It's so weird how you learn about the world, really, and the perceptions you come away with that you may never discuss with a single soul during the course of your entire life. One of those things you have to process when you are a kid is the whole concept of "sexy." I was a lil' sponge in the '60s when this came up, and that, we can all agree, was a super-sexy time: long hair on guys, miniskirts, Cleopatra eye makeup, and general go-go/hippie abandon. But I led a sheltered life, and had no idea at all what "sex" was, and no one was bursting to tell me either, fortunately. So I had to figure out what on earth it meant when someone like Dean Martin or Don Rickles or Thurston Howell III meant when they called a woman "sexy" on TV. WHAT WAS SEXY?

Hmmmmmm, said tiny me, "sexy" seems to be "pretty," but doesn't seem like...every pretty "sexy." "Sexy" seems to be a good thing, but there also seems to be something...hmmm...mysterious about it. Like there's something the adults are REFERRING TO that I DON'T UNDERSTAND as much as I WOULD LIKE TO. This was extremely irritating to me, when I didn't understand adult stuff, because DAMMIT, I thought of myself as just as VALID as any adult and HEY I'M SMART, YOU CAN'T FOOL ME! I worked harder at figuring out what "sexy" might be, and was just smart enough to figure out that it was highly likely my parents would not appreciate their preschooler asking about sexiness.

So, who helped me figure it out, or at least make my way towards nodding knowingly years later? I think, upon refection, in part it was actress/singer/dancer Joey Heatherton. If you are much younger than I am, you might not recognize her name at all; she's been pretty much out of the spotlight since the '70s. But in the mid-'60s, she arguably reigned as the decade's Queen of All Sex Kittens. Still a teenager when she began making the rounds on TV variety shows, she worked sexy like no one else, with her just-out-of-bed blonde hair, pouty pale lips, smoky, heavy-lidded, world-weary eyes, and a body that could make men (and hey, probably more than a few women) weep in frustration.

Joey Heatherton with Johnny Carson, "The Tonight Show," 1964

Joey Heatherton and Don Knotts, "Hollywood Palace"

Sexy was her currency, despite several runs at dramatic roles in movies. Over-the-top smolder paid the bills, and did so until she was likely considered over-the-hill for a sex kitten, in her early 30s. You can only burn that hard for so long before ashing out or becoming a caricature of womanhood, out of step with a different kind of feminism taking hold in society. Drugs and illness also snuffed out Heatherton's fire.

You couldn't take your eyes off Heatherton when she was onscreen; she commanded attention, by purring sleepily at some tuxedoed MC or dancing like she was out to seduce every last person watching her. Hmmmm, I pondered, I don't think she's a good girl, and I don't know what I think about all this...but she sure is...SEXY. I didn't want to be Joey Heatherton -- she didn't seem like she read very many books, and I really liked books. But I did, without even knowing it or knowing if it was actually true for her, take in the lesson that the most important thing about sexiness is...self-confidence. If you think you've GOT IT GOIN' ON, to someone, somewhere, you WILL. You SO will. Real confidence in your brain and your body and your strength and your attempts at strength and your softness and your humor...that's sexy.

Also, a form-fitting orange jumpsuit V-cut down to the navel doesn't hurt.

Joey Heatherton For Serta Mattresses