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Mesh Bodies

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A very general overview -

The normal body (aka System or Classic) is the body that comes with the avatar when you first create your avatar.  You can change or modify it by wearing different skins and by changing its shape (either yourself by going into 'edit shape' and adjusting the shape sliders or by buying a pre-made shape and then wearing that shape).  System bodies can wear system clothes (the 'painted on' looking ones) or mesh clothes that are designed to be worn by classic avatar bodies.   For those who do not want a full mesh body, many will purchase add-on mesh hands and/or feet (such as Slink hands or feet, for example, but there are other brands as well in the MP I think).   If mesh add-on hands or feet are worn, they need to be either tinted, using the tools that come with them, to match your bodies skin, or you need to see if the creator of the skin that you are wearing also sells an applier to automatically tint the hands and/or feet to match the body skin.  It is possible to create a nice looking system body avatars by using a good skin, good hair, good shape and nice mesh clothes.  So there is nothing wrong with staying with a system body while you figure out if you want to go with a mesh body or not, and if so, which one you want.

Mesh bodies are another body that is worn over the system body.  There will be a full body alpha that comes with the mesh body which will worn will make the underlying system body invisible (so it doesn't poke out or thru the overlying mesh body).  Mesh bodies generally come with hands and feet, but not always, depending on the creator.  Mesh bodies provide a smoother look in some key areas (hands, feet, shoulder blades, other areas generally hidden by clothes) as well as different rigging to enhance certain shape types.  You can still adjust your shape to alter the look of the mesh body, but different mesh bodies may work better than others for the overall body style that you want.   You may need to find a skin pack which includes a system skin (if you are keeping your system head) along with an applier to apply that skin onto the type of mesh body that you have.    Some mesh clothing for system bodies can still be worn on some mesh bodies - it depends on the clothing style and your shape.  Generally for the major mesh body brands you will see mesh clothing that is specific to a type of mesh body (for example, you may buy a dress which has a version for Maitreya, a version for Belleza Freya, a version for Slink Hourglass, etc.).   Mesh bodies generally come with a HUD which let you customize some things and also let you 'alpha' out specific areas of the mesh body which is often necessary so that the mesh body doesn't poke through parts of the clothes.  Mesh bodies also contain 'layers' that you can apply tattoos, or stockings, or when you want to later clothing, etc. - provided that you have purchased an item that has an applier for the type of body you have.   Many mes bodies are "Omega" compatible, so purchasing an Omega relay for that body will let you apply appliers that are "Omega"  compatible.

The most important thing about choosing a mesh body, if you decide to go that route, is to DEMO them - and then DEMO them again.  See what they look like on your shape.  Also play around with the shape sliders so you can see how much you can or cannot change the basic look of parts of the mesh body - some brands are more curvier than others, for example, and that curviness stays to some extent even when you change the shape sliders.  See if they work with any of the clothes you have, and also check out clothing that you like to see if there is availability of the styles you like for the mesh body you are considering. 

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Posted (edited)

@moirakathleen did a good job at explaining the details and practicalities, but I also want to underline what the difference really boils down to:

You cannot take off the "normal body." Every avatar has one, always.

A mesh body is an "attached object." There are different kinds to choose from.

Edited by Wulfie Reanimator
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For mesh bodies they come in different price brackets if you buy a very cheap body you are likely to have very little to no included customisation or body alpha options, no Omega applier support, there may be body parts such as hands/head/feet that you can't remove or alpha out in order to use a different body part or while made with the best intentions it might not be very user friendly. As suggested earlier demo, demo, demo probably more important than the body is the HUD you will use it more than you think. it doesn't matter how amazing the body is if you can't get on with the HUD you'll soon wish you'd chosen something you got on with better 

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I play a child avatar. The normal system body only scales down so far, to the point where it's almost impossible to make a 10 year old that looks human. Mesh bodies allow foe these different body types (children, aliens, animals, etc) because they let you go beyond the shape of an adult human.

Beyond that, mesh avatars tend to look fare better than system avatars. One of the biggest offenders is feet. System avatars look like they have door stops for feet, while mesh avatars can have things like toes. Mesh avatars can also give a lot of control over appearance. My body, for example, actually gets wet when I'm in water, making my shiny shine a bit until the effect fades and I dry. This can help with immersion and photography, as the avatar can look better than a system avatar can.

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