Tens of thousands of beauty junkies poured through the doors of the Javits Center in New York on Saturday and Sunday for the seventh annual Beautycon, a sprawling festival that brings together beauty brands, makeup gurus, vloggers, wellness experts, celebrities, and fans from across the country.
The festival, at its core, is a retail opportunity—Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara said that "pound for pound the festival does about $46k a year per square foot of event space." But to the young fans who dominated the event, it was a rare opportunity to meet the beauty vloggers they spend their days worshipping online.
"I’m really excited to meet a lot of the influencers I see on YouTube and the internet," said Christina, a 13-year-old. "They teach me a lot about what the products are about and how to make my skin better." Angie, a 15-year-old in the group, said she watches hours of beauty vlogger content and consumes at least two to three videos per day.
Deanna, her friend, also 13 years old, agreed. "I’m most excited to get to meet all the influencers and get advice and tips on how to do makeup," she said.
The girls, along with several other friends, had traveled to the event sans parents, and the festival was also a rare opportunity to showcase their independence. "It feels good to be here on my own, I’m glad my parents trusted me enough," said Christina.
Within moments of arriving at the event on Saturday, Laverne Cox paraded in and took selfies with adoring fans. "You're the most beautiful person I've ever seen," one woman gushed as she waited to pose for a selfie.
When Kandee Johnson followed behind her, fans literally burst into tears. One girl began shaking and crying uncontrollably and had to be hugged and comforted by a friend in order to go back and greet Johnson, who offered to sign anything she wanted.
The event was split into three massive halls. After walking the pink carpet in the third hall and posing for photographs, most vloggers and celebs made the rounds on the floor, holding court at their dedicated booths or stopping to chat with fans and pose for selfies.
"Foodgod" and Kardashian BFF Jonathan Cheban had a booth all of his own where fans could take selfies with the star against a backdrop that looked like giant candy.
On the main stage Paris Hilton gave a talk about her new line of perfumes and makeup legend Bobbi Brown spoke about going from getting Ds in school to growing a multi-million dollar brand.
While Beautycon may seem like a superficial celebration of external beauty, the festival has taken great strides in recent years to create an inclusive environment that incorporates a broad definition of beauty.
Body positive model Iskra Lawrence spoke on a “Balanced Beauty” panel where she told the audience to stop comparing themselves to others. “Only you can be you and that’s your power," she said.
Taija Kerr, an Afro-Hawaiian model who was posing on the steps outside the Beautycon entrance, said the inclusivity is what she loved most about the festival.
"I do Instagram, social media. I do curl girl modeling. I’ve been on Sephora and DevaCurl," she said. "I love that Beautycon is all races, sizes, colors, or hair type. It's everything. It's just pro-beauty. I haven’t seen a place filled with so many gorgeous different beings. This is my first Beautycon and it was so cool to see so many women embrace their true beauty."
Many of the attendees were burgeoning beauty vloggers themselves. They roamed the event floor with their vlogging cameras and furry microphones, tagging their @ handles on public chalkboards.
Twelve-year-old Johanna Jimar traveled from South Carolina to the conference, where she hoped to make connections and promote her own YouTube beauty channel.
"I started making my videos when I was 11," she told The Daily Beast. "I saw other people's makeup videos and thought it was incredible that you can put something on your face and look amazing. It’s like art for your face. I decided to start vlogging myself because I thought I could also put stuff out there to help people learn."
In recognition of the fact that any live event these days is as much a content opportunity as an experience, the Beautycon floor was littered with Instagram playgrounds, areas specifically designed to look great on camera. There were walls of flowers, candy, glitter, pom-poms, streamers, and several swings. Ring lights were stationed at every playground in order to capture their subjects in the most ideal light.
One large wall where attendees were asked to write what beauty means to them contained phrases like, "Beauty = freedom," "Beauty is not perfect," "Beauty is loving yourself," and yards of scrawled messages from young girls asking people to follow them on YouTube.