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| By Wellvyl Media Editorial

About a year ago, as I was scrolling through my Apple TV in search of something relatively easy to watch, I came across The Bachelorette. I’d seen several episodes here and there but never watched an entire season from start to finish. Several hours after hitting “Play,” I was hooked. As one episode automatically began after another, I became more and more invested in the bachelorette’s story and genuinely curious as to who she would end up with. In other words, what started out as a way to spend time watching what I had already labeled as “bad television,” quickly turned into a favorite pastime of mine.


Being the documentary and independent film freak that I am (with memberships to IFC, Film Forum, and several online platforms), I’ll admit I'm somewhat of a snob when it comes to films. The same could be said of music and books. That’s why, when I told my friends about my new-found interest, I referred to it as a “guilty pleasure.”


As widely as we use it, I don’t think we think enough about what “guilty pleasure” really means. The term first appeared in The New York Times in 1860, in reference to visiting a brothel. In that context, it seems like a perfectly appropriate term since, as pleasurable as it might have been, visiting a brothel was not something one would scream from the rooftops. That said, the same phrase no longer serves the same purpose as it did when it was first introduced to our cultural lexicon. Nowadays, “guilty pleasure” is mainly used in reference to gastronomy and culture, and I believe there’s value in analyzing the application of the term in both instances.


When it comes to gastronomy, “guilty pleasure” is mainly used to describe foods that taste good but are known to be bad for our health because of their high sugar, saturated fat, or other similar nutritional contents. Think french fries, donuts, cookies, chips, and most other packaged foods. What’s important to note, however, is that any food referred to as a “guilty pleasure” is consumed not out of habit, but out of choice. What this means is that, if we decide to order a side of fries instead of a salad with our sandwich, we do so by acknowledging that we are partaking in a conscious indulgence, rather than repeating a daily habit. In doing so, we should remind ourselves that our decision to listen to our cravings has led us to eat from an empowered place, which hopefully leads to feelings of empowerment. When repeated over time, these reminders will eventually allow us to be kinder to ourselves and find pleasure in pleasure, rather than guilt. Just like any other practice, however, this requires patience, dedication, and tolerance for any slips along the way.


Within the context of culture, the definition of “guilty pleasure” becomes more blurred as there doesn’t exist any scientific proof of books or movies that are bad for the health, like eating a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos is. However, there’s a shared understanding that it is used in reference to products of popular, or “lowbrow,” cultures such as songs, movies, and books that our cultural zeitgeist has determined to have been badly done, but that draw us to themselves nevertheless. My example of The Bachelorette is one, as are any songs you listen to on Spotify after switching over to “Private Session,” and books that you’ve read overnight, but pretend you haven’t (the Twilight series is usually a well-understood and widely used example). While the component of guilt in eating something that is known to have certain downsides healthwise is understandable, the guilt in blasting “Oops I Did It Again” in the car or watching Pretty Woman at home is far more difficult to rationalize. There are a time and a place for everything in our lives. Just as wearing a nice cardigan and proper shoes when visiting your grandparents is appropriate for that occasion, so is wearing ugly socks, sweatpants, and a scrunchie when going over to a friend’s house to hang out. The same applies to our cultural consumptions. While it’s wonderful to support independent artists and foreign cinema, there is also a time and place, and perhaps more importantly, a need for movies that we watch simply because they make us laugh, songs we love simply because they make us want to dance, and books we love simply because they give us a break from reality. And just as we are proud to have seen an Almodovar film, so too, should we be for respecting our need to relax and have fun as we walk out of a movie like Pitch Perfect.


Both are necessary for our well-being for equally important and equally valid reasons. There is, therefore, no room for “guilt” in such pleasures.