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“I’m writing an essay on Harry Potter for school,” I told my mother.

“Are you ever going to grow up?” she replied.

There was a time — namely all of middle school and most of high school — when I would have ducked my head at those words, and felt prickles of shame and embarrassment. She was far from the only person who had said that to me. Like most teenagers, I was very much preoccupied with the concept of “cool.” It wasn’t cool to write Harry Potter essays in my spare time; I’d only publish them on a blog far away from the eyes of my classmates. It was also not cool to know all the words to practically every Disney soundtrack, cry at Taylor Swift music videos, or to dress up for film premieres. As a super emotional person who often gets overwhelmingly excited about things like fictional books, musicals, and movies, this was rather hard. For years, I would tone down the parts of me that I loved most — my belief in the extraordinary, my love for fairytales and fantasy worlds, and also my fervent (sometimes naïve) faith in the power of love.

The only moments when I let my true nerdiness burst forth were in moments of need. I’d always turned to fiction to help me heal, to seek solace, to find company and strength. Just a few weeks following my first heartbreak, I founded my high school Harry Potter club, which had over 40 people attend the first meeting. Clearly, I was not the only one with guilty pleasures. Still, it took years after that point before I could fully embrace those parts of myself.

I’ve noticed that when people speak about their guilty pleasures, most often a certain artist or a fandom, many accompany it with an apology, or try to tone it down or brush it off. However, in doing so, we can disregard some of the best parts of ourselves.

A very respected high school teacher once told me that the best relationship is one in which you help each other grow. I believe that this is not only applicable in romantic relationships, but also in every aspect of our lives — friendships, jobs, interests, etc. As long as our guilty pleasures contribute to our happiness and growth, they are worthwhile and worth celebrating, not hiding.

All of my “guilty pleasures,” and Harry Potter above all, have brought me more joy, meaning, and comfort than the majority of “real” people in my life. It has taught me to be kind, to love selflessly, to be confident, brave, and independent. It has led me to friendships, relationships, and even a job. Thus, I will never again apologize for, or be ashamed of the things that make me a better person.