Dressing the Part in Zwinky World

11 July 2008

If I might stay in the fashion and gender vein . . . 


One of the more popular activities for online youth involves the creation of avatars, that is, animated icons representing oneself.  Zwinky, a software program designed for the very thing, helps people generate anime-inspired personae.  It seems to be especially popular with girls, who can try out all sorts of outfits on their cyberselves, though Zwinky offers a range of male templates. 

Their standard ad features a cartoonish girl with long legs, hourglass waist, big breasts, doe-like eyes.  No surprise there.  But she also sports short hair and skullbones on her bra and shorts. Follow the ad to their site to find most of the other female avatars sharing these core qualities: C-cup-plus chests, skinny girl legs, and eyes as big as plates.  Yet this is no traditional Barbie.  Most have actual hips (thank goodness.  How did hips go out of style?).   A surprising number of the female personalities have an ass-kicking quality to them, a weird hybrid of “Hello Kitty” and punk-goth bitch.

 The male figures appear more normal.  Normal, that is, if one means lean and muscular with smaller heads and piercing eyes.  The men are also encouraged to dress themselves up in various fashions, though I noticed that their wardrobes tend to be limited compared to the women.  With the exception of pimp-wear (gaudy necklaces, pink suits, etc.), the men had relatively standard, casual fare from which to choose, stuff you’d expect to find at a skate park or frat party.  I did find, however, certain male users who had gone towards a bobblehead look.

It is a little surprising that Zwinky, with its be-who-you-want-to-be philosophy, doesn’t challenge social conventions so much as supply their exaggerations. 






  1. The popularity of these avatars stems from the vain desire to recreate for ourselves the type of perfection which most can never have. The sweet, demure female; yet with the right touch of attitude to provide that spark of excitement(e.g., the “Madonna/Whore” ideal many men seek after). The rugged-yet-introspective emo male, brimming with self-confidence and overachieving, while retaining the ability to understand and even anticipate your feelings and needs. Oh yeah, and he’s able to coordinate colors with a surprising degree of adequacy!

    Zwinky and other avatar sites like the one Yahoo offers give you what life would be like with the perfect body and an unlimited budget with which to decorate it. The social conventions they perpetuate, sadly, aren’t all that exaggerated after all…in today’s hyper sexualized culture, they’re practically expected! No matter how hard the PC crowd and the progressive social engineers of today might fight it, the quest for “Stepford living” never really goes out of style.

    Complicated enough for ya? :-p

  2. Fellow Carnivore, I agree that there is something Stepfordish about Zwinky despite all of their attempts to market their avatars as countercultural. Aren’t their coy but childish images proof that we’re working within a domesticated paradigm? (I’d be interested in your opinion of the Japanese hyper-cute fad that has been popular since Hello Kitty. Is that domesticatedness too – or is it actually a kind of subversion from within a domesticated image?)

    I like your description of the modern male ideal in America: “rugged-yet-introspective emo male.” Is this the same as the (complementary? pejorative?) term “metrosexual”?

  3. It is scary that people now try to dress/look like cartoon characters instead of cartooning trying to imitate reality.

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