Mindy Lahiri, the protagonist of Fox’s The Mindy Project, seems to have a lot going for her: she has a high-powered career as a gynecologist, appears confident in her womanhood, and has achieved a state of economic and emotional independence rarely depicted in popular media. These three traits combine to present an image of the ideal modernized woman. Moreover, not only is Mindy confident in her persona, but she also knows what she wants – that is, sex-focused relationships with attractive yet emotionally unavailable men at the same time as she searches for a soulmate. Holy L. Derr of Ms. Magazine aptly articulates the tension inherent in such a character. In her article, “’The Mindy Project’ – Comedy and Contradiction,” she calls into question the sustainability of a show that has “too much cognitive dissonance to resolve.” Indeed, it is “hard to reconcile the notion that a woman…. Manages to do all those things.” Yet, the article points out, it is precisely this impracticality that makes the show attractive. If anything, the show functions as a beacon of hope for the typical middle-class woman: It is possible to have it “all” without compromising happiness.
Mindy’s character markets a unique type of postfeminism for the very reasons certain aspects of her persona contradict with that of the typical postfeminist in that she does in fact seem to do it “all” and on her own terms. A compelling example of this atypicality exists in Mindy’s confidence in her not-egregiously-thin body. Martin Roberts’ “The Fashion Police: Governing the Self in What Not to Wear” enumerates “flaunt[ing] your natural ‘assets’ and hid[ing] your ‘defects’” as a symptom of conformity to standard definitions of beauty. This idealized image is one of the hyper-skinny woman who is insecure about her body because appearance in this society is an outward manifestation of a person’s character strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, success in maintaining this image has been appropriated to reflect the degree to which a woman has control in her life.
While whether or not Mindy exercises full agency in her personal life is debatable, it is an indisputable fact that she is confident in her body. This confidence is evident in Mindy’s choice of dress for her date with David. She does not seek to hide her “defects” (for instance, relatively small breasts and strong instead of skinny legs); instead, her dress shamelessly and beautifully accentuates those features. (It is also important to note that the color of the dress – red – communicates sexiness and sexual confidence). Thus, Mindy performs her own type of postfemininity insofar as she is the arbiter of her own sexual capital, capital which does not necessarily conform to the rigid structures and bodily impositions of “perfect” female beauty.
The Mindy Project seems to negotiate a space that neither completely conforms to postfemininity nor directly challenges it. While certain aspects of Mindy’s character – for example, Mindy’s comfortableness with her not super-model skinny body – provide glimmers of hope for a fan base not focused on depictions of unobtainable beauty, there are other traits that may cause that same hopeful reader to question the effectiveness of her character in regard to a groundbreaking challenge to the marginalized and objectified woman. Such discrepancies include Mindy’s new focus on finding the perfect man as a way of redoing her persona despite the fact that she espouses independence and self-sufficiency.
Shortcomings aside, The Mindy Project provides a fascinating text for analysis because of the tensions it presents between conformity to the “need” to find a man and the rejection of those same principles (as far as independence is concerned). To that end, perhaps this series can and will provide insight into a new dynamic within postfemininity: one that wavers between acceptance and questioning. Perhaps the show, and women in general, will eventually move toward with the latter.
Secondary reading hyperlink: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/10/02/the-mindy-project-comedy-and-contradiction/