China censors women modeling lingerie on livestream shopping – so men are doing it

The male model is wearing silk lingerie and dancing to the beat. He forms a heart shape with his fingers during a livestreaming session.

China censors women modeling lingerie on livestream shopping – so men are doing it

CNN Hong Kong --

A male model is wearing a piece of silk lingerie and grooves to the beat. He was streaming live on Douyin, China's most popular video-sharing platform.

His model performance is just one example of the type of innovation that's sometimes required to get around China's strict internet censorship. This dragnet can trap seemingly innocent activities, such as online sellers of women's underwear.

China has one of the most strict censorship regimes in the world. It has a history of blocking images of women's bodies that are marginally racy and politically sensitive information.

Many businesses that specialize in selling lingerie via livestreaming were forced to cut their sessions after they featured a woman model. This was revealed in January.

Therefore, men are used instead.

One of the channels shows a man in black lingerie standing next to another mannequin in a similar outfit. This appears to be a screenshot from a livestream broadcast on Alibaba's Taobao Live (an online streaming platform for the ecommerce giant).

Another image shows a male model wearing a pink slip dress with silky shawl and matching cat ears headbands.

One livestream clip was carried by several state media outlets. It showed an owner of an online business saying that he was just trying to be safe.

"This is not a joke. Everybody is serious about following the rules," the man identified as Mr Xu said.

Mixed reactions online in China have been generated by the emergence of male models for lingerie, ranging from anger and dismay to reluctant acceptance.

"So, what do I do if I want lingerie to be promoted and showcased in the live broadcast? It's easy, find a man who will wear it," was one of the comments on China's microblogging site Weibo.

Massive industry

The multibillion-dollar market of livestreaming products sales in China is huge. It was made possible by the three years of Covid lockdowns, which ravaged many brick and mortar businesses.

According to the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (a body affiliated with Beijing’s commerce ministry), the livestreaming ecommerce users in mainland China was over 460 million as of June 2013.

A report from iResearch in Beijing, a company that specializes in measuring audience growth online, for 2021 predicted that the livestream industry would be worth $720 billion.

Male models aren't the only option.

Douyin, the Chinese domestic TikTok version, has other female models who have bypassed the censorship and displayed the latest style lingerie on their bodies, over a tee shirt they already wear.

Other people displayed the items on mannequins.

China cracked down on TV shows that showed actresses' cleavages in 2015. This forced some of the most well-known costume dramas to zoom in on their faces, to avoid being caught by the broadcast authorities.

China isn't the first country to have male influencers who promote female-oriented products.

Austin Li Jiaqi is one of the most influential livestream shoppers in the industry. He was the Lipstick King after selling 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes in 2018.

Li is one of China's most famous internet stars. He also sells skincare products, cosmetics and fashion apparel. Sometimes, he even applies the products to his face.

Meta, Facebook's parent company and Instagram's parent company restricts the sharing breast photos. However, Meta says that it will allow images to be shared for medical or other health purposes. Meta's Oversight Board, however, has asked the company to simplify its policy and be more inclusive of gender.

YouTube states that it prohibits the 'depiction of clothed, unclothed, genitals or breasts that are intended for sexual pleasure,' but it could age-restrict images or videos involving nudity.