Taking the Guilt out of Guilty Pleasures

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Recently, I was reading a magazine and was shocked when I saw an actor had listed Legally Blonde as her “guilty pleasure movie.” Why on earth would anyone feel guilty about watching Legally Blonde? It is a cinematic masterpiece; how could someone waste time feeling guilty for loving it? For that matter, why do we waste time feeling guilty about any harmless activity that brings us pleasure? Feeling guilty or embarrassed about liking something is just that: a waste of time. I’ve done my best to embrace all my interests so that I feel no shame when I tell people I’m currently watching and loving shows like Naked and Afraid and E! News.

Jennifer Szalai, writing for The New Yorker, defines guilty pleasures as “cultural artifacts with mass appeal—genre novels, catchy pop songs, domestic action movies (foreign action “films,” no matter how awful, tend to get a pass), TV shows other than ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The Wire’—that bring with them an easy enjoyment without any pretense to edification.” It seems that once a TV show wins an award, it becomes acceptable for our enjoyment. If a dead white guy wrote it, it’s alright to read. Well I’d like to call B.S. here.

Yes, there are some things you’re probably right to feel guilty about enjoying. I’d define anything that is actually physically or mentally harmful to yourself or others as a legitimate guilty pleasure. But don’t feel guilty about that teen supernatural romance novel you read last week. The low-budget zombie movie you’ve watched three times? Put it on whenever you’re stressed out! The chocolate bar you ate after a long day at the office? Don’t feel bad about indulging (just don’t have three of them).

It's OK to read romance novels!
It’s OK to read romance novels!

I watch a lot of TV shows that include acting (and writing and special effects, to be honest) far from Emmy-worthy. Alright, I watch several shows on The CW. I also read quite a few books with target audiences about a decade younger than I. For a while, I was a bit ashamed of this— I thought I should have better taste, and when someone asked what I was reading, I’d rattle off the last classic I read for class, because Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway sounded better than Anna and the French Kiss.

But, you know what? I’ve stopped being ashamed. Part of it is that I’ve stopped caring nearly as much about what people think of me, but a larger part is that I’ve made a conscious effort to accept my occasionally weird tastes. Acknowledging what you like and accepting that you shouldn’t feel guilty if it differs from what others classify as “good,” is one small step toward accepting yourself in all your flawed glory. If something makes you laugh, even if you’ve had a horrible day, it’s a good thing–and you never should feel guilty about it. Taking care of yourself by watching chick-flicks and reading romance novels to de-stress is beneficial to your mental health and self esteem. Seriously. Whether it’s a “bad” pop song you enjoy belting out in the shower or the newest episode of Teen Wolf, as long as it brings you pleasure, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Now go buy yourself a tabloid and stop calling harmless pastimes “guilty pleasures.” Stop justifying yourself when someone raises their eyebrows at your choice in fiction. Trust me, you’ll be a happier, and more confident person because of it.



thenewyorker.com; Guilty Pleasure Is a Fun Obsession;  Guilty Pleasure? It’s all in the mind’s eye; personal experience

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