Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mindy Project: On To Fat Shaming Now

[Content note: fat shaming, body shaming, rape "jokes"]

Ya know...The Mindy Project is probably the most troubling show I watch. (There are certainly worse shows out there, I just don't watch them.) The last time I bemoaned it, I was having some major issues with a rape plot line involving James Franco's character.

This time it's some hardcore body shaming.

Last night's episode centered on Kaling's character discovering she was going to be seen by her new boyfriend in a bathing suit, in JANUARY. *GASP* She panics. It's coming off the holidays and she explains she ate all this AWFUL, AWFUL food. *GASP* She tells everyone in her office how none of her boyfriends/sexual partners have ever seen her naked because she goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent it. She engages in all kinds of self body hate and says she needs a trainer, so her coworker (and potential future love interest as heavily toyed with before winter break) Danny, ends up working out with her.

[Image text Chris Messina (Dr. Danny Castellano) training Kaling (Dr. Mindy Lahiri.)]

It was really, really frustrating, but not at all out of character for Kaling. As I noted when I read her book, she has pretty significant body image issues. I don't blame women in Hollywood who feel that way. I mean, if you can make it as a woman in our culture at all with out body image issues, then kudos, you've accomplished a miracle. But I can be upset when said women who have their own shows allow "funny" story lines where they are so outwardly open about hating the way their bodies are, food police their characters, and write story lines where they only feel comfortable with themselves after weeks of grueling workouts. These things don't exist in a vacuum...they contribute to our culture of fatphobia and perpetuate these feelings in others. I can't help but be concerned about the messages young women and girls are absorbing from a character who is so cute, fun, and accessible--but so thoroughly hates her body.

There is a scene at the end where Danny tells Mindy her body is fine the way it is and blah blah blah, which was OK. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't incredibly disappointed that this messaging had to come from an external male source of validation. It did make me like the character of Danny more, but that sure wasn't worth all the self hate and fat shaming from Mindy. Why do we need another woman on TV hating her body? Why do we need to see more male-centric external sources of validation? Why do we need another story line focused on a woman's bodies and looks?

Also, let's be sure we take a second to acknowledge they made a joke about Danny having been raped by a priest as a child, so fuck that too.


I know that I "shouldn't" be watching this show, but something keeps pulling me in. (Probably the fact that it's typically pretty funny and has a great ensemble and when it's dealing w/ silly topics, it's A-OK.) As I've said before, we all like imperfect things time to time, and I think this one of those examples for me. Moreover, although I am watching it and liking it beyond these select episodes, I'm not going to defend it at all. In fact, it's partly because I KNOW that this show can be better and do better that I'm going to keep calling it out.

Come on, Kaling. Do better.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.


  1. I haven't seen this episode, but the plot surprises me. The Mindy character is usually confident to the point of arrogance.

    I have to wonder. If, in reality, people often go through these feelings--embarrassed to be seen without clothes, feeling the need to work out/diet until their bodies are acceptable, etc--how should we handle it in media? Should we ignore a thing that some women hate their bodies because we don't want to represent toxic attitudes? Should we give all our female characters healthy body images, even though it doesn't reflect reality? I don't think there is a right or wrong answer.

    1. I don't think she is least, not about her body. She might be about being a doctor or thinking she's generally cute or whatever, but I think there's been a few times her body shaming has popped up in much smaller subtle ways. I'm remembering a scene where she was scandalized she couldn't fit in a past boyfriend's jeans.

      Anyhoo, you raise a good question. I don't think that ignoring body concerns all together is the solution because that's definitely not reality. But a story line where the resolution comes from a dude just doesn't sit well with me. It was all very status quo and didn't thoughtfully handle the issue.

      I know sitcoms don't usually thoughtfully handle issues like this, but that's why I'll keep discussing and analyzing it, hoping for better.

  2. But this story line, with such a focus on body image issues, is a very common one in many people's lives- women as well as men- and one that a lot of us can relate to. There's nothing that frustrates me more than having characters on TV who seem to be above insecurities. It's not very realistic.

  3. The thing is though that Mindy did tell Danny that she didn't care what he thought about her body and was trying to keep him from voicing his opinion as she didn't need another guy to tell her what to change about her body. While I agree the Mindy Project lacks in some areas (why are all her friends white guys now) it's very existence proves is necessary.

    1. I interpreted it as her not wanting to hear from Danny because she assumed it was going to be bad but once she heard it was good, it made her day...therefore affirming the idea that male affirmations are the epitome.


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