The screams of preteen girls off in the distance shook me out of a stimulus-induced haze. I followed said squeals to the source of the commotion. They led me to a convention booth dedicated to the sale of handmade iPhone cases; before it, a YouTube celebrity named Lindsey (username: Beautybaby44) was inciting a near riot. An equally admired associate of hers hid under a folding table to avoid the encroaching horde of overexcited tweens, iPhones in hands, who alternated between shoving one another and throwing their arms up in orgasmic glee.
The violence with which they pushed and shoved, however, was not orgasmic. It was impossible to remove one’s self from the fray; the environment teetered on the precipice of becoming yet another Who Concert Tragedy. The girl to my left held her iPhone aloft, took a photo of the mob surrounding her, and within 10 seconds, sent a Snapchat that read, simply: “HELP.” She did not, however, appear to be suffering from emotional nor physical distress. She was having the time of her sheltered young life.
Beautybaby44, a celebrity anyone of legal drinking age had never heard of, implored the girls to shriek en mass. They stood before her, taking pictures of her taking pictures of herself. The scene could have been considered Beatlemania-esque, but at least the Beatles played instruments. Even if you couldn’t hear them over the screams in Shea Stadium, they were still doing something. Taking a photo of one’s self in public does not count as “doing something.” I recognized the face of the object of the crowd’s desire, having previously hate-watched YouTube videos of hers in which she described, in painstaking detail, the contents of her purse.
“Ugh, I wish I had a wheelchair so I could cut to the front of the line,” one preteen lamented to another while witnessing the perverse play laid out before them. An Instagram photo of the throng, which the iPhone case manufacturer posted to its 20,000 followers, elicited 5,000 likes.
I was standing in the midst of BeautyCon, an event where, according to its press release, “hundreds of content creators—professional beauty gurus, editors, celebrities, bloggers and YouTube personalities—[came] together to network, discuss the future of online media, and interact with their fans.” BeautyCon ultimately existed, as do most things in the modern world, for marketing purposes.
Ever-present signs promised dividends (free products, the opportunity to win free products, heavily discounted products, etc.) were one to take a selfie and tag the company in an accompanying social media post. Participants were strongly encouraged, at every turn, to hashtag everything they witnessed, every photo they took, every emotion they felt. And that they did. At the end of the convention, organizers bragged that “#BeautyConLA TRENDED WORLDWIDE throughout the entire day, 10 hours straight!” and garnered “139M+ impressions!” These impressions, in the barren digital wasteland that is social media, denoted success. After all, if someone posts a selfie in the forest and no one is around to “like” it, do they still have worth as a human being?
Lines for complimentary cosmetics snaked endlessly around the convention hall–a “spin to win” wheel in front of the American Apparel booth had over 100 girls lined up in front of it, anxiously awaiting the promise of complimentary nail polishes and hair accessories. They scrolled, endlessly, through their Instagram feeds in the queue. They didn’t mind waiting in line, because they knew if they weren’t they’d just be looking at their phones anyhow.
“Fuck it,” I said, and lined up behind them, looking at my phone. Less than an hour after arriving, I had already given in to the overwhelming consumerism and mob mentality. “I look terrible in all these pictures!” cried an abjectly beautiful, flaxen-haired 12-year-old behind me, while scrolling through her selfies. She then commiserated with an equally Aryan-looking friend about how different the shopping was in New York compared to LA. Their conversation shifted to the makeup they were planning on buying—said conversation took place as they looked at the makeup they had already bought. I waited my turn, spun the wheel, gathered my free nail polish, and took my leave.
Upon arrival, I was initially horrified by my surroundings—the more and more 12 year olds I saw in heels and crop tops, however, the less and less I felt. One teen, walking by, asked another, “What is life?” I could not answer this question any more than she could, though I felt I was more qualified to do so than a woman whose job it was to teach makeup tutorials online.
I decided to take in one of the convention’s panels; a flash of my press credentials allowed me to slink past the overcapacity crowd. In the air conditioned hall, a heavily manicured YouTube celeb informed the audience that her next big project was “Taking the online… offline,” which meant, of course, that she planned on launching a t-shirt line in the fall. Talk of sisterhood and empowerment ran rampant—whenever it did, my mind flashed to a t-shirt I kept seeing on the lithe bodies of flawless young women at the convention printed with a Mean Girls quote: “You can’t sit with us.” The sentiment didn’t seem particularly sisterly.
“We had a lot of setbacks,” one panelist lamented. “We didn’t know what our brand was for the longest time.” The hall collectively nodded its head in understanding. “How do you guys, like, stay positive when people are being mean to you?” a girl asked during the Q&A. “We all have haters,” a panelist smiled, before reminding the child before her that the key to persevering over hateration is being true to one’s self.
Indeed, everyone in a position of power over these girls, regardless of the topic of conversation or question posed to them, had the same advice—to do what makes them happy! To live your dreams; your dreams inevitably being alerting your young, impressionable fan base to the existence of whatever hot, disposable new product or service was currently paying you to pretend as though you liked. I missed the “How Do You Wear Your Inner Beauty?” panel, so I was unable to answer that pressing existential query, but I assumed the answer was to “follow your dreams.”
“Is Brittny going to be in there?” a brace-faced girl in a crop top asked as I waited to enter the “Hi Haters, Bye Haters” panel. “I don’t know,” I sighed. “Probably.” A gaggle of girls in the front row of the panel brought notebooks with them—they were there to learn. The soundbites that came out of their idols’ mouths were not noteworthy. Rather, they were interchangeably cliché. “You’ve just gotta do you,” one said. Regardless of the subject, the sentiment was always the same.
The aforementioned Brittny, a former E! personality, delved into the psyche of the hater, psychoanalyzing them as miserable people who lashed out on others in order to bring a modicum of joy to their sad lives. If her “best friend,” Kim Kardashian, had listened to the haters, she asked, where would she be now? Brittny let the haters get to her, “one of the first pioneers in reality TV,” by allowing them to cyberbully her into not filming a second season of her no-doubt groundbreaking show. She felt remorse for letting the haters stop her from continuing to break new ground in scripted reality television. She was no Kim Kardashian.
I zoned out as another panelist spoke at length about the importance of being yourself. “I think imperfection is beauty,” she said, through her flawlessly rouged lips, as I came to. Having understood the importance of a hashtaggable soundbite, she echoed this sentiment more than once. It was, after all, her job. This broad knew her brand.
In that moment, I had the shocking realization that her brand was, indeed, her job. Acknowledging the existence and struggle of 13-year-old girls on Twitter garnered her a paycheck. Exuding positivity paid her electric bills. Responding to positivity and ignoring the haters got her a Louis Vuitton purse. The internet, I understood, was a strange, terrifying, and monetizable place.
Most of the people with press passes at the convention appeared dubious, until I realized any motherfucker with an iPad could now be a media mogul. This was the future, living in the present. From where I stood, it looked bleak. All I wanted to do was shake the girls surrounding me and put Susan Sontag books in their well-manicured, malnourished hands. But what did I know? “I’m 27 years old, so I’m older than most of you here,” one panelist told the crowd. I’m 30 years old, so I’m even older. I didn’t understand them. They didn’t understand me. I suppose the saving grace was, neither of us wanted to, nor could, understand each other.
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