Mindy Kaling is no stranger to internet vitriol. In the last year, her name has been a trending topic on both TikTok and Twitter several times, with a common thread: she is not the representation we need her to be, many have said.
After she made an appearance at the Oscars on Sunday in a corseted white gown that accentuated her slimmer frame, the comments began to flood again.
While some praised the 43-year-old writer, comedian and actress for her new look, others criticized her for changing what many saw as a body that defied industry norms. Now closer to the standard of her Hollywood peers, some say Kaling is no longer the body-positive icon they postulated she was hers.
It’s a criticism that the media and body image experts find problematic, mainly because Kaling didn’t ask for any of it.
Critics point to the fact that no one should be put on a pedestal as a beacon of body positivity or representation, and no one can take criticism of a deep-rooted problem like fatphobia in the entertainment industry. Women of color in the spotlight do not owe perfection to the world, however it is defined at the time, they said.
«How is this a body positivity question if we’re shaming someone who chooses in their own way to be body positive,» said Harleen Singh, associate professor of South Asian literature and women’s studies at the University of Brandeis. «I’m stunned.»
While the public supports people of color like Kaling to break into the mainstream, once they get there, they are often held to twice the standard and face twice the sentence of their white peers, Singh said.
«It’s a double-edged sword,» he said. “We want women of color, we want South Asians to be in positions where we can see them as role models. On the other hand, as soon as you get that prominence in public life, you’re immediately subject to a certain kind of irrational expectation, and especially for women of color.»
For days after her Oscars appearance, the public couldn’t stop talking about Kaling’s weight loss. They speculated that she is taking Ozempic, the viral diabetes drug rumored to be the new drug of choice for celebrities trying to lose weight.
It’s a damaging rumor, said Lauren Smolar, vice president of mission and education for the National Eating Disorders Association, and tying expectations to an individual often leads to disappointment.
«There are many reasons why people’s sizes can change over time in either direction,» Smolar said. “And it can get really tricky if we place that kind of responsibility on them to maintain a weight that does or does not align with what is traditionally accepted as a standard size in society.”
While praising a celebrity for losing weight can have devastating results for young viewers, attacking someone else’s weight loss can have the same effect. There are healthier ways, including on social media, to have these conversations, Smolar noted, encouraging people who are feeling overwhelming pressure to seek safe spaces and professional guidance.
«In both directions, those comments are damaging,» he said. «For people who have previously discovered that people like Mindy are not the norm in terms of size in Hollywood, it can be really difficult to bring them up as this example.»
Kaling has been open about her weight changes in the past, saying it’s the result of a changing lifestyle after having her two children.
“Honestly, I didn’t really do anything different,” he said. told Entertainment Weekly last year. “I eat what I like to eat. If I go on some kind of restrictive diet, it never works for me. I just eat less… I wish there was something juicier or more dynamic about the way I’ve lost a little bit of weight, but that’s how I’ve done it.»
Balancing Hollywood’s expectations of beauty and the public’s expectations of representation would be difficult for either, Singh said, and differentiating Kaling has become a dangerous trend. He wants people to focus on Kaling’s work and impact instead of looking for every opportunity to bring her down.
“We are talking about a dominant culture that will not allow us to be more than stereotypes,” he said. “But as soon as we see someone in public life, we expect them to just be representative and never be themselves. What is the space for the individual here?”
With so many highlights of South Asian excellence at this year’s Oscars, including an electric rendition of the Telugu song «Naatu Naatu» and the triumph of «The Elephant Whisperers» for best documentary short, Singh was surprised that the Kaling weight off including a night takeaway.
These conversations are not a new phenomenon; rather, they are a distraction and a way to take agency away from a successful woman of color, Singh said, calling them disrespect that stems from internalized patriarchy.
“As women of color, there are enough forces against us,” she said. “Why are we focusing on this? Let it be.»
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need support, call National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text the word «NEDA» to 741741.