Mindy Kaling Is the Friend Women Want & the Role Model They Need

Mindy Kaling, Women Who Inspire

Mindy Kaling is your ideal BFF. No, seriously. She is an accomplished actress, comedian, screenwriter, best-selling author, director, and producer -- yet she says that her favorite occupation is "best friend." You know, that person who lets you see her at her most glam and when she's covered in zit cream ... that confidante who offers you go-get-'em-girl advice, yet tells you exactly how it is ... that partner in crime who lets you in on her super-fun adventures, while wanting your help in the search for the perfect late-night snack (um, vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting?!). Mindy Kaling is the definition of a best friend to her 2.2 million Instagram followers -- and she's an inspiration to girls everywhere who see themselves in this intelligent, confident funny lady whom we are honoring this Women's History Month.

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Mindy Kaling is the first to admit that she's worked hard for your Twitter and Instagram following (a social media platform she's described as "Etsy in my bag") and that she puts in many long hours to earn your laugh. "People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work," she writes in her fourth book, Why Not Me?. "That's a mistake. ...  I don't understand how you could have self-confidence if you don't do the work." 

Who She Is

A Dartmouth classics major, Massachusetts-born Mindy (named Vera Mindy Chokalingam) initially worked in the New York City stand-up scene, acted in an off-Broadway play, and maintained a blog under the pseudonym Mindy Ephron because the thought of being Nora Ephron's long-lost Indian-American sister amused her. (Um, two of our girl crushes in one?! Bring it back, Mindy!)

In 2004, she went to Hollywood, where she was the only female in the eight-person Office writing room. At the sitcom, she starred as Kelly Kapoor, was nominated for a writing Emmy, and made her directorial debut before becoming the first Indian-American to headline her own show. And The Mindy Project isn't just a show that she headlines. It's a show that she runs "as a feminist who wants to work with other feminists," including the men on her staff who identify as such.

But while she is clearly breaking boundaries, she does not let that define her day-to-day work. "I sort of refuse to be an outsider, even though I know that I very much look like one to a lot of people," she once said, "and I refuse to view myself in such terms." 

Instead, she sees herself as someone who followed her passion. "I come from a family of scientists and architects and doctors. My parents allowed me to do something that no person in my family for generations had ever done," she has said of being an entertainer, a profession she truly learned the value of while her mom was suffering from pancreatic cancer. (Her mom died in 2012 -- and was an OB/GYN, like Mindy's character on her show.) "When my mom was very sick we'd watch Modern Family, and it was a rest from that situation, that was so wonderfully needed. I know that's what entertainment can do at its very best."

More from The Stir: Judy Blume Was Every Girl's BFF When We Felt Like We Didn't Have One


How She's Shaping History

Mindy has proven herself to be a success story through her accomplishments, but she doesn't rest her impressive laurels on her tangible achievements alone. She is a woman who also values her success as a role model and someone people can look up to, especially "minority girls who want to do" what she does.

But that doesn't mean that she only wants to be seen as a woman or as a minority. She doesn't want to make an impact by simply belaboring the issues that people see as making her "other," as she explained in an interview with fellow feminist Lena Dunham:

More than half the questions I am asked are about the politics of the way I look. What it feels like to be not skinny/dark-skinned/a minority/not conventionally pretty/female/etc. It’s not very interesting to me, but I know it’s interesting to people reading an interview. Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. Because as a result the interview of me reads like I’m interested only in talking about my outward appearance and the politics of being a minority and how I fit into Hollywood, blah blah blah. I want to shout, 'Those were the only questions they asked!'

Mindy wants to be seen for everything she is -- a woman, a minority, a creative person, an entertainer, a showrunner -- who has worked hard to get where she is ... because that is something she is doing through her series, through her books, and through a positive social media presence that women religiously follow because she is someone they can relate to. She embraces beauty and style, while dismissing negativity, sexism, and body-shaming. (Yeah, we don't get those negative body comments, either -- I mean, girl is gorge!). Her outlook when someone comments on her appearance is inspiring: "I went to college. How could I be offended by someone who talks about what you look like? I wouldn't even deem you a person I'd speak to." 

It is that powerful message and a good dose of honesty that make the beautiful, stylish, and smart Mindy Kaling someone whom all women can look up to. And it's not a message that's been co-opted by endorsements or advertisements or the cult of celebrity. It's just Mindy being, well, Mindy.

Awards Show prep. America's sweetheart.

A photo posted by Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) on

 


Her Words to Live By
 

As a comedian, Mindy embodies humor and confidence -- but, as she writes in her book Why Not Me?, it's something she had to earn: 

Work hard, know your s**t, show your s**t, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn't always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.

And, it doesn't seem that she'd mind being the scapegoat for moms and dads encouraging that work ethic in their kids. She has said:
I have never, ever met a highly confident and successful person who is not what a movie would call 'a workaholic.' We can’t have it both ways, and children should know that.
Above all, though, we'd like to adopt this Mindy-ism as our own. You know, because that's what BFFs do.
 


Why She Inspires Me

Mindy Kaling embraces her intelligence. She doesn't shy away from bold words or bold fashion choices. She is outspoken for a woman's place in the conversation -- and, while she wants to be a face for women who have not always had a voice, she wants to redirect the conversation in a way that doesn't simply make her "other." Of course, she is also only human. And it is that ability to be self-deprecating, smart, snappy, and empowering all at once that makes her a woman who wants to embrace all of who she is, as she's said:
And I think as women, you know, if you are considered a pioneer in these things, you can get really distracted by these other things ... I'm an A student. I'm addicted to feedback, and I want to please people. That's sort of how I've gotten to where I am. And I think that it's insidious to be spending more of your time reflecting and talking about panels, and talking more and more in smart ways about your otherness, rather than doing the hard work of your job.
Of course, Mindy isn't only focused on work. She experiences the very typical worries a 36-year-old woman has (about getting married and having kids). She knows how to (often relateably) play hard and shares that signature humor with the world. And her answers to a Vanity Fair series of Proustian questions prove that she has stayed grounded despite her pioneer status. The greatest love of her life? Her mother. Her hero in real life? Her dad. Her happiest moments? "Sunday mornings with my parents when I visited from college." Her most treasured possession? A voice mail her mother left her.
 
To me, that is the mark of a truly successful person. I'm sure her mom was and would continue to be proud of her daughter, Mindy Kaling, our BFF.
 
 
 

Image via Jason LaVeris/Getty

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