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Lithium In defense of guilty pleasures

Nov. 18, 2020
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Even when we’re not sharing aesthetic food pics on Instagram, we have private accounts stashed away to archive our messy parties, times spent eating pizza late at night, and all the other naughty things we deem too inappropriate (or ugly) for our main accounts. But there’s something to be said for the real guilty pleasures—the ones we’re too scared to share anywhere for fear of embarrassment or revealing our true colors. We all have something we enjoy that we don’t even like to admit to our close friends, let alone broadcast it on social media. In a world where we’re constantly being perceived via the internet, it’s refreshing to have indulgences that go unseen.

 As someone who shares pretty much everything—on my finsta, with my close friends, via my internet ramblings—I had to dig deep to figure out what guilty pleasures I have and what they mean to me. After some soul-searching, Meghan Trainor popped up in my brain as a former favorite artist. Her hits empowered my seventeen-year-old self, instilling me with the confidence I sorely needed. I still revisit these tunes when I need the boost that only Meghan Trainor can give me. What distinguishes this as a guilty pleasure is the (very silly) fact that as a Kind-of-Edgy Girl who studies English Lit at university (you know the type), pop princess Meghan Trainor doesn’t really match my “vibe.” I hate that I think like this, but I’m sure many of us have similar musical guilty pleasures—especially those of us who have had the misfortune of encountering soft boys who will go out of their way to critique your music taste.

Given my lack of guilty pleasures beyond Meghan Trainor in all her girly goodness, I took to Instagram with a public question to see who would ‘fess up. The responses I received can be divided into three categories: food, pop culture, and sex and drugs. They varied in levels of hedonism, but as a collection they offer some intimate insight into people’s small worlds. I’m sharing them here as a messy collage of what guilty pleasures look like.


Most of the time we have diet culture to blame for what makes these pleasures so “guilty,” but it’s still interesting to hear about the strange snacks people indulge in behind closed doors. Food-related responses varied from the chaos of “eating about four bowls of cereal a day on a bad day” (we’ve all been there) to the decadence of “baking a Camembert and eating it all by myself”—something I’m now inspired to try next time I’m in the mood for a cheese fix. Some others included eating peanut butter straight from the tub and “Nutella with a tablespoon and switching my phone off”—an oddly specific one which I admire for its real commitment to me time. 


Certainly the naughtiest of them all, there can be something self-destructive (and illegal) about these pleasures which clearly marks them as “guilty.” There shouldn’t be anything guilty about sex so long as it’s between two consenting adults (which goes without saying) and it isn’t hurting anyone. The same health and safety spiel goes for drugs. Fortunately none of the responses I received proved to be red flags. Ket, MDMA, acid, and Valium were all listed as people’s go-to guilty pleasures. Nothing too alarming there. “Outdoor sex” was definitely another popular response, which makes sense; it’s undoubtedly become more of a thing in light of pandemic-related government restrictions. “Posting my amateur porn on Twitter and OnlyFans” is something I can endorse on the grounds of sexual liberation and emerging artists sharing their work. Masturbation and “reading sexy and dramatic novels” were listed by two women, and both are great activities—but it’s sad that many women still feel that element of guilt surrounding sexual indulgence. One day, ladies, we will be able to wank freely and read erotica guilt-free.


One response read, “Girls Aloud, picking split ends, and trash teen Netflix shows.” There’s something distinctly nostalgic about this compilation of guilty pleasures. It makes me want to sprawl out on a Groovy Chick bedspread, scroll through my phone, and half-heartedly pay attention to my trashy show of choice. I received a similar compilation which feels like the grown up equivalent of this dreamscape: “my vibrator, acid, and reality TV.” These things aren’t to be tried all at once, but this could definitely be the foundation to a “Gen Z in 2020” starter pack and I’m here for it. Other TV and music guilty pleasures included Made in Chelsea, Take That music videos, Nickelback, old-school Kesha, nu metal, and high school volleyball anime (????). There’s no doubt we all have at least one reality TV show we shamefully—or shamelessly—binge every now and then.


There were, of course, some guilty pleasures that were so niche that I couldn’t easily categorize them. But some are too good not to mention. Some highlights included “loudly farting while I’m muted on a Zoom call” (audacious, powerful), “reading trashy Daily Mail articles on Snapchat,” and “leaving the club early without telling anyone and going to bed alone if I feel like it”—a bizarre form of self-care/self-preservation. 

My housemate, on the other hand, listed off a much more interesting array of guilty pleasures: binge-drinking, cocaine, tentacle porn, and flirting with people she shouldn’t while being in her monogamous relationship. Meghan Trainor, in comparison, seems like a fairly innocent and possibly even boring guilty pleasure. But I think the point of guilty pleasures is that they’re non-performative; it doesn’t matter that mine isn’t super exciting because it’s for my eyes and ears only. I suppose writing this piece almost defeats the point of guilty pleasures by publicizing them, but I figured it’s important that someone stands by and defends them—hopefully alleviating the shame we feel when we self-indulge. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to feel guilty about any of our pleasures. But maybe it’s this very sense of naughtiness and transgression that makes them so special.

Illustration by Ashley Setiawan