Between the ages of 18 and approximately 23 I was a happy-go-lucky Tits McGee. And what I mean by that, is I didn’t feel a wave of self-conciousness and judgement for wearing a strappy top or having a visible décolletage. I was, for the most part, comfortable with how I looked. Even aged 17 when a possessive boyfriend repeatedly hissed the code word “ELEPHANT, ELEPHANT!” across his family’s dinner table freaking out that a crack of cleavage may have been slightly visible, I just saw him for what he was; insecure.
(One day, upon turning on his gaming computer, which was a self-built rig with approximately 13 fans, I accidentally discovered he was more of a bum man anyway.)
As I’ve got older and social media has taken hold, it feels like the rules have changed. Women who post pictures of themselves at their most attractive on public spaces have become “egirls”, as if their digital footprint has consumed their identity and made them nothing more than a one-dimensional smattering of pixels. Boys who once cried mammal over mammaries have been replaced by a generation who dissect and recontextualise these images. They both worship and go to war with what they see on screen, forgetting the reality of the person who hit publish or the go live button.
Perhaps it is not strange that I feel more self-concious than I did at 32 than 17. I am on camera almost daily and see my presence welcomed and criticised. I get more comments based on the way I look than the work I do. My personal style has morphed from my student jumble of vintage and sale-rack H&M to jumpsuits, jumpers and jeans. But when I head offline and out of the door, I feel self-concious about being “dressed up”. I almost exclusively associate my own low cut attire with awards shows now – battleboobs, primed and ready to be made the punchline of a joke about tit tape, or to cheekily protest the now defunct streaming platform Mixer’s ridiculous rules about broadcasters’ spaghetti straps requiring an age rating. (It’s also because I wear a lot of suits, dresses and jumpsuits on stage, so it’s nice to wear something I wouldn’t wear on a broadcast to these shows. Less “poli-tits”, more wanting to feel like I’m not on duty.)
All boobs are brilliant, mine included. Mine aren’t so large that they make a high neckline look like I’m smuggling a shelf, but for many friends I know, it may look or feel restrictive to wear these kinds of tops, given that we’re all different shapes and sizes. Something lower cut may be a more comfortable option, and also what they feel at their best in. For me, that’s currently a turtle neck, because I can tuck it into a high waisted jean, pair it with a chain and pretend I’m the Rock.
A friend who is a very successful streamer once told me “I want to look at my most attractive when I’m streaming”, and why wouldn’t she? When you are putting yourself on camera you want to be confident – it’s what your audience wants too. While nerves are natural, as a viewer you’re more likely to stick around for someone who is happy with who they are and sets a tone for their community.
For a couple of years now I’ve seen the online community rage on Twitter over the subject of female streamers on Twitch – from arguing that attractive women are manipulating money from vulnerable young men, to trying to pit women against each other; “you’re a real gamer though, you don’t have your tits out”, “these women with their tits out ruin it for the real streamers!” etc.
I didn’t even know about the so-called “chaturbate” content currently lighting up my Twitter feed until it was posted about there. From a glance, it appears to be shorthand for streamers in hot tubs on the Just Chatting channel. So I visited the Just Chatting category on Twitch to see if this “wildfire of wantoness” was spreading. And yes, I found a couple of inflatable hot tubs a la Argos, but also far more streams of cooking, travelling and working out. I even found indentical Russian twins called Oleg and Kostya cooking topless except for aprons with cute cats emblasoned on the front. And funnily enough, I didn’t feel threatened by any of it. Not by the gain-getting twins, and not by Canadian streamer Faith, who on popping briefly into her hot tub stream, was just having regular conversations about pop culture with her chat. She just happened to be doing it in a bikini.
Gaming culture is filled with provocatively drawn avatars of ladies and female human/mythical being hybrids that are fiercely protected in their skimpy state by a vocal community, therefore it doesn’t really feel out of place to have sexy women enjoying that culture themselves – either by dicussing it, emulating it or both.
Last year we witnessed a furore over a female character in the Last of Us Part II, Abby and her strong arms. Her strength is empowering and achieveable for women who weight train – a shape is unashamedly not for you but for that person’s own purpose. It was not something that could be controlled by players, and it made them angry. I wonder if that’s why some people have issues with women in the Twitch space. They can’t be them and they can’t control them – only Twitch can by invoking their terms of service.
Twitch is a private entity, not a public service broadcaster. It’s owned by Amazon, a corporation whose skill at making money and not paying much of it back out in taxes is unparalled. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like an Amazon machine, but it still needs to make money; it is going to exercise its rights with business in mind.
Confident women unsettle in a way confident men don’t – it’s less than 100 years in the UK since women were allowed to hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men (the law changed in 1926) – in other words, until fairly recently, women were second class citizens. It’s a conditioned idea of women as property that dissatisfied women are scratching away at, irritating our way to being viewed on equal terms and having our own agency unchallenged. We should question why we’re expected to be sexy with the caveat of this only being so in the spaces set out for us; these are our bodies, after all.
Streaming on Twitch for people is a way to make money in a time when our access to work and each other is very limited. I confess I found an image of a streamer doing a sauna-based Just Chatting stream in a white clear-strapped bikini that resembled sellotape and kitchen towel quite funny, just because that’s where my banal imagination went. But did it offend me? Not at all. I stream myself being average at Counter-Strike on my own channel where I mostly offend people by forgetting to buy kevlar. People will always find ways to be angry, no matter the content.
I think that’s what people forget – at the end of the day, we’re all individuals crafting communities. Focus on what compells your audience to come back – or support the streamers you want to by showing up and subscribing if you can afford to. Twitch isn’t just a gaming platform any more, just like its predeccesor Justin TV wasn’t. It hasn’t been for years. It serves to give you the opportunity to be yourself, and profit from it.