Thursday, December 13, 2012

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Iris Rants: 5 Myths and Lies About Modeling in Second Life

Modeling SL runway
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There was an interesting discussion on Plurk recently about what it means to be a model in Second Life, and lots of current and past models, SL fashion bloggers and fashionistas, weighed in. They raised many points some of us in SL's fashion world learned the hard way, and others have known all along. It  reminded me that I've wanted to bust some major myths about SL modeling for a long time. Short version: Don't believe the hype, because there's a whole lot of bullshit going on.

I speak from hard experience: Before I transitioned to blogging about SL fashion, I got my start as an SL model, and believe me when I say that I haven't looked back since. Whether you're an aspiring model or a curious outsider, you'll definitely want to read on:

Myth #5: Most vendor pictures/ads feature professional SL models.

This has never been the case for the vast majority of brands in Second Life, for one simple reason: Why pay someone to park their avatar for you when you can just use your avatar or a friend's for free? When you see named models in pictures in a store these days it's usually because those people won a Flickr contest or similar promotion by that designer, or because they're friends. Brands that frequently and prominently feature models are almost always doing so because models are their primary clientele, which leads into my next point.

Myth #4: Walking in a runway show is a big deal.

There was a time when fashion shows seemed to happen every week in SL, and almost every major designer participated in them. Bloggers and society fashionistas sat giddily in the audience while models (many of them also bloggers) did the rounds. Then we seemed to collectively realize how laggy and useless these shows were, especially since in most cases (unless a designer has been sitting on their entire collection instead of releasing pieces regularly to actually make money) most of what was being shown was old news. So the majority of the community moved on; runway shows are a format that just doesn't make much sense in SL. More designers started tending blogs for their brands and regular events took over as the best way to remind people about their lines.

What remains of the runway business in SL (outside of the occasional large event) is mostly by models for models. What I mean by this is that the brands sticking with this format are the ones who get most of their business from models. They pay the agencies to run the shows and the models that aren't participating attend in the audience, and then they go shopping at those stores and the cycle continues.

Myth #3: Graduating from a modeling school in SL is a must.

So you still want to be an SL model? Most agencies will tell you you need to take classes before they'll have you walk in one of their shows... And conveniently, most agencies will also offer classes. For a fee, of course, but they'll teach you everything you need to know. Right? Skills like walking straight, or reducing lag, or fitting eyelashes... Things you can learn for free on innumerable SL blogs. Classes can offer useful insights if you're a new player, but there are no big secrets there worth the fees you'll be paying to get them. Just like in real life, if a business wants you to pay them before you can get a job there it ought to raise a red flag.

Mavi Beck, one of the most successful and highly-regarded models/photographers in the Second Life fashion community, had some sage advice to offer Plurk.  "It's just another way to make money off people," Mavi shared, "I am a firm believer that modelling schools are useless. They enroll dozens of girls with the promise of fame and fortune, when there's no fame nor fortune in modelling in SL. Just spending a LOT of money. More than you could ever earn." And that brings me to the next myth...

Myth #2: Models make a lot of Linden Dollars.

Much like being a blogger, for every one free item you might get you'll have to buy 5 more to wear it with. If you want to be relevant you need to look fresh and current, and that's on you; no one is going to foot that bill for you. Competition is fierce and if you can't keep up there are plenty of others waiting to take your place. Sometimes you may get a complete or near-complete outfit for a shoot or a show, but that's not going to fall into your lap every day. So you spend to keep your wardrobe up-to-date, you spend on pictures from top photographers for your book, you spend on classes and "certifications", you spend to show designers your interest in their brand. You spend spend spend spend spend, and when you're lucky enough to earn it will never be more than a tiny fraction of what you had to spend to get there. The point is that unlike real life modeling you're not a vehicle for sales; you're the one being sold to, on almost every front.

Myth #1: Modeling is a good way to become a SL Celebrity

Ignoring how hard it really is to distinguish yourself in a crowd of people all shouting "LOOK AT ME!", my answer to this myth is who cares?

Some people want to come in Second Life to act like Victorian gentlemen or vampires, while others want to be supermodels or couture designers. People want to play at being Audrey Hepburn or Kate Moss or Anna Wintour or Karl Lagerfeld, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as you acknowledge it for what it is: roleplay. And you're playing a role in a small and insular community; what is fame really worth in that setting? Can you name the most prominent members of the Gorean community? Can you name a single winner of the annual Miss Virtual World model pageant? Does it even matter? There is no one SLer that every other SLer knows no matter who they are or what they do, so why even get preoccupied with it?

Whatever you do in SL, spend your time having fun, making friends, and expressing yourself-- don't waste your energy worrying about trying to become a big fish in a drop of water.

Mixed_reality_iris2010 Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.


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Kara Trapdoor

"Whatever you do in SL, spend your time having fun, making friends, and expressing yourself-- don't waste your energy worrying about trying to become a big fish in a drop of water." Amen!

CronoCloud Creeggan

I always sigh when I see a "model" tag for these very reasons.

I think I modeled.ummm, lets see, 3 times, no wait, it was 4. 2 magazine style" shoots, one runway show, one vendor ad....that's it. And I was a backup model for another show. Of course, I only really did that for fun since I knew there wasn't a lot of gigs, and that for me SL is a money sink.

And as for being an SL Celebrity.... I once wrote for PXP and Linden Lifestyles...that was something of a big deal at one time...but now it's "What were those?" I still blog now and then but I surely am not a SLebrity. Sure theres some SL subcommunities that know me, some steamlanders, some fashion sub-communities and oldbies in general...etc etc...but as you say....I am totally a nobody in the vast majority of SL.

I don't think I can name ONE winner of Miss Virtual World. I do dress like Audrey Hepburn (I buy practically every Breakfast at Tiffany's inspired dress I see) and I named my sock puppet toy made by Garbage Prototype after Anna Wintour (Editor of RL Vogue Magazine for those who don't know)

Breedables Enthusiast

i can name a few winners of miss virtual world... but i won't lol... i can't name any of miss world in RL though lol.

but YOU are a SLEBRITY to me CCC!!!!

you are awesome!!!!


I was an in-store model for DV8 before Vasha Martinek and Dysturbed Sin decided RL held more appeal, and that's the ONLY way being a model doesn't lead you to spend more money than you get in freebies. Why? Their model pay was to gift us with new releases. The single best reason I know to model in SL is to get access to your favorite designer's outfits for cheap-to-free. And that's if you're lucky enough to have favorite designers who use in-store models. So many will either use bots or opt out of that approach completely.

And as for events like Miss Virtual World? I only know of one contestant this year because I know her already. I look at Best of SL and think to myself, "Yeah, well, that's just your opinion, man."

I've long realized SL is a set of vaguely overlapping groups with nobody at the true top of it, rather like an enormous high school with thousands of activity groups and cliques. I feel sure most people have no idea why there are two competing jousting academies in SL, even though I do. For one example of my own huge gaps in knowledge, I couldn't name five inworld motorcycle clubs to save my inventory. And I'd bet someone reading this will think to themselves, "There are motorcycle clubs in SL?"

Scarp Godenot

It is interesting to think about the idea of 'SL fame' Somthing I think might have been easier to achieve in the earlier days of SL.

Each interest group in SL only sees a limited number of people involved in that interest group, no it is almost impossible to get a handle on any group or subgroup to start with.

Another thing about 'SL fame' is that over time the entire landscape changes dramatically. I myself tend to hang out in my small corner of the SL art world, a world with many nooks and crannies that only interact with each other randomly and irregularly.

Who in 2012 has even heard of Starax Statosky, Elros Tuominen, Juria Yoshikowa or MadCow Cosmos? All of whom were once among the most 'famous' artists in SL, but who are now all gone.

Even in the SL artworld of today, most artists would be hard pressed to name more than 10 other artists of the top of their heads, most of whom would be their friends....

Interesting stuff to contemplate!


Great article.

CronoCloud Creeggan

Scarp, you brought up some great points...and this article made me think of Starax too.

In the old days when I signed up back in 2006 it was easier to make a name for oneself...even as a blogger. After all there were only 5000 to 7000 people logged in at a time. It was easier to have a closer relationship with designers, there were fewer of them and with the huge influx of incomers at that time they didn't have to work as hard to sustain their businesses. So designers like Elika and others rewarded friends and whatnot with being their models. And as was said, more shows, magazines and whanot. So there came to be virtual model agencies.

But now, SL is so BIG compared to 2006 and things are different. Everyone and their Meeroo seems to be a fashion blogger these days and much more prolific than me to tell the truth. If someone was to say to me: "Hey Gang lets start a modeling agency" I'd decline and say "Hey Gang, lets start up a marketing/advertising agency" would probably be more fun. Though there's not much of a market for paid writing in SL either.

My favorite SL Model Agencies were Metro Models, which is defunct (I did a bit of writing for that one), and Aspire of course (which I wanted to work for). I kinda do miss the fashion shows though. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi or something like that, but I'm looking at the past with rose-colored glasses.

Connie Arida

/me presses the like button.

ZZ Bottom

Sl model i never tought about being one, but Sl biggest slut i tried!


Gosh, I thought this article was about 3D modeling. NWN suddenly turned into just yet another SL "fashion" blog.

CronoCloud Creeggan

Jake, the summary was pretty obvious on what the article was about. NWN also doesn't cover 3D modeling in depth, there are other places for that. NWN does cover SL culture and the SL fashion sub-culture is a big part of that.

In other words, don't diss the fashionistas, because one of the most popular "games" in SL is the "fashion game" or as it is sometimes called "Dressing one's avatar more nicely than everyone elses" The fashion business also drives a good portion of the SL economy.

Uccello Poultry

My first modeling job? I won the spot in a contest. It was an honor to model for Bare Rose. Normally June Dion models items herself or uses employees from the shop. Total pay? The outfit I modeled.

My second modeling job? I jokingly whined to be a model for LapGirl so Shep Korvin let me pose for a few outfits. Total pay? The outfits I modeled.

My third modeling job? A friend wanted to photograph me for his own portfolio. After I suggested he submit his pix to a magazine. Total pay? A copy of each picture and my name got known at the magazine.

Three "serious" jobs in almost 6 years. At other times my head, hands, or feet have been photographed for the occasional product shots and some self-submitted pictures for a magazine. Once in a blue moon someone thinks I'm a fashion blogger and sends an outfit to me to review and if I like it, I take a few pix and write some nice things. I'm not a SLebrity and I've not become rich, but it is a fun experience with some modest bragging rights (I love my "LapGirl Model" group tag).

Eve Kazan


"Who in 2012 has even heard of Starax Statosky, Elros Tuominen [...]"

Me, i'm remember very well Elros ... omg i'm feeling old now ...

Very interesting article Iris !

Iris Ophelia

@Jake Yes, I've been writing here for over half a decade on the same subjects, but it's all very sudden.


One of your better informative articles, Iris, keep up the good work.

Pussycat Catnap

NWN has been a hybrid tech-hype and SL fashion blog for a long time now.

Its really not Hamlet's blog. Its Iris and Hamlet, or sometimes Hamlet and Iris.

Read it for what it is...

I find I agree with the two of them about a third of the time. Am 'meh' another third, and vehemently disagree the remaining third. :)

(and I get IMs from people in each of those three camps who go back and forth from scorning my comments or thinking I'm the champion of what's really going on around here... Sometimes both stances on different days from the same person. :) All that's going on for me is the URL is short and easy to type in in the morning while enjoying coffee and getting ready for the day, or when I get home and feel the need to avoid the RL news for a few hours like today... and I tend to be vocal when an opinion hits me.)

Oh the article... You would think this list is all common sense, but a lot of people get confused about modeling in SL and take it way serious.

I imagine it'd be a very fun RP community to join. I think I might even like it. My SL friends will tell you I'm nuts about 'dress up' - I'll sometimes change outfits dozens of times while hanging out conversing with them.

But I would not enjoy it if there were folks around who didn't see what was going on as roleplay or just plain play.

We're dressing up digital barbie dolls here. Take that for what it is, and have a blast. Now if I could just get Ken to stop wasting all his time at that free XXX club next door... :P

Tracy Redangel

Great post Iris! I agree 100%, just have fun with your SL. The thing that has turned me off from being and SL "model" is it seems like a lot of them have super thin, tall avatars. I want to look how I want to look. Maybe some think it's boring, but I don't care. I love going to events, love shopping, love hair, shoes, jewelry, etc. It is a bit like playing with your own virtual Barbie doll (c'mon y'all...don't deny it!). I love taking pics and sharing with friends.


This is so spot on. I've also been noticing modeling "jobs" where the owners require the model to buy the products themselves. That's just shady. When I modeled in store, in print, or for a show, bosses always gave me the products. It's not a loss to the owner to make some copies.

And hey hey, I love my model tag! ;P I wear my B@R Model tag proudly because I adore the sweet people at Bare Rose, it reminds me of good times at BR, I want to advertise for them in any way I can, and (like Uccello mentioned) it was such an honor to pose for them.

Alaska Metropolitan

I recently finished writing a book (just self-published in Second Life, I'm hardly a real author or anything!) about the SL modelling industry. I had a very difficult time describing the expectations of becoming an SL model because I didn't want to outright turn people off of the whole thing, or upset any agencies/schools. Iris's points are very valid and anyone considering becoming a "model" in Second Life should read her post.

There ARE some good reasons to model in SL: you like fashion, you like meeting people, you enjoy styling, you like performing and seeing the final product (photographs, etc.) I think Iris is right to refer to it as a role playing community, because it IS very insular... only Second Life "supermodels" know who Second Life "supermodels" are. LOL.

Unfortunately, just like in Real Life(TM), model training is a big business and the SL modelling industry perpetuates a myth that you need to invest a tonne of L$ in school first.

There's a great in-world group called Model's Workshop which does free workshops and holds free-to-enter contests and shows. In the flip side, you have casting calls that refer to "certified models" - a word that doesn't mean much when there's no standards or quality control to determine students get their L$ worth at any model school they attend. It's a pretty bizarre little world, and it's changed a lot since I ran an agency... years and years ago, when there were probably only 5 active model agencies (and 1 modelling school!) in all of Second Life.

Note: I'm not saying all SL model training is a waste of time and L$. But when you search for "model school" inSL there's a LOT of them out there. How do you know which are any good? You don't. And you probably won't make your tuition fees back from modelling alone.


Iris, you killed my model aspirations, but I thank you for it. :) The time that I came across this blog hadn't been more perfect.

Uccello, thank you for the nice idea on receiving gift clothes. I'd most likely be doing the same. I just turned my back on spending L$ to be a model, but I envy you for having experiences as one.

Tracy, oh yes, I love Barbie-ing my avi! A LOT!!!

*Hand salutes Alaska Metropolitan for the wise words.*

alica molik

Modeling is a good profession.
I also want to go in modelling.
But i do not like thin models.
According to me model size should be 50 kg.
Then they look beautiful.


I agree, Shammone, but mine was well and truly dead before ever coming across this post.

Seriously, the only ones making money out of modelling are the knuckleheads and wannabes flogging their wares in their own shops, who post signs (because they're too cowardly to talk to you face to face) demanding that would-be models must spend all their L$ buying THEIR overpriced clothes to model in because if not, then why should THEY want them to model for them?

Scammers. They're tuppence a dozen and almost all of their clothes are things you wouldn't be caught dead in because low-class joints like Freebie Galaxy offer far better for free.

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