How Millennials Like Their Makeup

By Michael Schulman
The New Yorker
September 25, 2017

"There are no ugly women, only lazy ones,” Helena Rubinstein once said. Moj Mahdara, the C.E.O. of Beautycon, a multicity cosmetics festival, has a more feel-good approach to the multibillion-dollar beauty industry that Rubinstein helped launch, which continues to insure that girls (and boys) keep raiding their mothers’ vanities. Beautycon began in 2012, as an insider event for about thirty vloggers. “I thought it would be amazing to make it more consumer-facing,” Mahdara, who took over in 2015, said. “What if you could take Sephora and Coachella and smash it into one thing?”

With millennials now representing the largest share of the cosmetics market, Mahdara saw an opportunity to repackage beauty as a user-generated fan community, steeped in the self-empowering language of Instagram. At Beautycon L.A., which was held during a weekend in August, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, L.E.D. screens blared the slogan “you dont need lipstick, lipstick needs you”—truth in advertising, when you consider that MAC and Maybelline have to win over the new generation of customers. Some twenty thousand attendees, many as young as twelve, swarmed hundreds of booths representing behemoths like Revlon and L’Oréal and startups like Elora Lane, which sells eyelashes-by-mail subscriptions. Youngsters who had spent their allowances on the fifty-dollar entry fee lined up for makeovers, sampled free eyeshadow, and hashtagged the results. Amusement-park touches catered to the Snapchat set: ChapStick Duo gave out cotton candy, Rimmell London had a swing set and a jungle gym (the “slayground”), and Anastasia Beverly Hills went full bat mitzvah, with an arcade basketball hoop.

“I’m infatuated by the idea that beauty can be something beyond a concealer culture,” Mahdara said. “It’s always, like, ‘Do you hate those aging spots on your face?’ As opposed to ‘You’re already fierce, you’re amazing, you slay. These products are for people who feel great about themselves.’ ” Signs welcomed “All Races, All Genders, All Countries of Origin, All Sexual Orientations.” “I’m brown, I’m gay, I’m chubby,” Mahdara, who is Iranian-American, said. “I’m not someone who would normally be on the cover of a magazine.” There were unlikely echoes of the Women’s March: “The Future Is Female” T-shirts, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and a wall of posters reading “Viva la Vagina” and “Grab ’Em by the Patriarchy.” On the main stage, panels titled “Girl Boss” and “The Gender Revolution” were scheduled alongside speakers including the transgender actress Laverne Cox and the “Black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross, who gave the pumped-up crowd a primer on body shaming: “Do you guys know what the objectifying gaze is?”

Some paid an extra four hundred and fifty dollars to attend the Beauty Academy, where rows of vanity mirrors were set up for seminars. Throughout the weekend, attendees could meet the beauty “influencers” who give makeup tutorials on YouTube. Patrick Starrr, whose videos featuring Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian have garnered millions of views, announced, “Influencers are the new supermodels.” He wore a turban and a halter top, and drew Beatlemania screams wherever he went. Ashley Law, a sixteen-year-old from Temecula, who wore sparkly blue eyeshadow and blood-colored lipstick, had recently started posting makeup tutorials of her own. “This is, like, my dream,” she said of Beautycon. “I want to be an influencer in the community.”

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