What attracted me to The Mindy Project was that a) it’s a rom com TV show, and I love rom coms b) Mindy Kaling was on The Office and was a writer for the show, and I love The Office and c) It stars a successful South Asian woman, who is someone I can relate to more than I can ever relate to wealthy upper east side girls who like to gossip or a new girl who lives a with 3 other guys in a nifty loft.
I loved TV even at a young age, but I grew up watching Saved by the Bell and Full House, and never seeing a face like mine on TV. However, I did get excited when I saw that Stephanie Tanner has a friend, Harry who was an Asian American in a few episodes:
But how many of us remember this character? He was made a marginalized character and, today, Mindy made herself the central character. That’s what really attracted me to all things Mindy. There is some criticism out there that The Mindy Project doesn’t reflect a typical South Asian American woman’s life as she surrounds herself with white men who swoon over her and marginal female characters. Honestly, it’s her show, and it’s even named after her, so she can do whatever she wants. More importantly, her character seeks love and friendship that universally every woman deserves, and she makes that central in her show’s premise, as well as in her new book, Why Not Me? So who’s to say that The Mindy Project doesn’t reflect a South Asian American woman’s life?
I wanted to read Why Not Me?, her second book, so that I could see her journey to thriving in an entertainment industry that is predominantly filled with conventional slim, white celebrities. Kaling told her story with a vulnerability that made me feel like I was reading her diary: “My deep dark secret is that I absolutely do try to conform to normal standards of beauty. I am just not remotely successful at it.” Aside from discussing her appearance and Hollywood’s and the public’s fixation on it, she also described how she has always struggled with making meaningful friendships throughout her life, and how low her confidence was when she started out as writer on The Office.
While reading her book, I wasn’t sure where it was going. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting either. Am I going to read all about her body issues or am I going to read about her difficult immigrant experience adjusting to life in America? There wasn’t much of the latter. She describes a lot about her long work days in the studio and the writer’s room, her struggle with maintaining romantic relationships and friendships with her schedule, and her survival on power naps and McDonald’s during her long work days. I thought to myself, is this what I was hoping for?
Well, all her essays in this book had a higher purpose; they set up her final chapter, appropriately titled “Why Not Me?” She answers this question by talking about her experience and opinion on gaining self-confidence. No matter how much fame and success she has, she doesn’t forget her struggle to get where she is now. What I appreciate about Why Not Me? is that she talks about confidence in a way that I haven’t heard before. It’s not simply about self-empowerment and telling yourself that you’re good enough. She provided a concrete answer: To gain self confidence is to work hard and earning what you deserve because you work so hard. Throughout her book she unveils how hard she works, not so that we feel sorry for her, but to exemplify that her confidence didn’t come from a body wash commercial telling her that every woman should be confident. Instead, it came from her hard work in succeeding and finding personal success: “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit and then feel entitled.”
I was pretty upset when I heard that Fox didn’t pick up the 4th season of The Mindy Project; I had cynical thoughts that the decision was made because Mindy Lahiri finally had her life together–she’s building a family and has her private practice–and that Fox would never allow an ethnic woman succeed on screen! Cynical thoughts or not, Kaling overcame that hiccup and her character remains central, far from the margins, and will continue to entertain us on City and Hulu. Her hard work and confidence paid off.
New episodes of The Mindy Project stream on Tuesdays on Hulu in America. Episodes can accessed by Canadians on Citytv.com starting at noon on Wednesdays.