Opinion | Stop shaming guilty pleasures

By Anne Marie Yurik, Senior Staff Columnist

I have two functioning brain cells — Freddie and Mercury. At their best, they aren’t much, but lately they have been feeling extra worse for wear. They weren’t trained for the new expectations and daily realities, so anytime I have a chance to remember to breathe, I take it.

When I can take a breath, I usually put on my Spotify playlist designed to make me cry, watch an episode of “Bob’s Burgers” or walk around Target just to feel something. These activities are my holy grail, because being anything during a global pandemic is hard. It isn’t easy to be a student, a teacher, an essential worker, an engaged club member or a functioning adult.

The world sometimes feels like a flaming garbage fire, so we should all be given the space to shamelessly partake in our guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures refer to shows, movies, books or other forms of media that don’t necessarily add to your academic horizons or stimulate you intellectually.

Guilty pleasures frequently get equated with junk food — we love it, but it doesn’t add any nutrients to our diets. But the idea falls flat because just like our bodies cannot run all day long, our mind needs a break too — and sleeping just isn’t enough.

Finding distance between work and relaxation is not easy considering that both happen within the same four walls. A survey conducted by national nonprofit Active Minds showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted 80% of college level students’ mental health, so making space for our preferences is essential.

But the harsh truth about guilty pleasures is that they typically refer to hobbies, media or other activities targeted toward women. The definition of guilty pleasure on dictionary.com gives readers examples of trashy novels and rom-coms as something worthy of being dubbed a guilty pleasure. It’s nearly impossible to imagine sports video games listed as a guilty pleasure, even though sports games rarely expand the watcher’s base of knowledge.

I am here to tell you that the thing you think is your guilty pleasure really isn’t one. It is just the way in which you choose to relax. Some people may opt for golf on Saturday morning, others for late night cartoons and some will choose mindless sitcoms. Regardless of how you allow your mind to rest, it is not a waste nor a guilty pleasure.

The last thing I or anyone else needs is to have to explain or compensate for the things we enjoy in our free time. As Tabitha Brown says, that’s your business. If my relaxation comes from the dollar section of a Target or 20-minute episodes of “Bob’s Burgers,” kindly leave me to my business.

After nearly four years of college, countless law school applications and hundreds of pages of reading per week, it is easy to say that I am mentally and physically exhausted. Even after the countless classes I have taken via Zoom, I still find the platform unnecessarily tiring. My heart shudders each time I need to click the unmute button and actually say something to my virtual peers.

The Zoom-sphere is a terrifying place. Nodding your head when the professor asks if you can see their screen, watching a classmate unmute themselves incorrectly and waving goodbye at the camera at the end of literally every class for no reason is draining. But that’s why we need to give ourselves space to exist, even if that existence is decorated with various meaningless platforms of entertainment.

Pointless rom-coms, sports TV and mainstream music are meant to be safe havens for yourself. They are little pockets of joy that you can’t really explain but love anyway, and even if they’re wrongly dubbed as guilty pleasures, they are good for you.

But the things you do for yourself and your own sanity need no introduction, no explanation and no condonation from others. You should never feel bad about liking what you like, even if it’s watching bowling.

The idea that people constantly need to be analyzing John Donne’s poems or parsing through Judith Butler’s scholarly works perpetuates the notion that taking a brain break is selfish. You can be intelligent, thought-provoking and hard-working even if you enjoy watching “The Bachelor.”

I have to admit, it isn’t easy to bite my tongue when someone tells me they like country music. But if I can do it, you can too. How people choose to spend their free time is — and this might be a surprise to some of you not a topic that requires your commentary.

If someone’s preferred mode of relaxation doesn’t harm somebody else, it simply does not concern you. No one needs to play gatekeeper with someone else’s relaxation methods. Why judge me for the nights that I spend clad in my blue, star covered nightgown eating Pop Secret and drinking cheap moscato, when you could metaphorically join me?

In fact, being compassionate with yourself is shown to buffer symptoms of depression, so instead of telling yourself that you should stop reading teen romance novels and study a glossary, allow yourself to enjoy what you truly like.

I know we all have something we enjoy that others would consider cringey or unintelligent. But we do not walk these garbage-covered South Oakland streets just to feign intelligence all day. Own your “guilty pleasures,” love them and let yourself breathe. I can promise you that you earned the break.

Anne Marie typically writes about unapologetically doing her thing. Write to her at [email protected].