Virtual pageant honours beauty... and the bust
There was no swimsuit parade, stomach-churning acceptance speech or even a paean to world peace. But just as the Icelandic part-time policewoman Unnur Birna Vilhjalmsdottir was crowned Miss World 2005 at the weekend at a ceremony in China, a simultaneous event in cyberspace saw the virtual Asian beauty "Mi" christened Miss Digital World 2005.
The online competition had all the glitz of its human equivalent - as underlined by the vital statistics of the winner. Created by Japanese designer Ichi Yoshimoto, the 163cm tall beauty has "slick" black hair, brown eyes and weighs in at 88-58-89 (that's 34-23-35 in old money). In one image, Mi is portrayed looking coy in a kimono, but her video showreel reveals her kitted out in futuristic silver bondage gear and felling a demonic robot with a vicious roundhouse kick.
Mi was one of 21 virtual women created by digital artists for the competition organised by Monumedia, an Italian multimedia company. The brief was to create a "contemporary ideal of beauty through virtual reality", according to designer Franz Cerami, who dreamed up the competition.
In a scene reminiscent of the 1985 movie Weird Science, which saw two teenage geeks create a virtual woman (played by former model Kelly LeBrock), designers from as far afield as India, Japan, Brazil and Argentina, tried to fulfil Cerami's brief. Fighting for the grand prize of a $5,000 (£2,835) gold bar, contestants drew inspiration from computer game characters, movie stars and celebrities.
The results were, from the technical viewpoint, impressive. Admittedly, Lara Croft's DNA lives on: some of the chest characteristics were disproportionate, and the bust area saw particular attention to detail. But the majority of entries were scarily lifelike. Some were so realistic that the only things that betrayed their digital existence were minor physical details such as robotic body movements, and the absence of blinking.
But what do real women make of these visions of digital perfection? Is it just a case of lonely geeks sitting in their bedrooms salivating over an exaggerated idea of beauty, or are their creations a lovingly crafted homage to the female form?
Katie Lee, editor of the girls' gadgets website Shiny Shiny, sees little difference between the digital creations and today's C-list celebrities. "The virtual women all look quite feisty to me, and they're no more a projection of male fantasy than the various semi-clad silicone women in the likes of Zoo or Nuts," she says. "In fact, there's a bit more romance to them than that - it's obvious they've been created with a lot of care. Sure, that's still on the wrong side of creepy, and some seem to have improbably large breasts, but I'm finding it hard to get upset about it. These boys don't get to meet many real women, after all."
However, online fashion journalist Sam Lyster is less convinced. "Although I hate to say it, the whole thing comes across as men who are unable to relate to real women retreating into a fantasy world where they can create their own version of femininity, which I imagine includes such physical characteristics as being mute except for when they are praising the masculinity and prowess of their creators. It is," she concludes, "a little bit sad."
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