Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Letting go of guilt

I went to see Adele last week. She was absolutely incredible; every note seemed pitch perfect, every gap between songs was filled with a joke and one of her signature cackles and everyone there seemed to enjoy themselves...no matter whether they were a middle-aged mum or a tween boy who'd bought his beloved a ticket for her 18th birthday. I bet even Stormzy, the fellow Londoner she gave a shout out to halfway through, had an amazing night. As befits an Adele concert, I shared a bottle of vino with one of my best friends and sang my little heart out. I might even have shed a tear (look, YOU try not to cry when you're half a bottle of wine down and Adele's weeping over a tiny child telling her she'd inspired her to make music).

Later on in the week, I was asked for a thing at work to reveal something I consider to be a 'guilty pleasure'. As it happened, this was something I'd actually been thinking about, since I count my love of Adele to be something of a guilty pleasure. These days, being an Adele fangirl is about as basic as professing a love of tea in your Twitter bio. She's warbled her way into the mainstream and conquered America – she's your nan's favourite as well as your 10-year old cousin's – and it's therefore not especially cool to count yourself among her fans (whatever the hell 'cool' even means). And this hasn't escaped her notice: "I'm doing Glastonbury just to piss off all the people who are pissed off about me doing it", she told the O2 with a mischievous cackle on Monday night.

It's quite difficult to define what exactly a guilty pleasure is, but I'd say a fairly good assessment is whether it's the kind of thing you'd be sure to avoid putting on a dating profile. By that token, mine are endless: listening to Dolly Parton, rewatching Love Actually, The Devil Wears Prada and any other film considered a 'chick flick', buying nail varnish in every shade going, squeezing spots, wearing fake eyelashes, eating picnic food (think scotch eggs, cocktail sausages and the like), reblogging things to my perfectly curated Tumblr page, listening to Magic FM, watching repeats of Sex and the City despite having seen it a million times...the list goes on. This isn't an exhaustive list of my interests by any means; my radio isn't always tuned to the same station and luckily, my diet consists of more than just beige, pork-based products. But even still, they're not the things I'm likely to lead a conversation with. No one wants to be pigeonholed by their guilty pleasures.

The endless viewings of Sex and the City I mention happen to have alerted me to another guilt-centric concept – that of 'SSB', or Secret Single Behaviour. In one of my favourite episodes, Carrie, newly cohabiting with boyfriend Aidan, is mourning the loss of all the weird stuff that she would only ever do alone – her SSB. One of the things she misses most is standing in the kitchen reading fashion magazines, making her way through a stack of crackers and jam, while her friend Miranda reveals “I like to put Vaseline on my hands and stick them in those Borghese conditioning gloves while watching infomercials." Charlotte, on the other hand, tells them that in her single days she used to study her pores for an hour every night in a magnifying mirror.

Everyone, Sex and the City viewer or not, must have their own SSB equivalent, and feelings of guilt aren't uncommon for people of both sexes. But I think guilt affects women on a more insidious level, thanks to centuries of patriarchal bullshit. Last week, I read that Mindy Kaling – the same Mindy Kaling who acts, writes, produces and is now worth a reported $15 million – sends apology cupcakes to people she feels she's been "too assertive" with. Do you think Steve Carrell's ever felt compelled to send an apology cupcake? Or any other successful male writer, actor or producer, for that matter?

Whether it's for eating a slice of cake, skipping the gym or for coming across as overly pushy, the number of things you hear women express guilt over on an hourly – let alone daily – basis is absurd. Phrases like 'a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips' might seem fairly innocuous, but they're actually an indication of just how deep-seated the guilt over some of life's simplest pleasures – or in the case of assertiveness, things that merely come as standard for men – are in our collective psyche.

There are some things for which feelings of guilt are perfectly justified, no matter who you are: that you don't visit your grandparents enough, or that you forgot your friend's birthday, or any other time you have to admit to yourself that you've been a bit of a shit. But there are countless other situations where our guilt is likely misplaced. Occasionally treating yourself to a chocolate bar instead of sticking to a rice cake isn't something to beat yourself up over. Telling your friend that actually you'd just rather stay in tonight, without making up some excuse, isn't the end of the world.

And as for guilty pleasures...a few years ago, admitting that you were a Craig David fan would have been met with a sneer, but now he's supposedly leading a garage renaissance it's perfectly acceptable. Not so long ago, eating a burger and chips meant a covert trip to McDonalds, now, going for a 'dirty burger' is seen as a cool, Instagram-worthy night out. The things we're supposed to feel guilty about can change over night, so why bother in the first place? And apart from anything else, who really cares what the contents of your Spotify playlist or your lunchbox are? Life's too short to feel guilt over the things that you enjoy the most.

So this week, why not eat that last slice of cake. Tell that person you're too busy to meet up with them. Listen to as much Adele as you please. And try, try oh so very hard, to stop feeling so bloody guilty all the time.