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Where Narcissism, Glitter, and Inclusion Join

Beautycon celebrates consumption, with an ironic wink at rebellion

Employing the #ShowUS hashtag, Dove Soap pays heed to the huge proportion of the population that that doesn’t see itself reflected in mass media images.
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Beautycon began as a small convention for people who hosted beauty-themed YouTube channels. It is now large enough to have bicoastal editions in Los Angeles and New York, with the local edition this past weekend filling up the bottom floor of the Jacob Javits Center. Thousands of beauty bloggers, social media influencers and makeup fans flocked to the con, hoping to score “hauls” of cosmetics, and meet their Instagram friends “IRL.” Amidst this shrine to Narcissus, there was also a message about rebelling against beauty standards. The message was hidden deep beneath layers of foundation and irony, but it was still there.

The con is not a dry business-to-business event for the cosmetics industry; it is squarely targeted at consumers, wannabe influencers, and fans of established influencers. With its flashy booths, screaming crowds, and youthful, giddy energy, it comes across as a gender-flopped version of old Comic Cons. Although prominent singers like Cardi B and Becky G were big draws, most of the celebrity guests and panelists fall into the categories of reality TV stars and New Media personalities.

Even though the attendees were overwhelmingly female, Beautycon still had content for men, not to mention a welcoming attitude toward people who refute traditional gender roles. One panel offered a discussion about the notion of “Toxic Masculinity” deep within this glittering pink cocoon.

While there were panels all day long each day, con-goers were unabashedly seeking free samples of makeup, free makeovers, and photo ops for their Instagram accounts. Nearly every exhibitor had some sort of photo booth, along with a makeup artist / hair stylist / nail technician on hand to make sure attendees would grow more primped, polished, and glittery for each new Insta post.

While the attendees could easily score a haul worth a thousand dollars in free stuff, they also left behind an extensive trail of personal information for data miners and marketers. Attendees willingly forked over their name, age, email, phone number, mailing address, eye color, hair color, preferred lip shade… right down to their precisely-measured skin tone in exchange for a free full-sized tube of foundation.

The event might appear to be a celebration of artifice and, on many levels, it is. People could be completely transformed over the course of the weekend, with everything from hair dye kits to colored contact lenses to temporary tattoos. However, many of the cosmetic companies on hand were presenting these transformation as a form self-love, encouraging people to be the best version of themselves, without conforming to the traditional ‘80s supermodel look. Everywhere people looked, they could see the slogan “You don’t need lipstick, Lipstick needs you.”

Gay City News spoke to Stephanie Cunha, manager of public relations at CVS, about the drug store chain’s new “Beauty Unaltered” program.

“I wouldn’t say it’s so much about natural beauty,” she explained. “We embrace whatever it is that makes you feel beautiful, whether that’s false lashes or pink hair. For us, it’s about being real.”

The CVS program is about letting consumers know when cosmetic ads have been retouched — a particularly apropos idea in a convention center full of people looking for just the right Insta filter to hide their imperfections.

“Seventy percent of the images in our store are completely transparent,” Cunha said, “If it hasn’t been retouched, it’ll have our Beauty Mark watermark on it. If it has been retouched, it’ll say ‘Digitally Altered’ on it.”

As a long line of attendees snaked through the CVS booth waiting to take videos on the runway, Cunha added, “You don’t need the filters and the Photoshop... This is a filter-free zone.”

Although Beautycon is a weekend of “Look at me” moments, it is also a social experience. Signs in the expo hall boast “Real friends. False lashes.” It was a chance to meet fellow enthusiasts in person — and snap selfies to prove it happened. It’s also an opportunity for companies to connect with their most loyal consumers.

Genevieve Duran, director of education and retail sales at Pixi Beauty and sister company POP Beauty, which have presented at Beautycon multiple years in both LA and New York, told Gay City News, “Our brand loyalty has increased, because we are here every year.”

As she said this, a long line of Pixi enthusiasts wound through the expo hall, each waiting for their turn to get a glimmer makeover, a pixi-like flower laurel for their hair, and a turn at the photo booth.

“I’ve seen a lot of trends and brands jumping on the trends,” Duran said. “‘Be confident with who you are, whoever you are,’ I’ve seen that everywhere. I’ve also seen people start to spotlight that they’re vegan or cruelty-free. At Pixi, we’ve been natural and cruelty free since day one.”

Another theme was inclusiveness. Dove Soap had a booth based around the #ShowMe hashtag, for women who feel they aren’t represented in beauty advertising. According to a panel discussion hosted by Dove, “Seventy percent of women don’t see themselves represented in mass media.” Many exhibitors had products targeted at underrepresented groups. Shea Moisture — and other products that might have once been on a single shelf in a drug store’s “Ethnic aisle” — had a major presence at the con. Other companies were likewise seeking out this unrepresented majority. With mass-market cosmetic companies like Maybelline, Revlon, L’oéal,, and Rimmel all present at Beautycon, the underrepresented were suddenly finding themselves courted by the mainstream.

Updated 12:43 pm, April 11, 2019
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