Who could forget 2013? The year belonged exclusively to Jennifer Lawrence. We were devoted to all the outrageous down-to-earthiness this conventionally gorgeous woman offered on the red carpet. She was like everyone’s best friend, she was charming and crude, someone totally weird and totally relatable. She was an adorable tomboy from the great state. Who could ever get tired of the lovable antics of JLaw?
Apparently, we could. What goes up must come down, and JLaw’s popularity and public perception began to decline and the media went in search of the new ‘It’ girl.
What is ‘it’ that all these “It” girls have?
They could eat a whole pizza and chug a whole pitcher of beer while still remaining a size two. They’re cool, casual, love football, and are super low-maintenance. They have the grace and social wiles of a quarterback with the looks of a supermodel. They’re a contradictory creation of men’s interest in an ideal woman. There are plenty of modern variations of the Cool Girl, but they’re all just a different sect that falls under the Manic Pixie Dream Girl umbrella. They’re conventionally beautiful and quirky with just enough conventional flaws (like admitting to burping in public or a deep hatred of pants) to make them approachable and down to earth– but not enough to make them less fun. Above all, however, they’re hot and fun.
The image of the Cool Girl isn’t something that’s been created to describe recent women like Jennifer Lawrence. This trope has been around for a long time.
The first cool girl is still debatable, but it’s generally agreed that Clara Bow, a silent film darling and OG flapper, is in the running. Bow was a fast talking tomboy with hair as fiery as her attitude. She starred in the romantic comedy It which launched her into stardom, and she was known as the “it girl”, thus coining the term for countless Vogue articles. She embodied the new found freedom women were getting by dancing, driving, and drinking hard, yet her image of a good-time gal also quelled any anxieties about women getting too free. Despite Bow’s outrageous persona, she remained married or engaged and always played the soft-hearted romantic on screen that was more than ready to fall head first into a romance with the leading man. Bow had the duality of all “cool girls” –a girl that was just one of the boys as well as a woman with striking beauty and charm.
Bow’s darling status began to decline rapidly at the turn of the Great Depression. Her wild, outrageous antics were not congruent in a time when skimping and conservatism was needed. After Bow’s third go around the altar, the tabloids ridiculed her instead lauding her. Bow, and the rest of her flapper peers, sank back into the conservatism that the troubled times called for.
Bow’s not the last cool girl that represented progressive ideas. Daughter of American acting legend Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda seemed to be what was then thought to be the standard American beauty queen. With a few mildly successful movie roles and modeling gigs in the 60’s, Fonda’s career was more focused on activism than movies. She was apart of the French new wave and brought the cool factor of the French girl in an American prototype. Fonda’s progressive ideals caused the tabloids to paint her as a radical. Her outspoken views against the Vietnam War and the now infamous footage of Fonda meeting POWs transformed her image from the likes of her father as a cool, collected, American dream to a dangerous radical.
How does a girl go from cool to dead in the eyes of the public just like that? In Bow’s case, her antics got old and she couldn’t keep up with the times, and in Fonda’s case she was much too ahead of her time. It seems that one can only lounge on the cool girl pedestal for only so long before being knocked off. Either by caring too much, or revealing cracks in the cool facade. Cool girls aren’t supposed to care.
This precarious pedestal that all cool girls balance on just proves that there’s no such thing as a cool girl, at least not one that perfectly aligns with the trope. A cool girl is amassed by a whirlwind of contradictions. She’s like dry ice, a contradiction that doesn’t just occur in nature; some parts of it have to be constructed.
I’m not saying that Lawrence, or any other heralded cool girls were all just putting on an act for attention. Media paints celebrities how they want to, and when that individual says or acts out of the carefully constructed facade then it’s time for them to get the boot.
I hope that it’s no secret that society can’t seem to wrap their heads around more than a few tropes for women. Every time a complex female character is presented–maybe someone that’s aloof but deeply caring, has more masculine traits than just enjoying a stout beer and is blanat about sexuality – she’s treated like a Moonbow, some sort of natural phenomena that we gawk at for some time and then let it recede into our memory until we’re surprised sometime later with another occurrence.
As every middle schooler longing to sit at the one popular table knows, it’s hard to be regarded as cool. As soon as you set out to become cool, you instantly lose hope of any and all cool status. If you manage to get a seat at the cool girl table, you’ll realize the figures you’ve been idealizing from a distance for their dazzling personas and demeanors are just girls. Girls with mistakes and flaws of their own. For some reason we’re more likely to exile these girls once we realize they’re not all that cool just because their flaws don’t fit neatly into the persona that’s been painted of them from a distance far away.
We destroy the cool girl as soon as we get close enough to see she’s not a collection of phosphenes and perfect messy hair. The longer the cool girl is in sight, the more likely she is to have an unfortunate decline in the attention of the media. With today’s exposure to celebrities, we can pretty much track their day-to-day life through tabloid websites, Instagram, and Twitter. Putting this much limelight on a cool girl makes her melt all the more quicker.
Sure, all celebrities mess up. They can say the wrong thing, or be embarrassing oblivious to their privilege, but regardless the crime, it just seems that the punishment for the “it” girls of fame is all the more severe. With high highs come low lows, and instead of focusing on who the next cool girl of Hollywood is going to be, maybe we can take time to ponder the very concept of cool and why we feel the need to construct other women’s personas.