Why we should embrace our guilty pleasures

Stop trying to be so virtuous and perfect. And embrace being real instead.

By Deborah Hill Cone
Martha Stewart confesses her guilty pleasure is a spoon of really good organic peanut butter. Surely you can do better – or rather worse – than that? It's not even a saturated fat. I mean you went to jail for lying to investigators, for heaven's sake! Confess to an espresso martini and a cigar, at least.
The feeble guilty pleasure is like when you go to a job interview and they ask you what your weaknesses are and you say you are a perfectionist. Rather than, for example, that you regularly waste three hours of work time watching wedding proposals on YouTube. Believe it or not, this is a problem.
We are all trying too hard to be good. And it's not good for us.
I know that might sound a bit arse-about-face, but let me explain.
If you want the psychological explanation: we all have a shadow side. It's normal. We tend to keep our shadow squashed down in our subconscious. But anything resisted is made stronger. When our darkness is denied it can come out in random and destructive ways.
Think of a bike valve: sometimes we need to let a bit of pressure out. Stop trying to be so virtuous and perfect. And embrace being real instead.
Sometimes we all get the urge to jump on the railway tracks. But it's normal to be hurt, envious, crude, weak, in need, childlike, grandiose, terrified and furious. It's healthier to accept those dark feelings, rather than trying to cover them up with exaggerated doses of manic cheeriness. Remember, you don't have to be an attractive human display case in human form.
Even one of the truly awesomest people on the planet, American novelist Anne Lamott, can come up with a dirtier bad habit than Martha Stewart.
"My guiltiest secret is that every Thursday I buy People magazine, Us Weekly and the National Enquirer. If anyone asks about this, I will lie and maintain I just said it to be funny. If people call when I am reading The Enquirer, I say 'Oh lah de dah, I'm just lying here reading the New Yorker'."
Are you getting it now? I'm not just talking about picking your nose at the lights. Although that is fine too. Just allowing a little bit more naughtiness and badness to exist, alongside the good. Holding both of them together because that is real. Life is a contradiction.
Anne Lamott again: "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor… I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."
Goodness often seems to be indistinguishable from duty. I sometimes wonder whether the whole idea of self-care is a bit of a crock. You spend all your time being selfless and doing things for other people, and then when you're feeling bitter and angry and taken advantage of, you're supposed to make yourself feel better by having a bloody bubble bath.
Stuff that! Filling life up with duty leaves little room for passion or compassion, all the things that make life vivid and beautiful.
"A person who is selfless is a person with no self," writes Andrea Mathews in her book Letting Go of Good. She argues the "good girl" operates out of guilt-driven obligation. I know, right? Sounds like fun.
So in the interests of encouraging you to stop being good, and instead embrace your badass true guilty pleasures, I'm sharing a few of mine.

Eating bad

Cheese-flavoured extruded corn snacks in monster shapes. Salt and vinegar kettle fries till your mouth hurts. Cheap dairy milk chocolate melted in a chocolate fountain from Kmart.
"Seize the moment," wrote Erma Bombeck. "Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."

Dressing bad

Polar fleece. Going out to fancy art gallery opening in my new (secondhand) purple velvet jacket and realising I still had the Savemart price tag stapled to the sleeve. Wearing uggs in summer. Old men's gabardine overcoats that even after drycleaning still smell of Eau de Opshop. Old clothes you bought when you were thin but now you burst out of like sausage casings.

Reading bad

Chick lit. Books with embossed hot pink covers and Comic Sans font. (Anne Lamott would be proud.) The Da Vinci Code. Trashy self-help books. You can heal your whatever. Georgette Heyer.
So, what are your guilty pleasures? Singing Bohemian Rhapsody really loud to yourself in the car? Pretending to be Nigella Lawson when you raid the fridge? Watching Gilmore Girls?
Whatever it is, I'm giving you permission to go and do them. The world won't come to an end if you eat an entire packet of biscuits in your pyjamas.
The goodness is still in you, even if (Anne Lamott again) you think such naughty thoughts that you cannot even say them out loud "because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish."
  • undefined: Deborah Hill Cone

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