31. 3. 2021

English Version | Judgement Day

by Sara Andrade


They all are. Because every day we hide harmless pleasures because we feel they are, to a greater or lower level, tastes intellectually or morally prohibited by our peers. Those [bad guys?] Guilty pleasures that bring us both pleasure and that feeling of transgression. Why do we feel guilty for enjoying certain innocent indulgences?

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Someone once said Nirvana when he meant Backstreet Boys, said Guerra e Paz when he meant The 50 Shades of Gray, said yes to the extra scoop of ice cream only when no one was watching, said he was reading José Saramago when in reality he was binge watching the Kardashians. Relax: you are not alone. Hello, my name is Sara and I (too) I suffer from guilty pleasures. That is, preferring not to confess some of my pleasures for a feeling that I can be judged negatively because of them. In unison: “Hiiii, Sara.” I feel empathy in this. Anyone who has never enjoyed something he felt to be somehow transgressive, but, deep down, it didn't hurt anyone, please throw the first album by Quim Barreiros, pardon, by Beyoncé. And while no album cuts through the air towards any target, ask yourself: what harm did these pleasures do to be labelled of quasi-sins? Apparently, none. And what harm did we do to be ashamed of enjoying them? Apparently, only this terrible mistake of liking them. And why do we feel this shame, if everyone has their guilty pleasures too? Who are, after all, these guilty pleasures for having such a sentence with no chance of contesting the verdict, to be blamed before the opposite be proclaimed? “Although there is no single definition of guilty pleasure, when we discuss guilt we always mean a socially established standard, that is, a social norm. The so-called guilty pleasures mainly refer to transgression of normative beauty standards, conveyed in the media and social discourse and particularly referring to women. They are guilty because they have supposedly negative or harmful consequences”, explains sociologist Maria João Cunha, professor at ISCSP / ULisboa and researcher at CIEG (Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies), referring to society’s influence in the way we label certain tasks that we consider to be, in a way, sinful. They, the pleasures, are guilty not because they contain the guilt itself, but because we attribute this guilt to them, as the result of our beliefs and community living standards. “They are established as social and cultural norms and, therefore, depend on society and culture”, continues Cunha. “Gender and age also presuppose different standards and norms of what ‘should be’ and what ‘we can do ', which can effectively compromise our decision and agency capacity. The point is that globalization, especially at the level of media representations and constructions, has contributed to an increasingly Western cultural normatization". That is, we all have consensual guilty pleasures, but also divergent, depending on the age group, gender, culture, etc., because these kinds of pleasures that we prefer to have on the sly are a secret, not because they are malicious, but because we are aware that others consider them intellectual or moral reprehensible. They are not guilty of anything but making us feel good and then bad - or feel bad about something that is not allegedly beneficial in any way: we are not going to order that waffle with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate and whipped cream and, maybe, some french fries, because it makes you fat, it's bad, there's a lot of fat and society does not applaud high cholesterol; we will not see, pardon, assume we see, Big Brother and other reality shoes or videos of pimple popping - i.e., people squeezing pimples because, what would that say about us? What would others say? That they do it too, in a world without constraints. Only they do not: most would not admit these pleasures either because they are "worthy" of any cool or acceptable parameter. "Guilty pleasures is the term used to describe something that is enjoyed and is considered and felt as pleasurable, despite the feeling of blame for enjoying it”, clinical psychologist Joana begins by saying. “However, this feeling of guilt is more related with the possibility of being discovered and with feelings of shame or embarrassment ”, she adds, corroborating that our social conditions also determine what we feel our guilty pleasures to be. “Initially, in the first studies on this topic, there was the idea that they would be related to generalized social norms in society, however they seem to be more linked to the individual's internal norms and the way he feels accepted by others. Social psychology explores a lot this theme, where it shows our need for belonging and acceptance by others, those we consider important in our circle of people. In this sense, if there is the feeling or even just the doubt that a certain behavior or taste will be accepted or welcomed, it is hidden”. So we are the ones who attribute the blame, it's an internal judgment, even if the arguments for such judgment come from the outside? If your peers all accept your obsession with erotic romances, it remains guilty or liable to be assumed? Maybe not, or at least not in your closest circle: “Our perception of right and wrong, in this case of what is a sinful pleasure, it is built through several factors and even of the socialization agents: family, our peers (the ones we belong to, like friendships or colleagues), the reference group (to which we do not belong, but we would like to, and from which we define our actions), and, in particular, the media, traditional and digital. For example, stereotyped and standardized representations of beauty seen in advertising and content media constitute benchmarks that become models (being thin and youngmeans success in these representations)”, explains sociologist Maria João Cunha, stating here that the will to belong is directly proportional to the feeling of guilt. Because we want to belong to the tribe, to the community, we don't allow marginal tastes to these standards stipulated by our peers, under penalty of being ashamed or lose social value. “There is this fear”, confirms Joana Canha. “That’s why they are hidden or shared with very few people. The fear of being ridiculed, the fear of feeling inferior or even humiliated, brings many people to hide these ‘guilty pleasures’. There is a fear of being defined by these behaviors”. In the case of women and beauty standards, this is particularly notorious. Maria João Cunha says that “globalization has contributed to the dissemination of a global culture, transforming traditional cultural values ​​and standardizing what is accepted or not, especially the level of female beauty. The perception that some behaviors that induce pleasure, or produce endorphins, responsible for a sense of well-being, can compromise the achievement of these patterns, can lead to guilt because, in fact, we know, for example, that chocolate makes us feel good (frees endorphins) and has a very pleasant taste, but can be fattening or cause pimples, something that our models don’t serve”, recalls the sociologist, demystifying the idea that dropping the guilty prefix could help with something. Pleasures only cease to be ‘guilty’ when we change mindsets - be it ours, be it social ones: “This global culture, as I said, that does not allow us, especially us women, to stop feeling guilty if we go against the kind of behavior that is supposed to make us reach such standards of beauty, youth, perfection, success and, for all this, thinness. It seems to me that we need to, more than failing to call them ‘Guilty’, deconstruct the images conveyed by beauty, thinness and romance that are stereotyped as something unreal and even the result of digital changes. This deconstruction, made in some experiments in a school environment, has been shown to help improve self-esteem, body image and, consequently, can help to enjoy behaviors that bring us some well-being - which in this pandemic moment in particular we need so much.”

It is obvious that this beauty issue is widespread and is one of the primary sources of “guilt” in the female gender sphere, but still, it is not a single factor, not even the main one, to determine what constitutes, for each individual, a guilty pleasure. Especially because insecurities change over the years, depending on external influences, “trends” and, therefore, these guilty pleasures can change according to the cultural dictates we are a part of, as referred to by psychologist Joana Canha: “Considering the origin of guilty pleasures in norms established by society and by the individual himself, it is normal that they change according to society. Something that is accepted in one society or community is not accepted in another. However, the need to be accepted by peers (individuals who share demographic, cultural, social and experiential characteristics) means that guilty pleasures may vary according to some factors - age (for example) - some behaviors that can be accepted in adulthood are not accepted in adolescence and vice versa". If the feelings of shame are related with the desire that we have to belong or, better, to be accepted, the more we are concerned with being accepted or belonging, the more shameful or more guilty our pleasures will be. If I am not concerned with what others think, my pleasures do not need to carry a prohibited weight. Of course that confidence is not infallible - ultimately, we are social beings, who also feed on relationships that, more or less intensely, we want to keep and please. "Per confident that someone may be, there is always something in you that you don't like so much and don't want to show  to the world ”, points out the psychologist. "There is a desire to show the other the best of himself, getting sometimes, in the extreme, to be an illusion. Of course, we all have some guilty pleasures, which may vary, in most cases depending on our life stage. Even the elderly have guilty pleasures, even if the feeling of guilt can be less intense, because there is not that much of a need for acceptance from others”. Especially because, having a guilty pleasure - and feeling it as something to be guilty of - is not necessarily bad. “What makes them guilty pleasures and not just pleasures is more internal to the individual than external. Interestingly, they are part of the identity of each one of us. Since identity is something so complex, it also presupposes the connection with peers and the feeling of belonging. If a person feels that any taste or behavior will not be accepted, he or her will not share it; however, you will not fail to enjoy it. There is a feeling of pleasure, comfort and satisfaction inherent, which sometimes tastes better in our ‘bubble’, privacy, stripped of any judgment”, says Joana Canha, stating and encouraging the benefits of guilty pleasures. “Some psychology fields of study consider that guilt has an adaptive component, in the sense that it motivates people to follow social norms / rules. According to this line of thought, we feel bad when we don't follow socially established rules, so we don’t break them so frequently (in an almost preventive perspective)”, contextualizes the psychologist. “However, guilty pleasures, despite being guilty, they are also pleasures, and pleasure is essential for good mental health. It is in our ability to feel pleasure the reason why we are able to relax, have fun and have a pleasant life. Even doing something that can be considered ‘morally wrong’ by yourself, like ‘wasting time’ watching a series intellectually less stimulating or playing games on your mobile phone; if that provokes a feeling of pleasure, naturally we feel better. Pleasure is associated with happiness and when we feel good, we work and live better ”. We couldn't agree more. Us and Fran Leibowitz, the one and only source of quotes for articles and conversation unblockers since always, but above all, since she joined Martin Scorsese in the documentary about New York, Pretend It’s A City. “I find it unbelievable that there is an expression as ‘guilty pleasures’. Unless your pleasure is killing people [it is not guilty of anything]. My pleasures are absolutely benign, that is, no one dies because of them. No, I don't feel guilty about any kind of pleasure". It’s as basic as this: as long as you’re not a criminal, a pleasure is that which is pleasant for you, for me, regardless of what society thinks about them. Should they stop being called guilty? Maybe not, but without a doubt that our guilt in relation to them must lighten up, disappear. Because they can continue to call them guilty, and we we will continue to enjoy them as pleasures. Hello my name is Sara and, while writing this text, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift, pardon, Rolling Stones, pardon, Taylor Swift. With french fries by my side, at 11:36 pm, that hour that no longer admits carbohydrates.