March 15, 2007

Size Matters: Yahoo Avatars and the Lack of Realism (Not to Mention Cool Clothes!)

Yahoo plus-size avatar
Do I look plus-size to you?

Via Feminist Law Professors, I came across this great post at One Jewish Dyke about the search for a life-like avatar.

The author did find the hockey player option she was looking for, but she had to make some compromises. “I was able to replicate my messy chin-length brown hair, my pale skin, my brown eyes, and even my glasses,” she writes. “But not my body type. Not at all. I’m sturdy. I’m not a speedy little center.”

Some additional searching turned up a “plus size” avatar (see picture), though as One Jewish Dyke points out, she merely “looks like she’s not starving herself to fit in her prom dress or make weight for her wrestling match.”

And, unlike other avatars, she has very few clothing options:

I’m disappointed for my heavier sisters that they don’t get a likeness at yahoo, but even more irritating for me personally is that there are only a few outfits for the “plus sized” avatar, and they come as entire outfits. Where the smaller girls get to mix and match tops and bottoms, dress for clubbing, sports, or bedtime, those of us who don’t want to pretend that we have no hips have an extremely limited wardrobe option. We get a few skirt suits, a few summer dresses, and a handful of causal outfits. None of them were my style at all. Kind of reminds me of shopping in a store, actually. [...]

On yahoo avatars, it makes no sense. It’s not like the company will waste money, like when clothing goes unpurchased if it is made in sizes that women don’t wear or buy. It’s a freaking drawing. If yahoo can provide hundreds of backgrounds, accessories, and outfits, how much more difficult is it to make those various outfits fit people in sizes other than Demi Moore or Drew Barrymore?

Or does yahoo think that women who weigh more than the above actors are bothered by their likenesses and don’t want to see them? We live in a fat-hating society and many women have internalized the message that looking like you asked to see the the dessert menu instead of having cottage cheese and water is the worst thing that could happen to a person. But for those of us who like the way we look at any size, could we please have the option to see ourselves?

Read the whole post; a thoughtful follow-up is here.

Interestingly, the International Size Acceptance Association, which campaigned for more avatar diversity, is pleased with Yahoo’s plus-size — though it still wants better fashion options. The ISSA site includes a link to Yahoo’s avatar feedback form, along with advice for how to politely suggest improvements.

Other users are seeking additional representations. Over at Yahoo! Answers, one commenter wrote, “It would also be nice to see older caricatures, you know white hair, glasses, canes etc. Perhaps even wheel chairs and walkers to include the people with disabilities. The thought that all the avatars need to be starved teens makes me sad. Somehow we need to include all people of all walks of life.”


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