I have only been called ‘cool’ once in my life, by someone who didn’t know me very well at all. I took the compliment graciously, Who, me? But in reality I was both flattered and confused, Who, me? Like, actually me? We were talking about first impressions, and this person said that they initially thought I was a “cool Toronto girl,” which at the time was everything that I wanted to be. For young people, being cool is such a basic and ubiquitous aspiration that anyone who says that they’ve never wanted to be cool incidentally also happens to be a liar. 

Hotness and coolness are the two things every teenager and every person in their twenties trying to figure their shit out wants. Hotness, though traditionally an objective fact, is actually something that can be obtained through effort. I decide to be hot, and so it must be. Coolness, on the other hand, is decided solely by the court of public opinion. If you change in an effort to be more cool, you just end up looking like a loser who tries too hard and cares too much about ‘coolness’, which, in essence, is very uncool. Cool cannot be won, cool cannot be bought, cool can only be bestowed upon you. 

Being cool translates into a rare form of social currency that is impossible to cull otherwise. There is no substitute. There isn’t another commodity that carries the same electric potential. As young people, we’re told that coolness is linked with a sense of reserve. Nothing can faze you if you don’t care about anything. There’s a requisite withdrawal from the extremes of everything: emotion, connection, experience. You can’t show that you feel too much or want too much or enjoy anything too much because that’s just it; it’s too much. Being cool requires this self-imposed asceticism that genuinely sounds boring. It unnerves me because it begs the question: why limit yourself?

I am famously someone who cares too much. About everything. I care about my looks. I care about my interests. I care about what other people think of me. During my last meeting with my therapist a few years ago, we came up with a list of things that I liked about myself – my strengths – and the one that I remember the most clearly is, “I am just the right amount of superficial – it’s more of a self-care thing.” I am not above wearing sweatpants to class and I only wear makeup if there’s a real occasion, but I have a signature scent because I hate people who smell bad and I pick my outfits the night before so that I can leave the house feeling good about myself. 

The summer before first year, I started working at Indigo. Behind bullfighting and investment banking, working retail during the holidays is the most stressful job one can have. You’re maneuvering the needs of angry mothers and indifferent fathers, nervous boyfriends and distant relatives who don’t have a clue what their giftee wants. Yet every year, as the new year rolled around, I’d watch as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and a plethora of nearly identical self-help books fly off the shelves, as though they were the antidote to everyone’s misfortunes. 

I have nothing against the book – to be completely honest, I haven’t read it – but I have something against our general aversion to caring. In the discourse of not giving a fuck, people act like perception is something you can opt out of, as though being perceived by others – positively or otherwise – is something you can actively erase from your existence. You’re not immune to judgement just because you stop caring about what other people think of you. The way you think you’re being perceived shouldn’t rule your life, but you also can’t pretend that it doesn’t matter at all. This isn’t to say that we should tailor our personalities, appearances, and actions to the whims of others, but rather take them into consideration – minor consideration, but a factor nonetheless.

I have an intense need to be liked and since I have never gotten far on my looks, writing has become my main source of attention and validation from strangers. As a writer, I’m constantly crying out for attention, for judgement. As much as I actually enjoy reading and writing for what they are creatively, I do think writing is quite an ego-driven sport because I always have to ask myself: who the fuck do you think you are that you think you have something to say? I don’t think I’m saying anything novel here, but I do think that there’s something revealing in being insecure for others to see – valuable, even. Insecurity shouldn’t imply negativity and self-hatred, but rather a comfort with being flawed. Performing perfection isn’t just tiring, but it’s also grating for everyone around you. You don’t have to air out your dirty laundry or be a mess for the world to witness, but being honest with yourself and your peers about your flaws will only do you good. 

Passion is often misinterpreted as a ferocious intensity meant to be avoided, especially in women. I think I’ve driven a lot of people away with my delivery, but I also don’t think it’s entirely my fault. There’s something scary about admitting that you care because people associate enthusiasm with anger and see ardor as righteousness. It’s hard to be perceived as cool if you put your emotions up for display. We don’t want to reveal that we care because when we do, we think we’re giving up power. But that’s not true! There shouldn’t be shame or distress associated with caring, even more so if you attempt to appear apathetic just to pander to people around you. There’s only so much you can control, and the way you’re perceived is not one of them. Showing that you care isn’t embarrassing and being emotional doesn’t indicate a lack of self-control, it might not be cool, but it is human. 

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