On the 1st of July, 2019, then-19-year-old internet personality Belle Delphine posted a short video to Instagram. The clip shows her kneeling in a bathtub, fully clothed in a blue bodysuit, kitty ear headphones and her signature pink wig.
"Rise up, gamer boys. It’s time to get your gamer girl bath water," she purrs, before dipping a jar into the water, licking it for good measure, then screwing it shut with a wink.
The 20-second clip did exactly what Delphine intended: it blew up. The bathwater, which went for $30 (£24) a pop, sold out in two days. Clout-chasing fans who’d managed to snag a jar heightened the hype by posting videos of themselves drinking the water, vaping with it and using it to cook mac and cheese. The jars appeared on eBay, with auctions going as high as $15,000 (£12,081). Delphine's Instagram following skyrocketed from 3.8 million to 4.5 million within two weeks.
Meanwhile, international media outlets like The Cut, Rolling Stone, The Guardian and Business Insider breathlessly reported on the strange new pink-haired sensation whose viral hijinks had taken the internet by storm. Articles with titles like "Who Is Belle Delphine, the Gamer Girl Selling Her Bathwater?" came one after another, aimed at bemused readers who, through Delphine, were having their first encounter with e-girl culture.
"There is a joke in the community among gamers where they will comment on a post saying 'let me drink your bath water'," Delphine told Metro at the time. "And although it’s a joke, I just kind of found the idea of turning it into a reality and actually letting people own my bath water funny."
Eighteen days later, just as the frenzy was hitting its peak, Delphine vanished.
Very little has been reported about Belle Delphine’s early life, but here's what we know: she was born Mary-Belle Kirschner on the 23rd of October, 1999 in South Africa. She moved to the UK to attend Priestlands School, a mixed comprehensive, in Lymington. However, she dropped out when she was 14 and supported herself doing odd jobs – waitress, nanny, barista. Fourteen was also the age she started posting cosplay photos to her now-deleted Facebook page. Over the next two to three years, her online following grew to 100,000. Lacking a formal degree and with no desire to get a conventional job, Delphine decided to leverage her online presence into a career. When she turned 18, she moved to Instagram and began posting NSFW photos.
Though Delphine has mostly scrubbed her early content from the internet, some traces still linger. Her cosplay photos are low-res and dimly lit – a far cry from today’s slick glamour shots. She sports dramatic eyeliner and a mass of brown hair styled into a scene haircut, with fake hardware adorning her nose and lips. Dig deeper and you can also find two of her former Twitter accounts, one with the handle @bellekirschner and the other @babybellexx, which document the everyday inanities of a 13-year-old:
“i <3 marcus Butler, alfie, sam peper, casper lee & jack and fin x,” she tweeted on the 27th of October, 2012.
“when i put anything in my pencil case... the next day it turns black from all the pencils, how is it even possible .. :| annoying” she tweeted on the 4th of November, 2012.
There's also a YouTube channel with the username “belle kirschner”, which features videos of a 12-year-old Delphine attempting aerial tricks on a tree swing. In the video titled "youngest swing gymnastic", Delphine twirls and spins to the soundtrack of Louis Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World". The comments under the videos are alternately wistful and judgmental:
“This makes me actually feel sad seeing what she turned into,” writes one user.
“Smh... Imagine going from wanting to be a gymnast in 2012 to being an internet thot who sells her infected bath water online in 2019…” writes another.
Of course, the bathwater stunt didn't come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of years of shrewd brand-building. Though Delphine’s Instagram posts started off with fairly standard cheesecake photos, over time her content began skewing more and more to a carefully crafted pastel-fairy-princess-anime aesthetic. She slapped her photos with filters that turned her skin into a milky blur, the hemlines of her skirts crept higher, she became impressively adept at pulling hentai faces. Her humour, both tongue-in-cheek and deliberately gross-out, became a calling card. Slowly but surely, she moulded herself into the platonic ideal of an e-girl.
For a few years, Delphine enjoyed a stable, sizeable fanbase. Like many e-girls, she supported herself with a private Snapchat and Patreon, where users who donated were allowed access to more “personal” content. In autumn of 2018, her popularity spiked. She joined TikTok and quickly rose to the top of the “For You” page through her participation in TikTok challenges like “Hit or Miss”, which made for great meme fodder. Suddenly, her face was plastered all over 4chan and Reddit, attracting a legion of gamer boys who got a kick out of her ironic approach to online thotting and declared her schtick “genius” and “brilliant performance art”.
It’s not unusual for Extremely Online people to be protective about their personal lives. Despite powdering her feet with Dorito dust on main, Delphine is intensely private and rarely grants interviews. It took three months of email chasing before I managed to get hold of her. In our correspondence, she seems sweet and guileless, answering my questions with genuine candour. “I love what I do, and I really enjoy it,” Delphine, now 20, eventually replies. “But I'm actually quite shy. I'm a pretty introverted person.”
As her profile skyrocketed, her shenanigans concurrently – or perhaps consequently – became increasingly strange. She spooned up cereal then poured the milk over her body. She slurped down raw eggs and stuck googly eyes on a dead octopus. Her commitment to the bit was commendable; all the while, her fixed, suggestive smile never wavered.
“She's self-aware and willing to embrace the absurdity of her station to create real comedy,” Vito Gesualdi, the YouTuber who vaped Delphine’s bathwater, tells me over DMs. “She's popular by virtue of her ability to subvert an already bizarre genre.”
In June of 2019, Delphine created a PornHub account and began uploading videos, 12 in total. They baited her followers with intentionally provocative titles like “Belle Delphine strokes two BIG cocks”, “Belle Delphine plays with her PUSSY” and “Belle Delphine gets HUGE LOAD blown on her” – but, obviously, it was another troll. The videos actually showed Delphine frolicking with live chickens, petting a stuffed cat and dropping Mentos into a bottle of Coca-Cola.
“My PornHub was probably one of the most fun things I've done,” Delphine says. “The reaction and everything around it was hilarious.”
The stunt earned her about 700,000 new Instagram followers, and possibly some new Patreon supporters desperate to access the real deal. Clearly, pulling a funny, attention-grabbing stunt was good for business. Less than a month later, she sold her bathwater online. With that, Delphine was catapulted to a new level of notoriety almost overnight – but this sharp rise to success is also what got her booted offline.
On the 19th of July, 2019, Instagram terminated Delphine’s account, stating that she was in violation of Community Guidelines – apparently people had been reporting her for nudity and pornography. Her TikTok account was also removed. After that, Delphine went M.I.A. She stopped providing new content to Patreon, leading to accusations of her being a scam artist. The silence left fans feverishly speculating on her whereabouts, with rumours flying left and right: she’s pregnant; she’s dead.
“I think it was probably a good thing,” Delphine says of her Instagram being taken down. “The internet is a very intense place when you're in the spotlight. There is no place to hide, even when you're at home. I wanted to take a breath of fresh air.”
Delphine resurfaced again briefly in October of 2019, posting a "mugshot" to Twitter with the claim that she’d been arrested for spray-painting the car of a girl who stole her hamster. In November, she posted the video “How to be Belle Delphine”, in which she dumps raw liver, ground beef and sausage links over a skeleton prop, then smothers the grisly mess in sprinkles and whipped cream. Then, she dipped again.
Given the intense level of scrutiny that surrounds her, it’s no wonder Delphine decided to retreat into temporary hibernation. Every day, eagle-eyed critics on gossip forums zoom in on her nose and insist her ski-slope arch is the result of a rhinoplasty; they pore over every pixel, searching for stray scratches or ragged fingernails. Her time away from all that was mostly spent travelling and chilling out, essentially a gap year from online.
“I love sitting around and crafting, painting and drawing," she says. "I went to see friends in Asia. I've always wanted to go, and it felt like a great opportunity.”
A fleeting taste of fame, however, can be addictive.
On the 17th of June, 2020, nearly a year after she first went silent, Delphine announced her triumphant return with a YouTube video titled “I’M BACK - belle delphine” – a parody of Tekashi 69’s “Gooba” music video, with lyrics like “Who regrets me? My mother” and “Elon’s baby eat a Mars rock.” It racked up over 14 million views in one week, which was handy, since it also served to promote her revamped Instagram and TikTok handles, as well as her new OnlyFans account (her Instagram was removed within 24 hours, but her TikTok is still up, for now).
Predictably, the internet erupted. Within an hour #belledelphine was a trending topic on Twitter. Some praised her as 2020’s saviour, others derided her comeback as a blatant cash grab, but there's no denying the fandom around her. Any girl with a pink wig and a pretty face can hop on Twitch and start amassing simps, but, as any of her fans will tell you, Delphine is special.
“My fans are crazy. Of course you get the toxic wild side of being on the internet, and that's just the way it is. Some of my fans have become real friends for me, and others, well..." she says, trailing off. "Without my fan base, I probably wouldn't be Belle Delphine.”
When contemplating her future, Delphine is vague, but considering the amount of attention she’s capable of generating she seems well-positioned to expand the Belle Delphine brand into a full-blown empire if she wants to. A cadre of entertainment executives would probably pay good money to peek at the notebook of ideas she keeps by her bed.
“I think there will be a time in the distant future when I retire from the internet, but maybe ‘Belle Delphine’ doesn't have to,” Delphine considers. “I think making Belle Delphine virtual, like an anime, would be really cool. I love art, and that's something I will always do, just in another form maybe.”
For now, she's keeping her loyal followers waiting with bated breath, ready to discuss, dissect and disseminate whatever she posts next. Saviour or not, if there’s one thing both her fans and haters can agree on, it’s that the internet is a more interesting place with Belle Delphine around.