Why your guilty pleasure isn’t guilty

22nd September 2018

Every so often when chatting with someone – and I’ve no doubt we all do it – I’ll refer to something as a ‘guilty pleasure.’ It’s a term thrown around frequently, describing anything we enjoy but feel bad about liking for whatever reason. And it’s not until very recently that I began to wonder why.

By deeming something a guilty pleasure, you are reducing something you love to an embarrassment. But the key word here is love. If you love something, why are you ever guilty if you are getting something positive from that experience, whether it be binge-watching The Kardashians or curating your collection of coins? And more importantly, when you’re not harming anyone else.

From what I can see, this guilt is rooted in social norms that tell us what we should and shouldn’t like. What is and isn’t acceptable. At some point along the line, society, or perhaps even friends or family, have made such an impression on us that we are quick to shrug certain things off that we like, simply to fit in. Out of fear that we will be uncool or made fun of. Because let’s be honest, you wouldn’t refer to something like an Indian takeaway or Breaking Bad as a guilty pleasure because 97% of the population have enjoyed Walt and Jesse’s escapades and a good jalfrezi.

A lot of the things we might deem to be a guilty pleasure aren’t highbrow or particularly intelligent so for some reason, this earns them a stamp of ‘GUILTY PLEASURE’, only to be talked about when we shove those two words in front of whatever it is that we have been enjoying. As if in some way to protect ourselves from being ridiculed: ‘It’s ok, I can admit that I like The X-Factor because I’ve said I feel guilty about it.’ Then there are certain people who simply believe such entertainment to be beneath them and that they are better than those who don’t feel the need to associate guilt with things they like. To that, I eye-roll.

I struggle with the word guilty generally if I’m honest because I feel like it’s often used in the wrong context, far too frequently. For me, guilty means (as per the dictionary), culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing. Not because you enjoy something you feel you shouldn’t. I hate that people feel guilty for something that brings them joy, whatever that may (legally!) be. For example, food. How many times have you associated food with guilt? I know I have. Associating guilt with food can be a damaging but that’s a whole other blog post.

I like to think of myself as a fairly open person but being perfectly honest, I’ve definitely gently teased friends who avidly watched Love Island over the Summer. I’ll admit that it feels like an automatic response to scoff and that’s not ok. Such responses are the very reason in which we find guilty pleasure as a common terminology so many of us refer to.

So now I’m trying this new thing. I’m not giving up any of my pleasures but I’m leaving any guilt I’ve ever associated with them behind.  I am embracing every single thing that brings me joy, whether they are what others would choose or not. We all deserve to feel good and whatever it may be that makes us feel that way – may it be a 1000 piece puzzle, bopping around in your underwear to One Direction or watching To All The Boys I Loved Before once a week, we all deserve to enjoy ourselves, unconditionally and most importantly, without guilt.

PS. Let me know your (non-guilty!) pleasures in the comments! I’d love to know!

If you liked this post, why not read: So when are you getting married? And other questions not to ask.