Own What You Love: Why We Should Stop Using The Term 'Guilty Pleasure'

by Paige Smith

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 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.

On the surface, this question produces harmless banter, but the combination of the words “guilty” and “pleasure” is a dangerous one because it implies we have a reason to feel embarrassed for liking what we like.

I hear the term constantly. It’s rare that I see someone eat a bag of Doritos, download the soundtrack from "Hannah Montana: The 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 are compelled to justify our choice: “It’s our guilty pleasure!” We feel the need to disclose that we know the show has a ridiculous reputation, as if our self-awareness compensates for the perceived stupidity 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. 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.

We also use the phrase as a method of disclosure. Bracketing whatever we like with the words “guilty pleasure” implies that (rest assured) we have other, far better and less shameful interests outside of what we admit to.

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 not 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-DVD film once in a while because it makes me laugh. 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 pregame party.

These are things society tells me to enjoy, but perhaps not in front of others because they are lame, immature, distasteful or any slew of negative adjectives. Well, that’s nonsense. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or strange for liking what we like. We also don’t need to have an excuse or reason for enjoying the things we do.

The summer I knocked back E.L. James’ 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 and amusing; I just liked it -- end of story. No explanation necessary.

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 interest in something, don’t. Own what you like.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It