Guilty pleasures: The contradiction within the concept

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The whole concept of “guilty pleasures” feels like a baffling concept. It’s a contradiction really – you’re meant to feel guilty about certain things that you decide to find enjoyment in. It doesn’t make sense; how can you be ashamed about something enough to not want to let anyone else see that you enjoy it?

It can be for obvious reasons, that someone defines something they enjoy as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Someone from a heavily conservative family may hide the fact that they really enjoy listening to heavy metal music, or someone you know still likes a film from their childhood even if they’ve come to realise the problematic elements within it, or otherwise feel like they should have grown out of it. It might be that something is cheesy, or too silly, or too old. Of course, what is one person’s ‘guilty pleasure’ is another person’s want to flaunt their enjoyment of a particular thing because they’ve probably given up trying to care what other people think; but it’s important to know how all this plays into the complex role of society that we’ve all come to understand.

It makes sense, then, that the whole concept of “guilty pleasures” is rooted in social approval. Whether or not friends, family and wider society would look down upon a person for having certain things that they like to enjoy, the person at hand may have internalised the expectations suited for the way they should present themselves, or for how others should think of them. Not that there’s anything wrong with looking for approval from others. However, we cannot and should not deny that it does something detrimental to someone’s mental health and wellbeing to make them feel tremendously guilty for enjoying something that doesn’t fit with the expectations that society and their peers have constructed for them.

So, on that particular note, we can be better reminded on a more general level about the harm the simple concept of ‘guilty pleasures’ can bring. The associations with expectations from others soon becomes complicated by aspects such as gender, where, for example, some men often have to define the traditionally feminine things that they enjoy as ‘guilty pleasures’ because it’s something that their gender isn’t expected to enjoy. Isn’t that, almost, a subtle derision to some one else?

So whilst there is nothing wrong with defining what you enjoy as “guilty pleasures” as your own preference, it cannot be denied that the concept is often rooted in social approval, or even maintaining a box-sticking status quo. And whilst there is nothing wrong with wanting to gain approval from your family, friends and even a wider society itself, as long as there’s no harm to anyone else, nothing and no one on this planet should stop you from happily and unashamedly partaking in things that you love.

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