In the virtual, 3-D world known as Second Life, improving the way you look doesn't require plastic surgery. You can become your ideal self with just a click of a mouse.
Once you log onto Second Life, one of your first steps is to create an avatar of yourself — a visual representation of you. Users, or "residents" as they're called in Second Life, who spoke to ABC News, said they felt altering their images in the virtual world made them feel happier in the real one.
Established four years ago in San Francisco by Linden Lab, Second Life has fast become an online phenomenon. According to data supplied by Linden Labs, there are more than 40,000 users on Second Life's Web site at any given time and millions of people have tried it.
Kirsty Hawkshaw, for example, a British musician who goes by the avatar KFH Pooraka in Second Life, said, "When the kids are asleep, the diva comes out in me."
You can often find her dancing up a storm at her Second Life nightclub, though in the real world her life is more subdued.
Forgetting about the Real World
For some people, the advantages of having a Second Life avatar are even more pronounced. Bonnie Lasser-Nadeau, who lives near Memphis, Tenn., developed a thyroid condition and her health took a turn for the worse. Going into Second Life as the sexy avatar Wisteria Wilds lifted Lasser-Nadeau's spirits.
"Wisteria is my muse," she said. "She's my vision board. She is what I am bringing back into my life. Good friends. Solid friendships. Mobility. … She's leading me there. She's brought back my creative side again — which is just wonderful."
Lasser-Nadeau, who works as a data specialist for Verizon Wireless, added that Second Life has helped her to forget about real world barriers, such as the quick way people categorize each other based on appearances. With Wisteria, she's freer, and it's carrying over to her relationships.
Meeting Your Match on Second Life
Some meetings in Second Life between avatars have triggered real-world relationships, even marriages. Sammie Bordeaux and Alan Seeger met as Sansarya Caligari and Phoenix Psaltery and dated there.
They took the relationship to the real world, exchanging photos and speaking on the phone. Before meeting in person, Seeger revealed that he required the use of a wheelchair, thinking Bordeaux might change her mind. She didn't. She recalled telling him, "How could you think it makes a difference?"
They arranged to meet in a small town in South Dakota, near Bordeaux's home.
Bordeaux recalls kissing Seeger as soon as they met, right in front of her kids. She remembered how her kids were "really shocked when their mom went and kissed a stranger in a parking lot van."
Added Seeger, "It was such a catharsis. It was such a feeling, like here she is in the flesh, instead of in the pixels, so to speak. It was an amazing feeling. I didn't know what to expect as far as her reaction. When you kissed me, it was a big surprise. … It's like we had known each other for ages."
Seeger and Bordeaux held a lavish wedding in Second Life, but only a modest one in the real world.
Another Second Lifer who met a love interest on the Web site and then took it to the real world is Peter Lokke. Lokke was a Pathmark store manager in Queens, N.Y., when he joined Second Life three years ago and created the avatar Crucial Armitage, a sexy female fashion designer.
According to Marc Fetscherin, who teaches at Rollins College in Florida, where he specializes in consumer behavior in digital environments, at least one-third of the users on Second Life are men posing as women.
After two years on the Web site, Lokke realized he could earn a living selling virtual clothing. He quit his job at Pathmark earlier this year to focus exclusively on his Second Life business, where he's earning on average $5,000 a month.
Lokke and other Second Life business people earn Linden Dollars, the currency of Second Life, which can be converted to U.S. dollars and deposited into PayPal accounts.
Still, no matter how wonderful things appear to be in Second Life, some experts wonder whether it's healthy.
"I call it no life," said David Greenfield, a psychologist with the Center for Internet Behavior. He also said that when you're on Second Life, you can't handle your first life and that alternate realities, if they're used in moderation, are fine but the Internet blurs what moderation is because it's easy to lose perspective of time and space.
He said online virtual worlds like Second Life raise social issues.
"Why is it so easy to create an online life and not one in real life?" he asked.
But for the moment, thousands of residents continue to lead dual lives.