An Avatar is a pictorial representation of a person. Online, many people can connect only through the avatar. Avatars have become placeholders for bodies that exist far away from each other.
Online, individuals can act as companies through branding themselves through text and a photo. Similarly, a business can represent itself as an individual through a friendly, approachable avatar. On social networks, says Kathryn Everest, “pictures have become essential -- especially facial representations that are positive. It is completely how people connect as people -- especially as we’re becoming more virtual. It removes us from being just a database record". People are more likely to trust human photos on social networking sites rather than logos, and all have higher acceptance rates. Thus, an avatar has become not only a placeholder for the body, but also a placeholder of meaning.
Originally, Avatars were the physical embodied forms that Gods used to interact with mankind. The term suggests a representation of an entity that has a surplus of meaning and thus needs a placeholder. Shiva, Vishnu, Zeus, and many other Gods manifested in various forms, such as animals or iconic symbols, in order to communicate in a way that humans could understand. If we heed Stewart Brand's call in the first Whole Earth Catalog at the dawn of the computing age: "We are as Gods and might as well get used to it", the concept becomes even more interesting. The term will always imply a lack in representation, and thus a corresponding excess in the entity represented. Avatars allow us to communicate in new realities that are "thinner" than our manifested reality, but also allow us to be much more than a mere collection of pixels on a screen. Avatars lie at the heart of performative theories of representation, with the user having relatively free range as to how their virtual second self is portrayed.
Royalty also used portraits in a similar way to how people use avatars on dating sites. A portrait artist would spend a long time on a commissioned portrait of someone and send it off to another country. Of course, these portraits were often much more flattering than the person looked in real life, so both parties often surprised each other when they finally met for the first time during the marriage ceremony.