I was out with friends when I got The Text. My worst fears, the swirling rumors — confirmed. FOX had officially canceled THE MINDY PROJECT. This one really hurt.
I’ll be the first to admit that THE MINDY PROJECT started out with much room for improvement: half-formed secondary characters, muddled writing, and a parade of guest-star-love-interests (great for eye candy, bad for plot) marred the first season. But it was still Mindy Kaling and there was still time to find its footing.
Seasons two and three found ways to subtly address the critics and finally let Mindy Lahiri have a version of a happy ending. They addressed the will-they-won’t-they cloud hanging over the plot while giving the characters innovative problems rooted in reality. THE MINDY PROJECT stopped being the show that I watched out of obligation to one of my favorite entertainers and genuinely became a show that I couldn’t miss.
The show’s cancellation got me thinking about what this show and star Mindy Kaling mean in grand scheme of the ever-changing entertainment industry. To me, a first-generation Indian-American female, Kaling represents what is possible. She brought us the brilliant “Diwali” episode on The Office which showcased Indian culture on primetime television beautifully; led THE MINDY PROJECT for three seasons on a network television comedy; and (most importantly) she makes no excuses for who she is. Kaling is an intelligent comedian, a sharp writer, and an impassioned performer. She is also an Indian woman who openly struggles with her weight. In the years of her show, she was often celebrated for being both an icon for body image acceptance and for being one of a select few ethnic females to helm her own show — but never in the same breath.
Girls like me, with wide hips and a fair amount of fat to call our own, rarely see ourselves represented as a protagonist. But more recently, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and Rebel Wilson have showcased different body types on television, film, and stage. They have started the stigmatized conversation by celebrating their shape as it differs from longstanding beauty standards that have somehow become what we consider “normal.”
Girls like me, with wide hips and fat and an ethnic background see ourselves in entertainment even less. In various iterations of Hollywood, South Asians are represented by classically beautiful and extremely talented Indian actresses like Archie Panjabi, Hannah Simone and soon Priyanka Chopra; their small waists propel them to sex symbol status. What’s missing is the diversity of body shapes in Indian-American representation.
While there is a burgeoning window in American culture appearing for larger, wider, and curvier bodies, it is less defined, dynamic and accepted in Indian culture. Starting with Bollywood and looking to depictions of Indians in Hollywood, South Asian women are expected to look a certain way and be a certain size.
Girls like me rarely see themselves leading a television show on a major network. But Kaling, both an Indian and larger than size zero (and sizes two, four or six), bridges the gap without sacrificing her intellect, humor, or appearance. THE MINDY PROJECT is remarkable for its writing, its ability to get better with every episode, its most satisfying tributes to our favorite rom-coms. But it has also provided the perfect jumping off point for diversity in all aspects of appearance.
Last week – under better circumstances than last time – my phone buzzed again: Hulu has officially picked up THE MINDY PROJECT. The third season finale transported us to the streets of India where Danny Castellano declared his love for the slightly-off-kilter-yet-endearing Mindy Lahiri, and now we’ll finally get to see the Lahiri parents and Kaling’s interpretation of India and its inhabitants. So thank you, Hulu, for the gift of more time with our perfectly imperfect heroine. And thank you, Mindy Kaling, for creating a show that I could see myself in.
Radhika Menon is a writer, TV connoisseur, pizza enthusiast, and casual dreamer living in New York City. A proud University of Michigan alum and Friday Night Lights obsessive fan, she’ll probably never shut up about Ann Arbor or Kyle Chandler. Sometimes she thinks she’s funny – follow her on Twitter @menonrad to find out for yourself. Clear eyes, full hearts, go blue.