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Welcome to the forums, Jane. Don your flak jacket, you're gonna need it!

I've not visited the places you mentioned, and given how rarely I'm in-world, you'll probably graduate before I do. However, I will answer your questions about creating my avatar.

I first arrived in SL over five years ago. I wandered about help island (there are no such places anymore, just infohubs which I find less inviting/instructive) for a while before taking off into the mainland. Before I'd logged out that first day, I'd learned to change clothing and had purchased some freebies. The fine detail of that day is lost in the mists of time, but by the end of it, I'd turned myself into a cross between a classic Dutch flowergirl and a hooker.

But that was just the beginning of a five year process that's ongoing, albiet now at a glacial pace. The first help I got in tuning my look came on day two, from a woman I'd met that morning. She asked me what kind of look I wanted, gave me some freebie skins, a stylish strand of pearls, suggested I get good hair, then whisked me away to a hair store and gave me $200 for my first SL purchase. She is long gone, but I've payed that favor forward by helping other newbies over the years. I've asked them to do the same and I'm sure they have.

By that second day, I was able to change clothing without embarassing myself, but only because I don't embarass easily. Here's a pic of me trying on my first real purchase, taken by that generous woman. I did not yet know how to take a snapshot. I love attention, and so I eagerly post this picture of me in hopes someone will swoon...

Maddy, April

Now being the owner of magnificent hair, I quickly took a dislike to the lips of my freebie skin, which made me look as though I'd just eaten a powdered sugar donut. I wanted to look kissable, but those lips would only attract hungry cops.

I quickly found myself with a partner who's several months of experience made her seem to have magical powers. I was in awe. We shopped together a great deal, both learning what we did and didn't want in our own looks. It did not take me long to realize that I, and only I, would ultimately decide my look. I don't know why I ever solicited opinions from friends, as I ignored all of them. 

I was never shy about asking attractive avatar owners where they'd got their decorations, and I don't recall anyone ever being less than generous in telling. It took me half a year to develop a consistent look, to the point that people could recognize me from a distance. By the end of that first 2.5 years, I was making few changes to my avatar and wardrobe. It took lots of experimentation get where I am, and I still fiddle with a knob now and then, but I've settled into a stable look and don't expect I'll be making big changes.

Along the way, I taught myself how to make my own skins and clothing, but find I haven't time to do that other than for special occasions like Halloween and Hippiestock. I currently wear a skin modified from a freebie template I found on the web years ago, and which hasn't a molecule of powdered sugar on its lips. I have a technical background and so was able to teach myself using YouTube tutorials and onling guides as you mentioned. That didn't happen until probably my second year here. During my first year I was more interested in building things than building myself.

In case my gender is not obvious from the photograph, I'm female!

I've put your venues on my "to visit" list. You'll be the first to know if I make to any of them. Good luck with your research and your time at U of T.  The city of Toronto is home to one of my favorite SL friends, long gone.

Maddy

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Hi Jane,

It would help a bit if I knew what your research goal(s) is(are).  Why does it matter if a sim is "too girly?"

The two specific questions you ask suggest you are planning to have subjects spend some time setting up an account and doing something in SL--is that correct?  If so I have some thoughts.

Finally, do you have a faculty supervisor for your research? 

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