During its six seasons on TV, The Mindy Project proved to be multiethnic, multicultural, musically eclectic, risqué, smart, and whatever word means hip these days. Some might say it is almost too smart. For example, as a wedding gift, a couple is given “a vintage chaise lounge from the home of Wallis Simpson.” Simpson was of course the woman for whom England’s King Edward VIII notoriously gave up his throne. What does that say about the marriage? Or the friendship? In the entertainment biz, it takes real courage to throw out a reference unlikely to be caught by more than one viewer in a thousand.
But that is insignificant, compared to the incredible number of chances the show took by flouting viewer expectations. Yesterday’s Childhood Obesity News post mentioned an academic paper titled “Shame, Affect, and the Fat Body in The Mindy Project” by Dominique Lauf, a very ambitious project examining the show from several culturally meaningful angles. Lauf says,
Mindy incorporates multiple ‘good fatty’ stereotypes as well as ‘bad fatty’ stereotypes… However, no matter what stereotype Mindy engages in, she is more or less unashamed to be herself whether that is portrayed in a positive or a negative light.
Throughout the entire series, Mindy moves between shame and shamelessness about her body size and her eating habits, providing viewers space to effectively engage with the character and strengthen their own relationship with, or attitudes about, their own bodies and food.
Created by a writing staff that included star Mindy Kaling herself, the character of OB/GYN doctor Mindy Lahiri violates many of the tired tropes associated with overweight female leads. Most prominently, the character engages in multiple romantic involvements, which are not always serial, but sometimes overlap. (It’s Messy was the original working title for the series.) Journalist Jennifer Keishin Armstrong reckoned up a tally of 21 “substantial” relationships, not counting lesser flirtations.
Dr. Mindy has been described as vain, shallow, selfish, messy, silly, and obsessed with low culture, yet possessed of “Beyoncé-level confidence.” Journalist Ashley Ross says the show never fails to tease the character’s “insecurities or her so-called atypical size.” The qualifier “so-called” is in there because rather than appearing atypical, Kaling looks very much like the average American woman. In one episode, she sits on a man’s lap and the chair collapses. This is not the ideal to which modern women aspire.
Does the acceptance factor here promote and encourage fatness? Or does it give women permission to accept themselves for what they are, which many therapists insist is the vital first step that must necessarily precede any effort to change? The jury is still out. Dr. Evelyn Attia, director of the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders, says, “In the same way that we don’t know what contributes to disordered thoughts about body image, we don’t know what confers a healthier message.”
Returning to Dominique Lauf’s paper, she writes:
The fluidity of Mindy’s embodied experience as a fat woman is relatable because her experience is full of embodied contradictions.
Additionally, we cannot forget that there are limits to which fat bodies are accepted. Mindy is not supersize fat. Would The Mindy Project be as popular or accepted if the main character was supersize?
When the show had barely gotten off the ground, Kaling was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. This earns her a second post all her own.
(To be continued…)
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The Mindy Project Recap: Tamra’s ‘Braby’ Shower,” Vulture.com, 11/07/17
Source: “I Fluctuate Between Chubby and Curvy: Shame, Affect, and the Fat Body in The Mindy Project,” Vulture.com, 07/20/15
Source: “Mindy’s Love Interests on The Mindy Project, Ranked From Worst to Best,” Vulture.com, 09/12/17
Source: “Where Does The Mindy Project Go Next?,” Vulture.com, 07/08/16
Source: “Even Mindy Kaling Can’t Win the Body-Image Wars,” TIME.com, 04/14/14
Image by Montclair Film/CC BY 2.0