Why We Shouldn’t Put Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham on a Body Image Pedestal
Courageous. Pioneer. Hero.
You would think these words where meant to describe a person who overcame some unsurmountable challenge or someone who broke new ground for womankind. Maybe Hillary Clinton or Sheryl Sandberg?
Actually, these are words used to describe the hilarious actors Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham. Why? Well because unlike the majority of women in Hollywood, Kaling and Dunham’s bodies do not conform to the ultra-thin definition of beauty, and these ladies don’t want them to.
In a recent interview with Vogue, Kaling was quoted saying: “But I never need to be skinny. I don’t want to be skinny.” She herself did not think this was controversial, but her statement was met with a firestorm of you-go-girl support.
Soon after the magazine was released Kaling also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel where she discussed the conundrum of being praised for her body:
Because I’m not skinny but I’m actor which is virtually… that never happens in the world of regular sized people and actresses… I am also the recipient of a lot of kind of backhanded compliments about it. People are like, “It’s so nice that Mindy Kaling doesn’t feel like she needs to subscribe to the ideas of beauty that other people do.” And I’m like, I do subscribe! They’re like, “It’s so refreshing that Mindy feels comfortable to let herself go and be a fat sea monster.” I, by the way, I like, run and work out. It takes a lot of effort to look like a normal/chubby woman.”
On the show Kaling also talked about a recent crop top outfit she wore barring some midriff which many supporters deemed “courageous.” You can watch the full clip below:
In her very Mindy-like way, Kaling makes a great point about the problem with the praise she receives: all she is doing is simply inhabiting the body she lives in. I have to agree that this type of attention is actually problematic. In fact, when we put actors like Kaling on a pedestal for their curvy bodies we aren’t solving the beauty problem in Hollywood, but rather reinforcing the message that thin is really king and that bodies like Kaling’s belong in this “other” perhaps “fat sea monster” category that really isn’t beautiful. Not to mention the fact that these types of body conversations take away from what we really should be talking about, which is her enormous talent.
Kaling is the creator, writer, producer and star of her very own network TV show for The Mindy Project, making her one of the only women of color to ever create her own series on TV and the first Indian-American to have done so. She is also an award winning author for her best-selling memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and earned six Emmy nominations as a writer and producer for The Office which she also acted in. That’s quite a list of accolades yet we still focus on her as a pioneer of body acceptance.
Lena Dunham, from HBO’s hit series Girls is in a similar boat. One of the hottest topics of conversations surrounding the show is Dunham’s body and the number of nude scenes she appears in. A recent LA Times article touts Dunham as a “bathing suit hero” for an episode this season in which she appeared in a bikini.
Dunham is the physical antidote to the poisonous Hollywood rule that a successful actress must appear to be on the verge of starvation at all times. Dunham is a pear-shaped chubette. She is zaftig. She is pleasantly plump. And she embodies the kind of self love we’d all like to see in our daughters.
While Dunham receives praise like this she is also a frequent victim of fat shaming most recently by the comedian Joan Rivers. Neither the praise or body shaming Dunham receives does much of anything to broaden Hollywood’s beauty standards. Like Kaling she is immensely talented, having received eight Emmy nominations as the writer, director, actress and producer for Girls in addition to two Golden Globe awards for the show. She is also the first woman to win a Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Director in a Comedy series, and all at the young age of 27-years-old. This is what we should be focusing on. Not her bikini.
Without intending to, Kaling and Dunham have been positioned as body positive advocates that throw Hollywood’s definition of beauty to the wind, but this is not progress. By continuing to make the narrative about these actresses about their bodies, we are diminishing their craft as actors.
Kaling and Dunham are courageous and pioneers and heroes because they have broken barriers for women in Hollywood as writers, directors, producers and comedians — not because of their dress sizes.
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Photo Credit: YouTube Screenshot