I am a frequent viewer of sitcoms and watch an almost embarrassing amount of TV to the point where I have probably seen most shows. However, as I continue to binge watch shows for the second or third time I have become more aware of how the shows are not holding up. Although these shows can still bring so much joy, we have learned a lot since many famous sitcoms have ended and as a result watching sitcoms is not necessarily as mindless as we wish it could be.
I am currently rewatching The Mindy Project for the second time on Hulu because of my appreciation for Mindy Kaling and her fantastic style. That being said, during my second rewatch I have become really aware of the fatphobic content that is present in every. single. episode.
*spoiler alert ahead*
What is fatphobia?
Fatphobia is not necessarily a new concept but it has begun to gain more traction in the media due to the immense amount of work that fat activists have been doing to bring light to the issue and to outright dismantle it. Fatphobia is the discrimination against a person due to their weight and/or the size of their body. Fatphobia often presents itself as biases in fashion, medical practices, and the “standard” of beauty.
To learn more about fatphobia, check out these books:
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor (previous FBC Book of the Month!)
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
How is it present in The Mindy Project?
The Mindy Project, which was created by Mindy Kaling, aired from 2012-2017 on Fox and then was swiftly moved to Hulu to finish out its 6 season run. As a fan of Mindy Kaling, both as an actress and as a writer, I have always supported her work as an Indian American Woman who has faced her share of obstacles in the entertainment industry. When I first watched The Mindy Project, I was so excited to see Mindy Kaling be the star of her own show and not a background character used for laughs.
With all of this in mind, as I am currently watching the show for the second time through, I have noticed that in every 20 minute episode, there is at least on remark made about weight, specifically the weight of main character, Mindy Lahiri. Mindy Lahiri is a 30 something woman who works at an OBGYN practice in New York City alongside two cisgender white male doctors. As the only woman and doctor of color at the practice, Mindy is often picked on due to her looks and bright style.
From the first episode to the last, Mindy is often judged as being “un-marry-able” due to her age and weight because who would want to marry a beautiful and successful doctor? Just in one episode in the third season of The Mindy Project, Mindy’s weight is commented on more than once because how could her boyfriend want to be intimate with her as a pregnant woman who has put on weight. It took a guest appearance from Laverne Cox as a body positive cousin for Mindy to realize that she is worthy of love and respect no matter what she looks like. Additionally, in the same episode the weight of supporting character, Morgan Tookers, was brought into question as he had gained 30 pounds after beginning to date his current girlfriend. As a result, his girlfriend wanted to break up with him because of his weight gain and “letting himself go.” So at least on The Mindy Project, fatphobia is an equal opportunity for both men and women?
How to move forward
Should we be canceling any show that makes fatphobic remarks? That is up to you, but in my personal opinion I think that we can appreciate the sitcoms of the past and still hold our awareness that we have learned over the years. The Mindy Project has an immense amount of fatphobia that may leave a sour taste in my mouth, but seeing this space made for an Indian American comedian to have her own show and give representation to women everywhere can mean a lot. Likewise, Mindy Kaling wrote for her own show, so in some ways it is possible that her own insecurities were portrayed through her comedy. All I know is that Mindy Kaling is a beautiful actress with a fierce sense of style both on and off screen.
I have not seen much of Mindy Kaling’s new show Never Have I Ever on Netflix, but I hope that Mindy Kaling has found some space to love herself with the body she is in and I hope that translates to her new show as well.
Feminist Book Club has been working to learn more about the fat liberation movement and how to be an activist for people with fat bodies and the discrimination they face daily. If you would like to learn more about the fat activism and liberation movement, take a look at this Educate & Activate post on our blog.
“Likewise, Mindy Kaling wrote for her own show, so in some ways it is possible that her own insecurities were portrayed through her comedy. ”
You answered your own prompt. It’s pretty clear the show offers both a reasonable and complex view of weight, with Jeremy’s actor wearing a fat suit and Mindy battling her own demons of how to accept a heavier body type. This isn’t just a room of writers cracking jokes about an actress and blindsiding them at a table read.
It’s a natural fact of life. People like healthy bodies. Cracking jokes about it isn’t inherently phobic.
The show is extremely fair in all aspects, which is what I respect about it as someone more socially-conservative than your average sitcom junkie. Tina Fey moulded her really well.
The whole hiding and eating of candy bars made me cringe every time. People don’t really do that on a daily basis or she would really be 3x what you see. And all the tough love work out bossy talk from the guys was just tone deaf. I like Mindy but wish she did not do that fatphopia routines in this show. Thinking I might end watching at season 3 end.
I have thought the same thing while watching! The fat phobic jokes are really quite cruel and mean spirited. Particularly considering that some of her early work included essays about feeling embarrassed of her weight, that these fat phobic jokes are made at the expense of the other characters in addition to her own is so shameful and irresponsible. I used to really like the earlier seasons of this show, but the fat phobia and wild narcissism of Mindy has made me avoidant. Thank you for writing this article.