Mindy Kaling doesn’t owe it to anyone to be a body positivity icon, experts say

Mindy Kaling is no stranger to vitriol online. Her name has trended several times on TikTok and Twitter over the last year, with one thing in common: Many say she's not the representative we need her to be.

Comments began to flood in again on Sunday after she appeared at the Oscars in a white corset to slim down her figure.

While some praised the 43-year-old author, comedian and actor's new look, others slammed her for changing a body that many see as challenging industry norms. Now closer to the standards of her Hollywood counterparts, some say Kaling is no longer the body-positive icon they thought she was.

Media and body image experts see this as a problematic criticism, mostly because Kaling didn't make any claims.

Critics point out that no one should be held up as a beacon of body positivity or representation, and that no one can afford to criticize an issue as entrenched as fatphobia in the entertainment industry. Women of color in the spotlight, they say, don’t owe the world perfection — no matter how it’s defined in that moment.

“If we're going to shame people who, in their own way, choose to be positive about their bodies, how can this be an issue about body positivity,” said Harleen Singer, an associate professor of South Asian literature and women's studies at Brandeis University. “I'm confused.”

While audiences support people of color like Kaling entering the mainstream, once they do, they are often held to twice the standard and face double condemnation from their white peers, Singer said.

Mindy Kaling and John Cho speak at the 95th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 12, 2023.
Mindy Kaling and John Cho speak at the 95th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday.abc

“It's a double-edged sword,” she said. “We want women of color, we want South Asians in a position where we can look up to them as role models. On the other hand, once you achieve prominence in public life, you are immediately subject to certain irrational expectations , especially for women of color.”

In the days since her appearance at the Oscars, audiences have been buzzing about Kalyn's weight loss. They speculate she was on Ozempic, a viral diabetes drug rumored to be the new drug of choice for celebrities to lose weight.

It's a harmful myth, says Lawrence Moral, vice president of missions and education for the National Eating Disorders Association. “Putting high expectations on a person often leads to disappointment.”

“There are many reasons why people's body size can change in either direction over time,” Smolar said. “If we put this type of onus on them to maintain a weight that is consistent or not consistent with what is traditionally accepted in society as a standard size, it can become very tricky.”

While praising a celebrity for losing weight can have devastating consequences for young bystanders, attacking someone for losing weight can have the same effect. Smolar points out that there are healthier ways to have these conversations, even on social media, and she encourages those feeling a lot of stress to seek safe spaces and professional guidance.

“These comments are hurtful from both directions,” she said. “For people who previously found out that people like Mindy weren't common in terms of body types in Hollywood, it's really tricky to hold them up as an example.”

Kaling has spoken publicly about her weight changes in the past, saying it was the result of lifestyle changes after having two children.

IMAGE: BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling attend the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles on March 12, 2023.
BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling at the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Los Angeles on Sunday.Amy Sussman/Getty Images

“Honestly, I didn't do anything differently,” she told Entertainment Tonight last year. “I eat what I like. If I'm on any kind of restrictive diet, it never works for me. I just eat less…I wish I had a better way of losing a little weight.” Much energy, but that's how I do it.”

Balancing Hollywood's beauty expectations and the public's representation expectations is tricky for anyone, and keeping Carlin apart has become a dangerous trend, Singer said. She wants people to focus on Kaling's work and impact, rather than looking for every opportunity to destroy her.

“We're talking about a dominant culture that just stereotypes us,” she said. “But once we see someone in public life, we want them to just be representative and never be themselves. What is the personal space here?

With so much South Asian presence at this year's Oscars — including an electronic performance of the Telugu song “Naatu Naatu” and “The Elephant Whisperer” winning best documentary short — Singh was amazed Yu Karin's weight is even an evening takeaway.

These conversations are not a new phenomenon; rather, they are a distraction and a way to disenfranchise successful women of color, Singer said, calling them a form of injustice that stems from internalized patriarchy. respect.

“As women of color, there is enough power against us,” she said. “Why are we concerned about this? Let her go.”

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need support, please call National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.

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