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Guilt-free pleasures: how to make guilty pleasures less guilty

As a student, you are probably surrounded by the most free-thinking people you have ever met in your life. Students have a reputation for being political, outspoken and open minded. But even among all this, in a sea of people who would go out of their way to attend a political rally on the rights of LGBTQUA+ people in Uganda, I still find it difficult to tell some of my deepest, darkest secrets.

And I’m not talking about anything morally deplorable. I don’t mean I’ve ever killed a man before, or that I’m really into collecting human body parts. It’s more the small things, the little facets of my life I keep mostly to myself: the guilty pleasures.

One of the most amazing things I have noticed about student life is the way in which I can walk around campus all day holding a “no more page 3” sign and no one bats an eyelid. It’s a brilliant thing to see people so obviously open to progress in society, into making things better for other people. But as soon as I want to tell someone that I enjoy comics, or that, you know, actually, not all anime is really that weird, you just got to give it a try, man… that’s when I start to get worried about people judging me.

Now, obviously I’m not putting guilty pleasures on the same level as actual oppression of minorities. If it were a choice between keeping all my guilty pleasures guilty and reinstating slave labour, then I’m fairly sure I’d choose the former. It’s more the irony that, on campus, I could scream at the top of my lungs about the mistreatment of Muslims in western countries and it’s fine, but if I tell people that I like to settle down and enjoy myself with a really big fantasy novel, that’s a bit weird. And the thing is, it’s not a choice. It seems so odd to me that the student bubble of open-mindedness extends as far out as issues of world importance, but sort of stutters and falters when it comes to the things we do ourselves. I don’t need to justify myself when I say I stand for the rights of minorities, and I don’t need to justify myself when I’m vocal about the minority issues that directly affect me. When I say that Katy Perry is actually fun to listen to, that’s when I’m set on the defensive.

Guilty pleasures, especially in a student setting that seems so accepting, are one of the strangest things that could exist. It’s when I’m out in the real world, talking to family who effortlessly slander gay people but who don’t seem to mind when I shut myself up in my room and marathon a series of New Girl that I start to realise this. It’s sort of funny how they won’t accept my rights, but they’ll accept all the little things I have to pretend to be less eager about when I’m at Uni.

There’s this idea that treating yourself to the things you like which are seen as somehow lowbrow, or not aimed at you, or not what you should be doing in your spare time, is bad in some subtle way. You have to justify your enjoyment of things, but the point of enjoying something is that you don’t need to be
ashamed of loving it. Real enjoyment and fun comes when you’re just happy that something exists and that you are there to be a part of it, or at least it is in my experience.

So the idea of guilty pleasures really seems sort of… well, stupid. The same society that tells us that there are people we should hate tells us there are harmless things we shouldn’t do, and both of those ideas sound really ridiculous to me. But for the most part, I like the way I do things and I like the things that I do. That’s really the point, I think, that you enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy without shame. What’s the point in living every day hiding away the things you like because others won’t approve of them?

It’s true that the whole idea of guilty pleasures is steadily disappearing, but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve gotten older and less quick to judge, or because people are realising how utterly pointless it is to be ashamed of what you like. Perhaps its because of websites like Tumblr and Twitter, websites which introduce us to this huge array of people who all enjoy different things that guilty pleasure lose some of their potential for being guilty. I don’t really know, but I know that even though I’m not that eager to present all my guilty pleasures to everyone I meet, it’s less uncomfortable than it was a year ago.

But even with that, guilty pleasures still exist. There are still a few things I feel like I shouldn’t enjoy, but do anyway. What we need is a way to enjoy the things that we’ve always had the slight feeling it isn’t right to enjoy. We’re all grown up and clever enough to know that there’s no point in going through life with a miasma of shame hanging around us as we click the links to our favourite shows.

So here’s my suggestion: let’s stop caring. Let’s get rid of the ‘guilty’ in ‘guilty pleasures’. I love anime and cartoons, I love Katy Perry and My Chemical Romance, I really love putting three or four sugars in my tea, because two doesn’t even make a difference, honestly. I can’t be bothered with the expectation that I should drop those things because they’re not mature, or not aimed at me, or not what I should be doing with my time. I have that part of my lifestyle, the things I do when I have spare time, or when I procrastinate, and I enjoy it. It may not be for everyone, but it’s for me, and where’s the end in worrying what others think about it?


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