During sorority recruitment in college, we often asked potential new members this question: “What’s your guilty pleasure?” It was a fun and light conversation starter that also simulated a feeling of intimacy. The answers were clever, varied, and sure to generate a few laughs, nods of agreement, and relaxed follow-up inquiries. Some girls referenced specific TV shows, others mentioned frozen yogurt or fast food, and others explained their affinity for The Jonas Brothers.
You get to learn a bit more about what someone likes and why. On the surface this question produces harmless banter, but the combination of the words “guilty” and "pleasure” is a dangerous one.
I hear the term constantly. It’s rare that I see someone eat a bag of Doritos, download the soundtrack from The Hannah Montana Movie, or do something outside his or her typical gender norms without dropping the casual “yeah, it’s my guilty pleasure.” The phrase even permeates my own household. Any time a new guest is in our home and we’re watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” my mom and I feel compelled to justify our choice: “I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s our guilty pleasure!” we say. We feel the need to disclose that we know the show is asinine and trashy—as if our self-awareness compensates for the perceived silliness of our decision.
When someone asks what your guilty pleasure is, that person unintentionally insinuates that you do or like something you shouldn’t be proud to broadcast. And when you label your own habits or hobbies as guilty pleasures, you buy in to the same unnecessary and arbitrary rules of what is cool or socially acceptable.
In actuality, there is nothing inherently shameful about pleasure (unless you are engaging in something that is damaging to your body, mind, or another person, in which case it’s probably no longer very pleasurable). Pleasure is pleasing, pleasure is good, and pleasure is necessary for survival and happiness.
I happen to enjoy watching reality TV (The Bachelorette and Big Brother, get at me). I love to toss in a Mary-Kate & Ashley straight-to-VHS film once in a while because it makes me smile. I could eat seven straight bowls of Cap ‘n Crunch cereal in one sitting and probably more if it’s the berry kind. I read the Twilight series and Fifty Shades of Grey—and liked them. I know every lyric to the soundtrack of “Wicked” and will happily sing the songs for you in the car, on a hike, or at a pre-game party.
These are things society and media tell me to keep to myself, to enjoy but perhaps not in front of others either because they are lame, immature, distasteful, or any slew of negative adjectives. Well, I think it’s nonsense. There’s no reason we need to feel embarrassed or strange for liking what we like. We also don’t need to have an excuse or a reason for enjoying the things we do.
The summer I knocked back EL James’s sexually explicit trilogy in a matter of weeks, people who hadn’t read the book asked if I liked it. When I said yes, the usual response was “Why?” I liked the book because it was engaging, amusing, and sexy. Because I just liked it. End of story.
Let’s make a conscious effort to eradicate the phrase “guilty pleasure” from our vocabulary. It perpetuates judgments and creates, however subtly, a culture of shame and insecurity.
The next time you find yourself defending your choice to __________, don’t. Own what you like.
How would you fill in the blank? What do you love that you’ve kept on the down low in the past? Feel free to share.