Are cool and sexy the same thing?


Are cool and sexy the same thing?

DEBORAH STEINMAIR tries to define the X factor, as uncool people like to do.


THERE are people who walk the earth and the earth reaches up to embrace them. They are the darlings of the cosmos, bathed in a golden light. I'm not talking about Photoshop filters. Some people have a certain aura that follows them like a spotlight. Hollywood's spindoctors spend fortunes trying to create such darlings, but if the person doesn't have the X-factor to begin with, it's in vain. Beauty is nowhere near enough.

How does one define that quality? It's much more than sex appeal because cool people are also alluring to those not attracted to their gender. Susan Sarandon had to kiss Catherine Deneuve in a movie. When a journalist asked Susan what it was like to kiss a woman, she replied: who wouldn't want to kiss Catherine Deneuve?

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I think a huge part of the X-factor is not trying too hard. There's something effortless about cool people. Maybe it's not that they don't try, but that they hide it better. Desperation is unattractive. In the movie Juno, the title character tells her best friend he's the coolest guy in school without even trying. And he replies: Oh, I try very hard.

Cool is not synonymous with nice. Cool people have an edge; you won't challenge them. They are not doormats or serving Marthas. Cool people have a way of looking at you when you say something foolish or simple: wordlessly, making you feel like an idiot with verbal diarrhoea.

I'm pretty sure the consensus is that macho is not cool. I once read a few definitions of machismo in a Mad Magazine. One of them was: when you're on a date with a girl and a slice of scalding pizza burns your palate to cinders, and you don't bat an eye.

I've encountered a few cool people, and my wild cousin Nicci, whose flame was extinguished like a candle in the wind at an early age, was probably the coolest. She was 10 years older and introduced me to Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, The Doors, and all those who inhabited the landscape of cool. She smoked from a young age (back then, it was considered cool) and looked perpetually bored. She was underweight and pale, casually cruel and very funny. She was expelled from every school, and the psychologist said she was a genius.

Bedroom eyes

Then there was my English teacher, Lalie Rabie. The kids whispered that she used to be a runway model, and maybe it was true: she was tall and straight, regal. She had an Italian appearance like Maria Callas: heavy eyelids, bedroom eyes. Unfortunately, she had alopecia — her head was covered in bald spots. She lived her life as if it didn't exist. What remained of her hair was cut short, and she looked the world squarely in the eyes.

In the English class, there were a stack of dictionaries in the cupboard. Sometimes, she would hand them out so we could look up a word. On the side of one dictionary, a pupil had written “VULTURE" in giant block letters. She ignored it as if it wasn't there and handed out that book as well. Not a soul ever dared to laugh. She was cool and sharp, and everyone was in awe of her. With a dry sense of humour. Between classes, she would stand elegantly on the balcony, smoking. For our matric farewell party, I had to write a couplet about each teacher and struggled to capture her essence. Then a friend (a cool, ugly boy I was attracted to) provided the following: She's not too thin, she's not too fat / she's a slender-looking cat.

I identify as desperately uncool, but my daughters (the most honest critics you could find) tell me it's like a bell curve: if you're so far on the uncool spectrum, you're more or less cool again.

My brothers were identical twins, extremely handsome. Yet one brother was much more irresistible to women. It was his nonchalant attitude. Devil may care. He spoke little, and everything he said was elegant and sharp, a throwaway line like a proverb. He smiled less, tried less.

One should beware of the psychotic self-love of narcissists that can come across as cool. The whole world starts to believe that if someone feels this good about themselves, they have to be special. Not true.

We're still no closer to a definition of cool because there's a certain je ne sais quoi. I don't quite know. I don't think cool people rack their brains over the formula.

If we could bottle it, we'd be incredibly rich.

♦ VWB ♦

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