I've been thinking a lot about the Cool Girl and what it is that makes her so interesting. Who doesn't want to be the Cool Girl? Hip, clever, individual, insouciant, sexy maybe, gorgeous (but on her own terms and let's face it, it isn't really about looks) and strong. But being cool is about so much more than a list of accomplishments and attributes. I can think of so many incredible women who are talented, intelligent, ferociously out-spoken, achingly hip or beautiful who just aren't cool.
So what is this indefinable quality that the Cool Girl possesses and who is she? I think she's the girl or woman who walks her own path and doesn't care about pleasing anyone. She has integrity, she's unselfconscious, self-possessed and unashamed. Most interestingly she's perennial. She transcends era, because she forms the world around her. She is a leader, not a follower and her life isn't defined by her success or privilege but by her persistence, her steadfast insistence on being. For me, women like Louise Brooks with her bobbed hair and independent spirit; Kim Gordon, writing and playing up front in Sonic Youth; Nina Simone, overcoming oppression and ill health to gift her talents to the world are the epitome of cool. I'd add Jane Birkin, Roxanne Gay and Bel Hooks, Sofia Coppola and Kate Moss too. These may not be women our mothers wanted us to aspire to be, but isn't that the point? They aren't quiet, they aren't ladylike and they sure as hell won't play pretty to please the masses.
I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties on a council estate in Kent and I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be a mix of these incredible women - intelligent, feisty and with a devil-may-care attitude. I wanted to be talented and creative and not care what anyone else thought, I wanted to belong to myself and ignore the put-downs and gossip. But wanting to be cool, trying to be cool is precisely what it's not. It isn't a skill you can practice, it isn't a hairstyle, or a pair of shoes, it isn't how you speak or whether or not you play in a band, write poems or work in a cake shop.
I was never cool, so I wrote a novel, So the Doves, in which my character, Melanie, is everything I wanted to be. She is strong and courageous, she is unashamed of her intellectual prowess, and her inability to fit in and toe the line. Sure she's a rebel, but with a cause, she's creative and loyal, she speaks the truth and stands up for what she believes in. She doesn't pay attention to silly rules about her clothes or behaviour. She is completely, and utterly herself. She doesn't give in.
No matter what age we are, we can all learn from the Cool Girl, because what makes her so special is she is a grown woman, even when her actual age says different - those qualities of being - of moving through the world with confidence, sure of our place in it - can be ours. We can be cool - taking action to right wrongs, speaking up, we can have conviction and empathy, be unafraid and not conform to the narrow stereotypes of what a woman or a girl should be. We can wholeheartedly be ourselves and that is cool.