An Open Letter to Mindy Kaling: How a TV Show Made Me Feel Visible

An Open Letter to Mindy Kaling: How a TV Show Made Me Feel Visible | Positively Smitten

An Open Letter to Mindy Kaling: How a TV Show Made Me Feel Visible | Positively Smitten

Dear Mindy Kaling,

My crush on you started with your role as Kelly Kapoor on “The Office” – a hilariously shallow shopaholic with a serious soft spot for Beyonce, AKA a more intense version of me. (I admit I don’t have Kelly’s knack for blatantly disregarding the feelings of others, but I’m working on it.) On a scale of Ryan Gosling movies, you quickly went from being “Murder By Numbers” (pretty cool and interesting) to “The Notebook” (OMFG best thing ever).

To say I was smitten is an understatement.

Prior to the release of your book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? The Concerns of Mindy Kaling,” I started reading your interviews and catching the promotional articles you were writing for this magazine and that. Every piece I read left me with this feeling of, “Hey, I could totally be BFFs with this girl, but I’m also crazy-inspired by her.”

By the time your book had come out, I was 23, had been laid off from my dream job at a newspaper, and was dealing with an as-of-yet undiagnosed case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I spent most of my days online in a Harry Potter forum. I know, right? I was in a pretty dark place.

I was bouncing between making myself feel awful that I hadn’t accomplished more in my life and figuring out where to go next. Mostly, I just craved a break from the constant chatter in my brain. I put a lot of energy into counting down the days until your book would be released so I’d have something positive to focus on.

True that I was putting a lot of pressure on your book to take my mind off of things, but I needed something to look forward to, and it worked. I devoured the book in a day. (Not literally.) I giggled uncontrollably at some parts, and really felt for you in others, but what I really took away from it all was this: I want to be Mindy Kaling.

Not in the really creepy way, like, I want to break into your house and take over your life a la “Wicker Park.” But more like, wow, this woman is so cool and awesome and how can I emulate her great life decisions?

You helped me realize that sometimes careers start slow, and that’s okay. You’ll get where you going as long as you work really hard. You showed me what it was like to “make it” against the odds – being a woman of color in Hollywood (or anywhere, for that matter) comes with a set of obstacles and challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get where you’re going. And your conversational, hilarious, sometimes self-deprecating, but beautifully touching writing style is what really pushed me over the edge to create a shrine in my bedroom dedicated to you. (Just kidding. That shrine is reserved for Beyonce, obvs.)

In the world of Tina Feys and Amy Poehlers – two amazingly hilarious feminist women who are very inspiring and among by favorite people, but, in case you hadn’t noticed, sort of white – I felt like I had a funny woman I could relate to. I was invested in your career and your success; I was dancing in the aisles right along with  you while you and your three friends performed to “Jingle Bell Rock” onstage in the high school auditorium. (Gratuitous “Mean Girls” reference.)

The fact that shortly after your book was released you scored a deal to create  your own television show, which you write, produce, direct, and star in – and happen to be the first South Asian woman to do so in the U.S., ever – only increased my admiration. I eagerly awaited the start of “The Mindy Project” and prayed to my Beyonce shrine that everyone would love it as much as I knew I would. (It seems to be working, so, yeah, you’re welcome.)

When I finally sat through the first episode, I was a mixture of thrilled, over stimulated (I was coveting that perfect glitter dress and I needed to tweet every moment and feeling), and touched. In a sea of shows depicting mostly white women, there you were, as the leading lady, totally rocking it.

At the end, when the show was all over, this image briefly came on the screen – it was of a girl hiding under her blankets reading a book on her bed and it read, “Kaling International, Inc.” I swear, seeing that image left me floating for days. For the first time while watching a show, ever, in my 24 years of life, I felt like I mattered. I exist. And I owe it to you. Thank you.

With love,

Crystal

P.S. One time you favorited a tweet of mine and it was kind of my shining moment.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. You really nailed all the reasons why I love Mindy too!

  2. Love this post. You said it. <3

  3. A wonderfully warm letter. Mindy is lucky to be the recipient of it! 🙂

  4. I absolutely love Mindy Kaling- hilarious!

  5. While, I admit, some aspects of the Mindy Project I simply don’t like because I’m uninterested in having sex be the only comedy element (the sex-tape episode, come on), I don’t respect Mindy Kaling as much as I would like to. I don’t see her as a feminist icon because of the constant un-feminist lines and ideas in her show–Mindy Lahiri can’t be without a boyfriend for five minutes (all of whom are white, by the way) and to be honest, she lets herself be treated pretty badly (the character.) So while in reality the idea of a strong woman of color battling with her professional and romantic troubles is very appealing, it isn’t executed properly, and in my eyes, Mindy Lahiri (and Kaling) may be colored and strong, she doesn’t have feminist ideals. I’m sorry if I’m dumping on your idol, but even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have their faults (and not just being white, if you even consider that a fault, because I don’t), and it seems to me Mindy Kaling has the biggest one–being idolized for something she is not.

    • When I wrote this, “The Mindy Project” was still in season one — just a baby. Since then, I have developed a lot more feelings about Kaling and her show, but overall I’ve come up with the same conclusion: I am so happy to have a feminist woman of color on my television. That doesn’t mean she’s immune from criticism because there are plenty of reasons to critique her and her show, but I’m not sure I agree with the reasons you’ve mentioned — especially the idea that people are idolizing Kaling as a feminist when she’s not. She identifies as a feminist. What more do we need from her?

      It’s interesting to me that you respect Amy Poehler and Tina Fey more than you do Kaling, given that the former two have made just as many egregious errors, if not more, as Kaling. “Parks and Rec” (my very favorite show) suffers from fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and casual racism. “30 Rock” (another one of my favorite shows) actually used blackface in multiple episodes, on top of the slut-shaming and much more overt racism that took place. (Many of the people of color on “30 Rock” were mere caricatures/stereotypes and not fully fleshed characters.) Meanwhile, Poehler has been known to use the t-slur, make jokes about eating disorders, poke fun at sex workers, and is guilty of cultural appropriation. Tina Fey has an even longer track record, including portraying single women as lonely and pathetic, a tendency to be classist (see: “Baby Mama”), an affinity for rape jokes, and lots of slut-shaming (especially against sex workers and strippers).

      My point is: it’s okay not to like people. But I would really think about the reasons why you don’t like Kaling vs. the reasons why you do like Fey/Poehler. “I don’t like Kaling because I don’t find her funny” is totally valid. “I don’t like Kaling because of X, Y, Z… but X, Y, Z don’t bother me when Fey/Poehler do them!” seems unfair. That’s just setting Kaling up for failure. After all, no one is the perfect feminist. 🙂

      By the way, calling someone “colored” is quite offensive. The preferred term is “person of color.”

    • I know I’m replying to this like half a year late, but I just wanted to weigh in. I think the fact that Mindy Lahiri is weak does not directly mean the show is not feminist. I thought it was refreshing to see a women of color be strong and intelligent in a professional capacity, but a bit weak and naive romantically. It was incredibly relatable and reinforces a message that I think is lost a lot of the time in feminism, it is not about always being strong, but about being unapologetically you. Weak does not equal not feminist.
      Also on the point about her only dating white guys, as a woman of color I really appreciated this as I constantly have to explain that yes, I am Indian, no my boyfriend is not, no my parents don’t mind. I think back to the people I have dated and the majority have been white, and this perplexes people, the show makes it seem like it is not weird or abnormal, and does not portray it as being a traitor to your ethnic group.
      Mindy Lahiri is a feminist character as she mirrors what so many of us are: full of faults, emotional, hopeless romantics and often stupid, but smart and articulate as well. I never thought I would see the day where someone who looked and acted (vaguely) like me would be a main character of a TV show. It give a lot of people hope (as stated in the article above)

  6. I love this (and your previous, very gracious and informative comment – it’s admirable to me)

    I’m pretty late getting into Mindy’s show but I’ve caught up on both seasons and I absolutely love it. And I’m like you – I was so excited to see a woman of colour – especially a South Asian woman on t.v. Of course, our personalities are polar opposites but that still didn’t stop me from gobbling it up because I’D NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT BEFORE.

    And yeah, I can see why people might think that Mindy Lahiri seems “un-feminist” but Kaling’s talked about that in interviews – of how our view of what it means to be feminist is still a very narrow one. Also, people seem to forget that the Mindy in the show is /fictional/. The show definitely has its problems, but I think it also takes steps to acknowledge that – for example, the “racism” episode (I’ve forgotten the title now), but I thought that was quite open in admitting its flaws.

    Anyway, great letter. I look forward to the third season, and more posts from you! I’m so jealous of Kaling faving your tweet btw 😉

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