Facebook is trying to make VR diverse, and that’s admirable. But it’s missing an easy way to be even more inclusive, and possibly empowering, with many of its users.
The key: Give users the power to create VR avatars that are body accurate, even if it means they may look fat.
Facebook Spaces, the company’s budding social-VR app, is getting a slew of avatar customization options so your cartoonish likenesses can be even more unique and personal. (Yes, this is the same technology that allowed Mark Zuckerberg to make a fool of himself in virtual Puerto Rico.) The new customizations were announced in April ahead of Facebook’s F8 developer conference.
“Our goal is that everyone can represent themselves in VR in a way that feels natural, so we knew we could do better,” Facebook said in a statement about last week’s announcement. “In order to have a meaningful social experience in VR, you need an engaging avatar that represents you and helps you relate to other people in the virtual space. It’s a huge part of feeling like you’re ‘really there’ together.”
To that end, Facebook Spaces has added new skin tones, facial features, and accessories to cater to users of a wide variety of races and religions.
Amidst the diversity, however, one thing remains constant. The avatars’ bodies are all skinny AF. While you can modify your avatar’s body shape, there are limits to how big it can get; everything we’ve seen in promotional materials has been around the same size, with slight differences in height and bulk.
Facebook has done a good job capturing the diversity of its audience when it comes to their faces and hair. And in the world of avatars, which have been head-only for so long, it’s easy to think a person’s appearance can be approximated entirely by their face.
But when those heads are connected to necks, torsos, and arms, that’s no longer enough. Facebook needs to consider body diversity as well. Facebook’s users aren’t just diverse in race and ethnicity: They are also more diverse in weight, height, and build than the platform currently allows.
Yes, some chunkier folks might enjoy having their avatar be skinny. On the other hand, some folks may want an avatar that accurately represents their body. And if you’re someone who’s journeying to lose weight, or gain muscle mass, then changing your avatar to reflect your changing body could be an empowering experience. People will have their own preferences. Let them make the choice.
It’s important that companies like Facebook and Bitmoji help their users create attractive, accurate avatars. But it’s also important that they not perpetuate Hollywood’s myth that skinny is the only way to be.
Facebook Spaces’ body-modification tool is a good first step, and I hope it goes further.
UPDATE: May 7, 2018, 4:08 p.m. EDT A previous version of this article said that new avatar customizations were announced at F8. The new features were actually announced in early April ahead of the conference.