How do you get rid of an unfair, unattainable societal standard for women? Easy: Replace it with another.
In order to encourage women to stop concerning themselves with staying beautiful as they age, one writer has suggested women instead strive for "eternal coolness." As Phoebe Maltz Bovy writes in The New Republic, "The coolness pageant of life is about one's similarity to Patti Smith, not to a swimsuit model. If striving for eternal hotness involves denying one’s age, achieving eternal cool is, if anything, about embracing it."
Sure, being "cool" requires some effort but the tyranny of "cool" is not nearly as bad as fighting a losing battle against naturally sagging skin and a bit of weight gain, Maltz Bovy argues. And we're certainly not embodying the "cool" persona to attract the male gaze, she adds.
But here's the not-so-empowering thing about aging "cooly" versus "gracefully": It's just another metric of desirability that will ultimately make women feel confined and inadequate, just as physical beauty standards have. "Eternal cool" is perhaps even more restrictive -- one could argue that it's much easier to apply lipstick than a veneer of effortlessness to our very beings.
Striving to embody the "it" factors of the "cool" women Maltz Bovy cites, like Kim Gordon, Chloë Sevigny and Smith, isn't liberating. It's enslavement to another societal ideal, one that asserts that women must be enduringly charming and creative to make up for the apparent lack of fucks they give about their appearances. (And "cool" can be just as much about catering to the "male gaze" as forever-young physicality is -- see author Gillian Flynn's razor-sharp description of "the cool girl" for proof.)
The essence of the "eternal cool" Maltz Bovy cites is plucked from a recent New Yorker profile of Sevigny in which the actress describes her life as an It Girl 2.0. Explaining her resistance to go to parties as she's gotten older, Sevigny quips, "I'm forty. What am I going to do, go to a party in Gowanus with like, a 'tall boy'?"
The eternally "cool" Chloë Sevigny
Not wanting to go to a "cool" party, Maltz Bovy argues, makes the more mature iteration of Sevigny even cooler: "She manages to make beer-drinking among Brooklyn hipsters sound like pog-collecting, Britney Spears fandom, or whatever other uncool thing the little kids are into these days."
What if a 40-year-old woman wants to go to a conventionally "cool" party or -- gasp -- actually enjoys Britney Spears' music? Does that make her uncool? What if she displays a non-apathetic emotion? Or decides she'd like to slap on that aforementioned lipstick? How exhausting.
Instructing women to be "cool" as they age may take some of the focus off of physical beauty standards, but it also puts an even heavier burden on women to appear impossibly effortless and chill. We all have unbridled emotions; we all get suckered into mass trends; and we all have an embarrassing Spotify playlist that we put on when no one's around. Women like Sevigny, Smith and Gordon are likely no different (except for all the money and fame, of course). They're not paradigms of nonchalant "cool" -- they just have well-constructed, thoughtful public personas. And even these oh-so-cool women likely have their unchill private moments.
Take it from Gordon herself, who counters the deified public construction of her image in her new memoir Girl in a Band: "Onstage, people have told me, I'm opaque or mysterious or enigmatic or even cold," she writes. "But more than any of those things, I'm extremely shy and sensitive, as if I can feel all the emotions swirling around a room. And believe me when I say that once you push past my persona, there aren't any defenses there at all."
Striving for "eternal cool" seems to be just another exhausting (and unrealistic) task on our to-do list as we get older. Can't women just age in all their sometimes uncool glory? If we let go of "cool" and "beautiful," maybe we could all just enjoy the ride.