Last week, a 19-year-old cosplayer and Instagram model named Belle Delphine posted a photo of herself in the tub, holding a jar and a pastel pink game controller. “i am now selling my BATH WATER for all you THIRSTY gamer boys 💦,” she wrote in the caption, accompanied by a link to her online store. In later Instagram videos, she films herself splashing around in the bath, wearing a tight aqua T-shirt and a thong, then spitting bathwater into a jar while winking coyly and making a wide range of facial expressions that can only be described as criminally horny.
Immediately, as if drawn by the call of the Sirens, many of Delphine’s 4.1 million followers flocked to her newly established store, where her so-called “Gamer Girl Bathwater,” which she sold for $30 per jar, sold out instantly. The story went viral, with media outlets alternately deriding Delphine’s fans for their naïvete and applauding her for her marketing savvy; as well as a number of (later debunked) claims that people who had purchased Delphine’s bathwater had been sent to the hospital, or been diagnosed with herpes, or that Delphine was now selling her urine for $9,999.
The stunt also spawned a small cottage industry of reaction videos from YouTubers who had bought her bathwater, with a handful of her fans — mostly young men in their teens or twenties — drinking it, cooking with it, and even vaping it. (The latter image, which was tweeted by YouTuber Vito Gesualdi, turned out to be a stunt to promote his video: the fact that it went viral, with many mocking Gesualdi for falling for Delphine’s scam, “has been a very good lesson in how eagerly people will accept a lie if it’s entertaining,” Gesualdi tells Rolling Stone.)
In truth, though, Delphine’s success is not all that surprising — the only thing the internet loves more than a hot, half-naked gamer girl, is a hot, half-naked gamer girl who’s expert at trolling.
I looked at the gamer bathwater girl’s 4 million follower Instagram and it’s like I’ve been teleported 80 years into the future and no longer have the slightest grip on the culture pic.twitter.com/YR6IxWkfgj
— Philosophys Possibly Most Incompetent Grad Student (@christapeterso) July 5, 2019
So who, exactly, is Belle Delphine?
The 19-year-old Delphine, who did not respond to Rolling Stone‘s multiple requests for comment, was born in South Africa and currently lives in the U.K., according to her online profiles. And despite her current penchant for doing things like eating raw ramen, curling up in fridges, and embracing dead squids, her influencer career actually started out fairly normal.
Her first YouTube video, which was posted in August 2016, is a fairly standard makeup tutorial, featuring a fresh-faced Delphine showing off how to do a cat-eye while donning kitty ears. A September 2018 video, however, which shows Delphine giving a tour of her pastel pink room while wearing fake braces and thigh-high stockings, is far more aligned with her current aesthetic, which can best be summarized as “alien Disney princess porn star.”
In March 2018, Delphine launched her Patreon, where she describes herself as a “weird elf kitty girl who [tries] too hard” who loves painting, drawing, ice skating, and taking care of her hamsters. It also states that she loves “DDLG” (a reference to daddy dom/little girl, a BDSM roleplay dynamic) and pet play (see: the hardcore kitty rap). Her Patreon allows her followers to purchase access to her personal Snapchat, where she posts NSFW photos and other forms of what she describes as “lewd content” for anywhere between $5 and $2,500 a month. Over the past year, Delphine’s Instagram has exploded in popularity, climbing from about 850,000 followers in November 2018 to 4.2 million in July 2019, according to the Instagram tracking platform Trackalytics. Her following got a huge bump last month, when Delphine announced in a post that if her photo got one million likes, she would make a Pornhub account: “The time has finally come,” she wrote.
After the post in question racked up a million views, with fans salivating over the prospect of seeing more explicit content, Delphine made good on her word — but only to a point. Those who clicked on one of the 12 videos she posted, “Belle Delphine gets huge dripping creampie,” were treated to a brief clip of Delphine actually making a creampie; another video, which promised to show Delphine playing with her “pussy,” featured Delphine playing with two stuffed cats.
Reactions to the stunt were mixed: while many fans were amused, others were betrayed. “She has broken people’s hearts and destroyed their dignity,” one hilariously butt-hurt comment from a fan read. “The only apology we will except is real videos and not these fake disgusting lies.” If nothing else, the Pornhub channel cemented Delphine’s reputation as a savvy self-marketer and consummate troll.
Why is Belle Delphine so popular?
Well, there are two answers to this question. The first is that she’s a hot girl who takes her clothes off online — a winning formula for any female aspiring influencer. The second, and more complicated, answer, is that Delphine capitalizes on — and, arguably, knowingly exploits — a number of internet-based female sexuality tropes.
The first, and most obvious, of these tropes is Delphine’s love of cosplay: a number of Instagram posts feature her dressed up as various popular characters, such as Harley Quinn, or D.Va from Overwatch, catering directly to fans’ fantasies about these characters. Her predilection for pastel clothes and wigs, lengthy lashes, and eye-enlarging contact lenses all stem from the Japanese cosplay community. Delphine is also known for her overly sexualized, exaggerated facial expressions, or ahegao, a Japanese term for the facial expressions of female characters in hentai (cartoon pornography). “The idea is a woman is experiencing so much pleasure, her facial expression is out of control,” explains Lauren Orsini, a journalist who covers fandom and Japanese culture.
Orsini also sees parallels between Delphine’s own career trajectory and that of Japanese “idols,” or microcelebrities akin to influencers. Idols tend to “[skirt] the line between cutesy and sexy,” just as Delphine does, says Orsini: while they’re supposed to appear chaste and sexually inaccessible, they’re also supposed to maintain their aggressively youthful sex appeal, and will often shoot gravure, or semi-provocative photo shoots, to promote this image. The goal, says Orsini, is to make yourself “seem artificially attainable,” which is precisely the effect of Delphine’s content in general and the bathwater stunt in particular.
These references to Japanese culture have garnered some criticism for Delphine, who has been accused of racism and cultural appropriation in her cosplay, as well as capitalizing on the eroticization of young girls. Marica Hase, a Japanese adult performer and cosplayer, doesn’t see it this way, and says she is “impressed” by Delphine’s cosplay: “I see her manga characters as more of an homage and not racist,” she says. But such references to Japanese fandom culture, as well as online geek culture in general, have the effect of catering to a specific audience — mostly, of guys in their teens and twenties who are Extremely Online.
Why is Belle Delphine controversial?
Delphine markets herself as a “gamer girl,” which engages with a very specific stereotype about women in gaming. In the gaming community, there’s a longstanding perception of female gamers as desperate attention-seekers who sexualize themselves to get more views and capitalize on horny dudes’ desire for nerdy female counterparts. The “fake gamer girl” meme is so rampant, as is abuse and harassment of women in the community, that it has the effect of alienating many female gamers, making them highly self-conscious about how they present themselves online. Delphine, however, embraces the stereotype head-on, to such a degree that she’s likely doing something far more complicated — and arguably more interesting — than simply pandering to horny gamer boys for likes, says Lux Alptraum, a writer who covers sex and technology. “She’s almost like a parody of the kind of girl these dudes want,” she says. “She’s very directly playing into the sensibilities of these men.”
She also loves to troll them, as evidenced by the Pornhub stunt — and many of Delphine’s young, male followers do not take kindly to that. Much of the controversy generated by Delphine’s content stems from “typical internet misogyny” targeted at attractive young women who have the nerve to commodify their own sex appeal, says Gesualdi. “There’s a certain segment of the internet community which is absolutely furious whenever an attractive young woman outwits them.”
But Delphine has also garnered a significant amount of controversy among sex workers and adult content creators, who accuse her of profiting off internet sex workers’ marketing tactics while simultaneously distancing herself from adult content creators. Princess Berpl, an adult performer and cosplay artist, says that many of Delphine’s self-branding tactics, such as using the ahegao face in videos or appealing to the gaming community, originated in the sex work community. Even the bathwater stunt, which was met with revulsion by the mainstream media, is “pretty normal” within the adult industry, as there’s a large market for intimate items of adult performers within the fetish community, says Berpl: “People buy my pee, cum, etc. It’s very common…hell, I’ve even sold my trash before.”
The animosity toward Delphine, however, goes beyond her merely appropriating adult content creator branding tactics. In the sex work community, Delphine has long been dogged by allegations that early on in her career, when she was still underage, she used other sex workers’ nude photos without their consent and represented them as her own. A January 2019 video by fellow adult content creator Indigo White outlines these allegations, featuring screenshots of conversations between Delphine and another model, Minty Darling (who, it’s worth pointing out, bears a superficial resemblance to Delphine and is also a cosplayer known for her ahegao content). In Sept. 2018 screenshots of Facebook messages between Darling and Delphine, Delphine appears to apologize for having stolen Darling’s nude photos and represented them as her own without Darling’s consent, admitting that she had been approached by a man who had offered to help her make money selling fake nudes. In emails with Rolling Stone, Darling confirmed the veracity of the screenshots, saying she felt “very hurt” by Delphine’s actions. She was even more upset when she was told by a mutual friend that Delphine had participated in the scheme to fund a trip to Venice. “I made some poor choices [at Delphine’s age] as well… but I never did anything like that,” she says.
For this reason, Berpl says, many sex workers believe that Delphine has a tendency to, whether directly or indirectly, profit off the labor of sex workers while “disrespecting them in the process.” “A lot of people do not believe she belongs in our community because of this,” she says. It’s worth noting, however, that not everyone in the adult community feels this way. Hase, the Japanese adult performer and cosplayer, sees her sexier content (which is limited mostly to topless shots for her premium Snapchat followers and is not explicit) as distinct from that of adult performers. “I think her choosing to be a Kawaii [Japanese for “cute”] cosplay girl, rather than an actual porn performer, has made her successful and appeal to more of a mass audience,” she says. She’s also a big fan of Delphine’s work: “To be special or unique is good for a creator, and she definitely does try to be unique.”
So is Belle Delphine for real?
Alptraum views Delphine’s brand as a kind of performance art. “It feels like a really fascinating commentary on what it means to be a woman on the internet and how you manufacture an audience, and what is and isn’t rewarded. She’s saying, ‘I’m gonna be a sexual commodity, but I’m not gonna deliver on that,'” she says. The fact that much of her content is more bizarre than overtly sexy supports this view. Take, for instance, an Instagram video of Delphine eating a raw egg, winking at the camera and licking her lips as she gnaws on the shell, accompanied by the caption: “Do you think I’ll get Sam and Ella?” Another, similarly ridiculous post shows Delphine donning elf ears, a thong, and a flower crown, and pouring a bottle of water all over herself, with the caption, “how do you even drink water.”
Such content appears to indicate that Delphine is leaning into — if not overtly parodying — the perception of the ideal girl as a hot, innocent young thing whose desire to play Fortnite is only eclipsed by her desire for nerdy gamer boy dick; so overwhelmed is she by desire that she can barely remember how to drink water. But even that added level of irony may ultimately have the effect of endearing her largely young, largely male audience — which similarly professes a love for trolling — even more, for better or for worse, says Princess Burpl. “She’s not really representing herself, but rather a persona that gets ‘the lulz.’ Which I think is the same kind of mask a lot of the toxic people in gamer culture hide behind.”
Because Delphine did not respond to repeated requests for comment, it’s unclear how much of her shtick is savvy self-branding, elaborate performance art, or thirsty influencer willing to perform increasingly bizarre stunts for attention (or a combination of all three). What seems clear, however, is that she’s very much in on her own joke — and what’s even clearer, judging by the comments on her egg-eating and squid-hugging posts, which range widely from vitriolic to almost unspeakably horny, is that most of her fans are not.
“It’s clear Belle Delphine is playing a character: the empty-headed gamer girl ditz who floats around spreading love and magic wherever she goes,” says Vito. “And she’s incredibly good at playing that character, because most people seem to have fallen for it almost completely.”
This story has been updated with comment from Minty Darling.