I’ve hit a point that makes me sad, and it’s the point where I’m not sure I want to read any stories about Mindy Kaling anymore.
It makes me sad because I love Mindy Kaling. I love The Mindy Project. I love so much of what she says and does. But I don’t love the narrative that surrounds her, and that narrative is that she is not a writer, producer or show runner. She is a Body. She is her Weight. And she is doing it Wrong.
Did you know that Mindy Kaling is a non-skinny woman of color? Of course you did. It’s all that matters about her. Did you know that Lena Dunham is a body type atypical of that normally seen on television and every nude scene is a point? Of course you did. It’s all that matters about her. These are two women, running their own shows to critical and fan acclaim and all anyone talks about is their bodies and why their bodies and what they do with them are wrong.
Yesterday, Time released a piece on Kaling’s role in the “body-image wars.” And in a stunning moment of irony, the writer joined the battle without even realizing it.
Kaling’s show The Mindy Project, which she stars in and writes, never fails to tease her insecurities or her so-called atypical size. At times the jokes are actually hilarious and very relatable, like a fan favorite that’s often quoted: “I’m not overweight, I fluctuate between chubby and curvy.” But others, while funny, seem unnecessary. On a recent episode, when her character excused herself from work for an appointment, a colleague asked if she was getting lap-band surgery. Later in the episode, when she sat on a man’s lap, the chair crumbled beneath them.
And the conversation continues on social media where Kaling has become known for her frank comments about weight. When she posted a fan’s illustration of herself on Instagram using the hashtag #thickthighs, troves of followers applauded what they thought was hilarious and honest. “It takes a lot of effort to look like a normal-slash-chubby woman!” Kaling told Jimmy Kimmel when explaining the backhanded compliments she receives from fans about her shape.
The article goes on to end with a quote from Kenneth Weiner, founder of the Eating Recovery Center: “Poking fun at yourself because you’re larger? If anything, I see that as part of the problem.”
Dr. Weiner’s belief, while commendable, rubs me the wrong way. Because, at its heart, the message is this: that our bodies are not our own to love, tease, laugh at, admire or own.
I struggled for years with an eating disorder. Bulimia, specifically. So I am careful about what I say around my daughter, even at her young age of nearly 2 years old, because I want to be a good body-image role model. But her body is hers. Mine is mine. The human body is a silly, ridiculous thing. If I want to laugh at it, I will.
Because I know there is a difference between hating your body for its flaws and loving your body, quirks and all. And the bigger issue for me is not that Mindy Kaling writes in jokes about her size, jokes that are relatable and enjoyable and ultimately meaningless. The meaning comes in from these think pieces and profiles telling us why she’s wrong for doing it while reinforcing that’s all she is, and lambasting her for doing what they’ve already done for her—reducing her to nothing but a size and a number on a scale. She does not possess her own form, thus allowing her to use it and speak of it how she wants without others feeling compelled to do the same, while criticizing her for it. She is a Body. And she is doing it Wrong.
Be fit and healthy. Own your looks. Love yourself. But don’t dare speak of it. Don’t be all that big, because that’s irresponsible and dangerous and that’s bad. Don’t be too thin, because that’s irresponsible and dangerous and that’s bad, too. Don’t laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t celebrate yourself for looking good, because looks don’t matter. Don’t sell us bullshit about eating pizza and drinking beer when you’re a size two, and don’t admit to eating nothing but micro greens and lemon water. Don’t show too much skin, because that makes you skanky. Don’t dress crazy—you’re trying too hard to get attention. Don’t talk about or have insecurities because you’re beautiful just the way you are. Be yourself and love yourself. Within these parameters, that is.
Because you are a Body. And you’re doing it Wrong.