Tag Archive for mindy kaling

Taking up space:
Why plus-size actors on television are important

For a period of my life I was told by my peers and by society that I was always in the way.

Being bigger means taking up space, space that belongs to people who are thinner, blonder, and supposedly prettier. Even in the body-positive movement, anti-fat-shaming activists are often told they take up too much space. 

I’ve had some experience with this myself.

In my university’s campus-wide newspaper, a recent cover story featured a thin girl who shared her feelings on thin-shaming, saying that these campaigns make her feel bad about being thin. But the article missed its mark, not because her feelings aren’t valid, but because it fat-shames those who aren’t thin, not to mention the fact that it was the first body-positive piece on the front page of the paper and did not even touch on fat-shaming except as it compares to thin-shaming. 

I replied with a very agitated letter-to-the-editor, and almost immediately someone else replied with another saying that my letter was thin-shaming yet again. 

And the accusations didn’t stop there.

I was bombarded by people who claimed by “have class” with the young woman featured in the story, and they all swore to me that she’s not dumb, which I never even implied, and that she must have been misquoted or something. I felt like I had to defend myself every five minutes.

I felt, once again, like I was taking up too much space.

But I really wasn’t because what I had to say was a valid representation of how I have felt all my life—first as a girl who was never less than chubby and now as a woman who always seems to get in the way.

Taking up space on television

This is why shows like The Mindy Project, Girls, and My Mad Fat Diary make me feel so good about everything. They force viewers to look at their bodies, bodies that have likely been ridiculed by the community of misogynistic, body-shaming bullies that exist in this country.

Now that viewers are being made to look at women like this has made me feel more comfortable in my own body. 

As a woman who has been made fun of for her weight, one of the biggest things I have battled with is my sexuality. How can I be sexy when I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? How can anyone love a body that rolls and folds and flaps and jiggles? My body even made me question what was wrong with guys who were attracted to me. I actually thought only a screwed-up guy would think fat is cute.

real rae

Rae Earl the author of the book, My Mad Fat Diary, that the television show was inspired by.

But women like Kaling and Dunham either disregard that idea or take it and flip it on its head.

In one Girls episode, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham’s character) wears a neon string bikini the entire episode—allowing the viewer to see cellulite everywhere on her body and watch as the bottom of her suit rolls up her butt. Despite this, I realized she looked just as good as everyone else in the episode.

lena

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in tv series Girls

Actually I thought she looked better.

In that moment, I not only wanted that bikini, but also wanted to wear it everywhere  I went—even when I didn’t have to.

While Hannah is prancing around half-naked on Girls, Rae on My Mad Fat Diary has a romantic life with boys her age that like her for who she is. She doesn’t only have sex; she is also admired by so many male characters that it makes me feel simultaneously envious and proud. Rae thinks that boys won’t like her because she’s brash, loud, funny, and fat, but actually that’s why they like her.

rae earl

Sharon Rooney as Rae Early in the tv series My Mad Fat Diary

In the “Inappropriate Adult” episode, Rae is sexually harassed by a guy she’s been seeing, and he tells her that she should appreciate his coming on to her because no one else will think she’s attractive. She responds so brilliantly because she tells him off and leaves the party. She didn’t break down and she acted with such strength that I cried for the rest of the episode because I knew, if that were me, I probably wouldn’t be as strong.

In the show, Rae chooses when she wants to have sex. Sometimes it’s not always the right choice, but it’s the result of her self image rather than being because of a poor body image. We also realize that a poor self image is the reason her skinny best friend has problems and makes the wrong decisions too, showing us that thin women can struggle with insecurity too. It also shows that insecurity goes beyond looks sometimes. 

Ultimately the popularity of these shows—and their characters’ bodies—allow women to take up the space they need to feel whole. 

And that means, for once, I want to take up space, I want people to tell me, “You’re in my way. Move, fatty,” so that I can respond by taking up more space on their favorite TV channels, their favorite TV shows, their favorite award shows and in their water cooler conversations, their text messages, their blogs, their Facebook cover photos.

I want them to see me so they know that their ridicule and bullying has not stopped me from being talked about, praised, criticized, and acknowledged.

After all, if we don’t take up that space, who will?

—by Leah Railey

When did we become so fake?

This semester I’m teaching a class on creative retellings—that is, stories that retell classic texts in a creative way. If you don’t know what I mean, think Clueless (a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma), think A Thousand Acres (a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), think O Brother, Where Art Thou (a retelling of The Odyssey).

So this week we started watching 10 Things I Hate about You (a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) in class, and I could not believe how different everything looked. Not only did the titles look cheesy, the hair look badly permed, and the clothes look out of date (thank God cropped shirts went out of style), but the PEOPLE in the movie looked different too.

The film stars Julia Styles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik. These are all very attractive people, but somehow they all manage to look kind of normal and down-to-earth in this movie. In other words, a world apart from the young people we see in movies and television shows about teenagers today.

For example, here’s a still of the main character, played by Styles…

See how natural and un-made up Stiles looks here? It’s so damn refreshing. Don’t get me wrong: she still looks beautiful. But she looks beautiful and normal at the same time.

But we almost never see actresses looking like that in movies or television shows about high schoolers today. Instead they look like this:


Is it just me, or do these people look really really airbrushed? And kind of grotesque in an Andy-Warhol-does-Marilyn-Monroe kind of way too? And, while we’re on the subject, why does everybody on a television show have to pose like that now? Is there some kind of rule about standing with your hands on your hips and looking at the camera like your pissed?

Not only does Stiles look real in 10 Things, but so does Oleynik, who plays Stiles’ younger sister, Bianca. And what’s really interesting about Bianca is that she is the girl in the movie who all the boys pine over, the beauty who even the most popular guy in school is wooing.

So naturally you’d think she’d look something like Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, who played the hottest high schooler on the planet…

But in reality, Bianca just looks like a regular teenager…

And it’s not just the girls in 10 Things who look real. The dudes look pretty down-to-earth as well…

Sure, Heath Ledger looked hot even when he was leaning against a metal locker in a plain t-shirt…

…but would we really seen a teenage boy in a romantic comedy with that kind of messy hair today? I highly doubt it since the high school boys who’ve been dominating our screens the past few years usually look more like this:

I’m not talking about television shows or movies about “dorky” high schoolers a la Superbad or even Perks of Being a Wallflower—or the movie about the girl who gets a makeover as Lindsay Lohan’s character did in Mean Girls

These movies don’t count because they’re TRYING to make the actors look worse than they do.

I’m talking about the movies and television shows that are supposed to be about “regular” characters. Except that all the “regular” people look like they belong on the cover of Cosmo.

When I was looking for photos that proved my point, I came across two that made my case even stronger: publicity shots of the current and former cast of 90210.

Here they are now…

And here were back in the early ’90s…

See how different these people look?

The original cast of Beverly Hills, 90210—especially Shannon Doherty, Tori Spelling, Garielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering—looked like real people. Yes, relatively good looking real people, but real people all the same.

But apparently teenagers aren’t allowed to look real anymore.

Instead they have to appear like they just stepped out of the plastic surgery ward—waxed and plucked and styled and coiffed and airbrushed so much that they look more like wax figures than real people.

If Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling can feature real people in their shows about adult women, there’s no reason that shows about high schoolers can’t do the same.

It’s time people. It’s time.

The best show you’re not watching



In my Thanksgiving post, “Thanks to all the real girls,” I talked about the fact that The Mindy Project is another example of how the way women look in the media is finally starting to change.

And tonight’s episode of The Mindy Project reminded me yet again how much good work is being done on this one tiny little sitcom.

Tonight Mindy found out—during the office Christmas party no less—that her boyfriend, Jeff, has had another girlfriend the entire time they’ve been dating, making her the detestable other woman.

Not long after she found out, her boyfriend’s first girlfriend (played with appropriate outrage by Ellie Kemper of The Office) showed up at Mindy’s apartment demanding to know what was going on. It didn’t take long for things to devolve from there, and, though the ensuing fight between the two women relied too much on cliches, what was notable was that when Kemper’s character called Kaling’s character “chubby,” Mindy didn’t flinch or act offended. Instead she responded immediately by insisting, “I’m not chubby. I’m average.” And then adding, “This is how the anorexia culture begins.”

It was a shocking moment. A shocking and wonderful moment.

Here was a woman on television—a woman in her prime, no less—with an average body defending her right to be average and not be judged for it. Have we ever seen that before? Have we ever seen a character on television or in a film saying, “I’m average and that’s okay”?

I really don’t think so.

And at the same time, she was making a really important point by adding that calling an average woman “chubby” is the kind of thing that makes people in our society so obsessed with thinness.

Yes, tonight, on American television, Mindy Kaling defended her—and by extension our—right to have an average body, AND she also offered valid argument about why it’s wrong to call people fat.

I think I am in love with The Mindy Project.

So, tell me again, why aren’t you watching this show?

The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST on Fox. 

Appreciation sandwich for Mindy Kaling

Can I just say how much I love Mindy Kaling?

Girfriend is the whole package—real body, fabulous sense of humor, and obvious brains. She also has the ability to laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously, which I appreciate more than I can say.

I’m also glad that Kaling—like Baby in Dirty Dancing—refuses to be put in the corner. In the whitewashed world that is American television, Kaling isn’t afraid to say, “I belong here. I’m just as funny and interesting and talented as you are. Put me on center stage.”

I love that too.

If we all took a page from Kaling’s playbook—and didn’t let other people tell us that we’re too curvy or too real or too different—we’d all be much happier.

The good news is I’m not the only one who values Kaling, so she’ll be getting her own show on Fox next fall.

If you’re looking for some fun and insightful commentary from the kind of woman we need more of in Hollywood, be sure to follow Kaling on Twitter, watch her show in the fall, and read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

This is important because if we want to see more real women like Kaling on our screens, we need to keep supporting women like her.