When I’m rich and famous and am being asked in an interview who my role model growing up was (excluding my excellent mother), I’d say, in a heartbeat, Mindy Kaling. The American-Indian actress/writer/producer is everything anyone, especially young women, should strive to be. A feminist and self-made comedy legend, Mindy Kaling is truly lovely in every aspect of the word.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979, Vera Mindy Chokalingam was born to an OB/GYN mother and an architect father. Growing up quiet and awkward, she found refuge in comedy — Conan O’Brien and Monty Python’s Flying Circus being among her favorites. After high school, she attended Dartmouth and graduated with a degree in playwriting, not what would be expected from a woman of her race, in 2001. The racial stereotype she had to conquer was that (shocker!) she actually wasn’t pursuing a career in medicine like her mother or a career in math and engineering like her father.
Stereotypes can cause many people to hold back on the career and lifestyle they actually want, but not Kaling. Her show, The Mindy Project, is the first network television show to have an Indian-American lead character. On top of that, she is the only one of her race in the handful of women that have written, produced, and directed their own network television show. She was also the only female writer on The Office, in which she also played Kelly Kapoor. Show business and writing in general are extremely difficult jobs to obtain, maintain, and be successful at, but when you have to break through multiple glass ceilings and stereotypes to get there, it can seem almost impossible.
In 2011, Kaling took her writing off screen and on print. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) delves into Mindy’s past, revealing roadblocks she encountered on her way to reaching her dream as well as the personal struggles of being a woman and facing critiques about her appearance.
This book put so much into perspective for me, personally. It taught me that, yeah, not everyone is going to be nice. There will always be a mean transfer student that bullies you about your weight (so to speak). And sometimes, there won’t be a dress your size, and people will try to force you to wear yet ANOTHER navy shift dress (again, this is hypothetical). But gosh darn it, you’re still awesome!
At that train wreck of a photo shoot mentioned in her book, Mindy put her foot down and, much to the dismay of the photographer, made that seamstress completely deconstruct that expensive dress to fit her — because she deserved to look and feel good. “I spent the rest of the shoot having a blast and posing goofily for photos with my pal, like the awesome, Most Beautiful, and Least Dressable Girl that I was,” she says in her book. I may not be perfect, but no one is. Mindy’s book taught me that it is okay to be okay with that.
Being the boss at The Mindy Project, she has the power of who to hire. In a Glamour interview, she talked about hiring on her show: “It’s my responsibility to try to encourage groups that don’t get represented. I can’t just hire willy-nilly. It’s important for me to have our eight female writers because my show is about women.”
Kaling’s feminist ideals are extremely prominent both on and off the screen. Her character, Mindy Lahiri, is a successful OB/GYN that is not only a partner at a successful practice, but she is currently establishing her own fertility clinic, all while being pregnant. Talk about a plate full! Off screen, she volunteers with Made With Code, a Google organization that mentors girls who want to go into the field of technology, teaching them to code.
I could go on and on about this beautiful and inspiring woman forever, but that would take more time than you or I have or would wish to spend. The bottom line is that Mindy Kaling is my role model, and she should be one to any young girl wanting to be something. Whether it’s writing like her and me, medicine, fashion, teaching, dog walking, banana peeling — it is extremely important for young girls to have someone like Mindy in their lives, giving them the idea that it is possible.
“I think I’ve always wanted to be a role model, and I think… everyone should try to live their life like they’d like to be a role model,” she said in an NPR interview for their Changing Lives of Women series.
From breaking glass ceilings to graduating from a prestigious college to putting her foot down at a photo shoot that made her feel less than perfect, Kaling can do no wrong. When you can hurdle ever roadblock and stereotype in that way, it is impossible to be described as anything other than lovely.