, following the online dating boom during the pandemic and the rapid growth of the metaverse. Friendships are also increasingly conducted online. Despite the communities that exist for women both online and offline, women are more likely to feel lonely than men.
When it comes to being connected, but feeling disconnected, Tameka Linnell points out a key difference: “Connectedness isn’t the same as having a sense of belonging. Reflecting on Meta and how the premise of Facebook was originally connection and community; nearly two decades since it came on the scene we’re now grappling with loneliness, lack of self esteem, body image issues, depression, anxiety and increased rates of suicide. We need to change the model in web3 and ask ourselves a different set of questions that focus on belonging and intentionally embed that from the star”
There’s a darker side to the increased anonymity and the ability to completely reinvent that comes with virtual worlds and relationships. We’ve already seen men being abusive towards their AI chatbot “girlfriends” online, so what happens when it’s no longer a digital representation and there’s an IRL person involved?
In an age where people can be deceived by partners (or ex partners) using fake identities online to gaslight, abuse and stalk, there’s the unfortunate potential for the metaverse to take this to the next step. Think “Tinder Swindler” but with the ability to construct an entire digital persona that exists in real-time rather than through voice notes and Instagram Stories.
Health and Happiness
Women are already more likely to have issues with their mental health and body image. Social media, image editing and filters have all had an impact on self-esteem. Will the ability to create your own avatar and identity online change the narrative on appearance or will it push women further down the quest for digitally-modified perfection?
Fast fashion retailer PLT have launched their first digital model, to both congratulations and criticism. The criticism centred on unattainable beauty standards, ignoring what their audience wants and what it means for jobs. As well as body image, a move to virtual models and virtual fashion could impact on the creative industries - what happens to the models, photographers, creative directors, makeup artists, runners and bookers who would usually be involved IRL?
Virtual models and influencers are nothing new - Lil Miquela and Shudu have been around for a while now - will obviously become more prevalent in the metaverse, making the “trendification” of body types and culture as easy as the click of a button. People have already embraced fillers, filters - around 90% of young women use a filter every time they post - and digital editing. It’s likely that this will continue in the metaverse.
This digital exaggeration has traditionally been the same in the gaming community. Early female characters were often sexualised, exaggerated caricatures of women that were created under the male gaze. Let’s hope the representation of women in the metaverse is more realistic.
Amelie Noble, CEO of Al Dente, a creative agency who work with luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Fendi as they make their moves into the metaverse, said that luxury brands are looking to build these communities and experience online, but that authenticity is an essential part of the approach.
She stressed the importance of brands building their metaverse platforms with a diverse perspective, including women and different cultural identities, particularly when it comes to online community and identity, adding: “We’re broadly seeing two types of avatars in the metaverse - those who build avatars that look like themselves and those who use avatars to completely redesign and rebuild their appearance, regardless of gender, race or offline identity. It allows people to be whatever they want.”
Tameka Linnell added: “The patents that Meta has filed, race, gender, and every detail down to our eye movements will be present in the metaverse as they have conceived of it. We can address people through pronouns that are more aligned with how they identify. This goes beyond race and gender - size, ability, sexual orientation.”
“Our identity shouldn’t be something that we shed at the virtual door. That will not change the structural inequities that exist in society or in the metaverse. It’s also important to bear in mind that this technology is more than just fun, games and commerce. When applied to industries such as healthcare - which has the potential to thrive in the metaverse - our identities matter a lot.”
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