Technology has always been my friend. As an older Millennial, I grew up with sites such as Livejournal and Myspace, and when YouTube first started to gain popularity, I quickly jumped on board and began uploading content. It’s something I wish I would have continued as that “what if” voice whispers in the back of my mind often.
So you can imagine how intrigued I was when an influencer marketing agency presented me with the opportunity to work for the streaming app BIGO, back in the fall of 2018. For $500 per month, I would stream my day-to-day life. It seemed like an easy way to make money without much change to my daily routine, but I quickly became a victim of an ongoing stream of sexist and abusive behaviour from the platform’s community.
What is BIGO?
BIGO is a live streaming platform owned by a Singapore-based company where users are able to share live content with followers.
Comments about my nose being too big were also common — one after another with no words, just the nose emoji 5 times over.
The marketing agency assured me this would be a great way to develop a platform for myself as an influencer. Getting paid to live stream my day to day life and develop a following for myself, all while padding my pockets with a bit of cash? Heck yeah, I was up for it. Since I was younger, being a TV personality was always a dream of mine and in this new era of digital media, I’ve since set my sights into the influencer world. Either way, all things pop culture, beauty and fashion were my calling and I believed this would be a ticket into this realm. Little did I know how dark this realm could really be, and the toll it’d take on my mental health.
There was that time I got unsolicited feedback on my face
I started on the platform by filming daily “get ready with me” videos — what I thought were light, enjoyable videos that I could easily engage with followers to share my skincare and beauty routines. However, I quickly found out this audience wasn’t here for those types of tips. As I naively spoke of my favourite products or makeup hacks, I’d be bombarded with messages from men asking me to take my clothes off or marry them. When I wouldn’t engage with them, their script would switch to vial hatred, telling me to “kill myself”, “get cancer” or “get AIDS”. Comments about my nose being too big were also common — one after another with no words, just the nose emoji five times over. My private inbox was the same and to this day, I’m unsure if they were meant as digs at me or some fetish I am unaware of. Regardless, these comments were a trigger for me, bringing me back to my twenties when my nose was also used against me by a real life male that just to hurt me.
In 2012, while out at a karaoke night at a popular Tex-Mex bar in Toronto, I was approached by an acquaintance who began hitting on me. I kindly declined his advances. When I got home that night, I sat in bed and scrolled through Facebook as I waited for my eyes to grow heavier. But instead, I bolted wide awake in shock as I read this male acquaintance’s status simply stating, “Trishelle Esposito has a big nose.” His shattered ego from my polite shut down led him to attack me publicly, for all his friends to laugh at and me to question myself. I was devastated, but more than that, I forever looked at my face differently.
Here’s what working for BIGO looked like
I signed a 3-month contract where I agreed to post 40 hours of engaging live streams a month in exchange for a $500 paycheque. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. The abuse I was subjecting myself to made it hard for me to livestream. I changed my name on my profile to a pseudonym, TEA. Each day, I was filled with anxiety as I built up myself, increasingly fragile self-esteem and all, to hit that livestream button. Each day it became harder than the last. But, the contract was clear; no content, no paycheque. From bills to Toronto rent prices to future plans, I counted on that hit of cash. So, I swallowed my pride, took a deep breath, and forced myself to go live.
Related: 10 signs your side hustle is killing you.
But after my 3-month contract was up, I backed out. I expressed my concern to the marketing agency. While I was told BIGO would be a great way to build an online fanbase, it was not the fanbase I wanted. A rep for the marketing agency told me they would pass along the feedback of abuse to BIGO’s reps. They couldn’t believe the experience I had — almost as if I had made it up (always make sure to take receipts)! Yet, a month later I saw a post online from the same marketing agency looking for women to live stream for BIGO. Given my experience, it didn’t sit well with me, but as I’ve learned to manage and process all the other hateful comments, I placed it in the back of my brain and try to keep it untouched.
Goodbye BIGO, enter OnlyFans (as it trends on in 2020)
Nowadays, sites like OnlyFans are gaining popularity. From an outside perspective, it may appear as “easy money”. But what is far too easily overlooked in this unlived view of the industry is the cyber-bullying and unabashed abuse many women are subjected to on these sites that makes this form of income far from easy.
I believe in sex work — on or offline. I believe in a woman’s right to display her body how she chooses and to financially gain from it. I absolutely believe in this. What I do not believe in is men using this against them to disrespect them, to humiliate them and to make them question their worth. Sites like BIGO made it feel as if it was one or the other — display my body and life for followers to take part in but be subjected to the demeaning hatred that I was. But these two are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be treated as such.
I love watching the world become more welcoming to female sexuality, autonomy and the ownership over our own bodies — but this must exist alongside a world where men are taught to respect it. Not just their wives. Not just their friends or those they’re close to. But even to strangers on the internet. I was a stranger on the internet to someone and I deserved better.