book review: Why Not Me?

I feel like I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with Mindy Kaling (okay, hate is a strong word – let’s just say that I had really high expectations for her and sometimes felt let down). My first real exposure to her was her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and I absolutely loved it. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book (and I’ve become much more critically thinking in that time) so I’m not sure if I’d feel the same way now.

After reading the book, I started watching The Mindy Project and also had a sort of love/hate relationship with the show. As a South Asian woman myself, I was so excited to have someone who looked like me be a lead in a show. In the show, Mindy Lahiri is an eccentric and hilarious OB-GYN and I loved that. But I felt irked by the lack of people of color on the show, particularly when it came to Dr. Lahiri’s love interests. Knowing that Mindy Kaling understood the lack of diversity in Hollywood, I had this really intense expectation of her show to be full of people of color and people of ‘normal’ sizes. And every time her character dated a white man, I felt profoundly disappointed – like my older sister had just stabbed me in the back (yes, I really was this dramatic). I even stopped watching her show for a while.

But in the past year or so I’ve realized how incredibly important it is for women, particularly women of color, to look for reasons to build each other up instead of being so critical. Society already does so much to pit us against each other and, while it’s important for us to be aware of social issues, we need to support each other in any way that we can. Of course Mindy Kaling does not really care what I think about her and she’s happy & successful with or without my criticisms but it was really important for me to realize that she does not owe me anything. I realized that the reason I felt so betrayed by her casting choices and her sometimes inappropriate comments was because I transferred these responsibilities onto her. She’s never claimed to be this Indian woman who is going to right every diversity and body image issue in Hollywood – she’s a comedy writer and actress and that’s exactly what she does. And she doesn’t owe it to anyone to be anything more or less.

So once I got over my underserving sense of entitlement (read: got over myself), I was able to appreciate Kaling’s work and laugh along. I also finally got around to watching The Office with hubby last year and completely fell in love. I was so relieved to hear that Hulu picked up The Mindy Project after the dummies at Fox cancelled her show. And now that my love/hate relationship was a love/love relationship – I, of course, had to pick up her new book Why Not Me

I’m going to be honest, it was kind of tough for me to get into the book. She starts off by spilling some of the ‘secrets’ of looking good in Hollywood, which is pretty funny but I just wasn’t engaged. I just remember being sucked into her first book and not being able to put it down. I didn’t feel the same way about this one but having resolved all these internal issues (I’m really kicking up the dramatics in this post), I kept pushing through it – and I’m so glad that I did!

A couple chapters in, she was back to being the hilariously honest Mindy I’ve come to love. In the remaining chapters she shares how her work ethic is something that has been integral to her success in Hollywood. She recounts conversations with her mother in creating Mindy Lahiri’s character and explains her love for sex scenes in a way that only Mindy ever could. She gives us the inside scoop on her relationship with B.J. Novak (spoiler: she ‘freely admits that [her] relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell). She tells us about what her romantic life would be like if she had never left New York and became a Latin teacher at a posh private school.

The last section ‘All the Opinions You Will Ever Need, though, is by far my favorite. In it, she talks about her life as an ‘unlikely leading lady’ including her struggles with her image of her body and her attempts at solutions, which included juice cleanses and attempts in cooking but ultimately end with a somewhat fleeting acceptance of her body as it is. In the past year or so, I’ve gained a pretty big chunk of weight and as someone who has been considered ‘skinny’ for most of my life, it’s been a strange adjustment. Part of me feels a lot happier with my body because I really did feel ‘too skinny’ at some points in my life but, naturally, societal ideas of beauty creep into my head and I become extremely self conscious. Having random aunties come up to me at gatherings and tell me how great it is that I’ve ‘filled in’ and asking if I’m pregnant definitely does not help with the whole self esteem issue either. So knowing a woman as beautiful as Mindy Kaling, who exudes confidence and constantly puts herself out there, occasionally also struggles with body image issues is pretty darn reassuring.

She wraps the book up with an apology to a young girl, who worked up the courage to ask her a question in front of a huge crowd, to who she gave a mediocre and robotic answer to a question about how she maintains her sense of confidence. She then gives us her personal equation for confidence, which may seem really simple but is somehow always overlooked (I won’t spoil this part!).

Overall, I think this is a great light and hilarious read. I don’t think I loved it as much as her first book but it’s definitely refreshingly honest. You can really see her growth as a person and I have a profound respect for her for being so vulnerable about the challenges she faces. It’s so easy to see celebrities as non-people because everything just seems so perfect for them but this text does a wonderful job humanizing people who, we often forget, are human. Definitely looking forward to this week’s episode!

5 thoughts on “book review: Why Not Me?

  1. I considered it reading this and then decided to finish reading everything else on my table before buying more books. I do get your disappointment in her characters’s choice of love interest, but at the same time I believe that is part of who she is in the show. She is a character who is not overly restricted by cultures and traditions. I think it is important to value them, but also it does not hurt to get out of them in some cases like being in love with someone regardless of their race and ethnicity.

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    • I completely agree! Initially it felt like more that she was ignoring the diversity issue in Hollywood but now I realize it’s a character choice and completely her decision in who to cast

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  2. I love Mindy, but also had a hard time watching The Mindy Project, for the same reasons you discussed. I haven’t read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, but have it on my list.

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