Look at the image below of Zuckerberg’s avatar vs Zuckerberg’s “dadbod”. What you will see is a deliberate misrepresentation here. The avatar presents the ideal body shape of a 30+ years old man with perfect skin color and appearance.
Seems impressive, right? But what are the consequences on the body images of employees when avatar-based metaverse becomes a new normal in the corporate sector? Is this something that will plague Meta as badly as Facebook and Myspace’s body image issues? Let’s explore this point in light of the new “legs” announcement by Meta.
Legs are coming to Meta’s Horizon Worlds Metaverse
Meta recently conducted the Meta Connect event where Mark Zuckerberg provided an avatar-based presentation and announced new developments by Meta, including the main news that legs are coming into the company’s Horizon Worlds Metaverse. Previously, the avatars were just floating in the Metaverse with no lower body parts. However, now the avatars of users will have legs too, meaning that you will have a full avatar body now.
Why the legs news is so talked about because adding legs is a big challenge not just for Meta but other VR competitors as well. The VR headsets can only detect hand and facial movements, while legs movement is often blocked by the hands or not seen by the headset. Therefore, the Meta is now using an AI-based predictive model to detect the orientation and movement of legs.
With legs and a complete body avatar, many are doubting how this will impact the body image concern of users which is already a well-debated topic for social media apps. But before we jump into that discussion, let’s quickly take a look at body shape issues with social media platforms.
Body Shape Concerns with Social Media Platforms
One of the reasons social media platforms got the attention and popularity across the world was the way they let users connect with their family and friends and let them know what’s going on in their lives. Over the years, social media platforms have grown a lot in terms of features and usability. Today, social media platforms are highly driven by celebrities, models, or so-called “social media influencers” that attract followers with their premium lifestyle or perfect body shape.
Although watching your favorite celebrities seem like a fun activity, deep inside you start hating your body image. That’s what has been in the debate ever since social media platforms have become a part of our lives. In fact, there are numerous researches on the impacts of social media and body shape concerns.
Other than getting manipulated by the perfect body shape of your celebrities or models, the growing use of filters and editing toolkits is further worsening the whole environment. There are filters that can turn your face into perfectly glowing skin. Similarly, there are editing tools that can transform your whole body into a perfect model-like shape. So, imagine one of your close friends posts an image of him/her on Facebook or Instagram with a stunning body shape and glowing skin. What it will make you feel? You will walk to the mirror and feel disappointed about your looks. However, if you try the same filters and editing, you might even look better than your friend. That’s how social media is impacting our mindset about our body shapes.
Role of “Legs” in Affecting Employee Body Image
Metaverse is not just about building virtual worlds and using them for gaming, it can have tons of other corporate-level benefits. Meta is collaborating with Microsoft to add the Office suite into its Metaverse. Similarly, Meta is also partnering with Zoom to enable avatar-based virtual meetings. So, the Metaverse is eventually going to provide employees with new ways of interacting and collaborating.
With the announcement of legs and the full body avatar, Meta is gradually heading towards providing a complete lifelike experience to users. However, it is again rising the concern of unrealistic body shapes of avatars. Just as an example, see the below picture of the avatars of Mark Zuckerberg and his Meta exec Aigerim Shorman. What you see is that they are looking well-shaped and well-dressed, but they look a lot different in their real life.
Once legs are linked with avatars and the Metaverse becomes a go-to place for employees to virtually interact and collaborate, it can negatively affect their body shapes. It is because they will create a perfect avatar of themselves with the ideal body shape they want and then use it for interacting with their colleagues. So, if those employees are working remotely, then this means that their actual looks are hidden from the team. They no longer have to dress up or keep up with maintaining body shapes because no one will be able to criticize them for their body shape. Eventually, it can lead to weight gain, which can impact the health and productivity of employees.
If we compare social media’s impacts on body image with that of metaverse avatars, then there is one major difference. In the case of social media, the influence is triggered by celebrities/models that make their followers feel bad about their body shapes. On the other hand, avatars make employees design their ideal body image and feel less worried about maintaining their actual body shapes. Overall, both social media and avatars can cast their negative effects on their users’ body images.
Social media is part of our everyday life and seeing so many filter-based posts of celebrities, models, and influencers with unrealistic body standards are negatively impacting teens and young adults. On top of that, full-body avatars are going to worsen the whole situation, especially at the corporate level. When employees no longer have to worry about the criticism they might face due to body shape, they can become more reckless about it.
One solution to address avatar impacts on body image is by auto-designing the avatars by seeing the actual body shape of the user and giving them limited customization options. However, this does not seem to get implemented by Meta and other VR services. Overall, it might take a few more years till avatar-based meetups become mainstream, so the actual impact of avatars on body image can be better guessed after that.