When You’re Not Skinny, This Is What People Want You to Wear - My Appearance: The Fun and the Really Not Fun - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling (2011)

My Appearance: The Fun and the Really Not Fun

When You’re Not Skinny, This Is What People Want You to Wear

GETTING PROFESSIONALLY beautified was all that I dreamed about doing when I was an asexual-looking little kid. That’s because my parents dressed both my brother and me according to roughly exactly the same aesthetic: Bert from Ernie and Bert. Easing them out of dressing me in primary colors and cardigans (seriously, I was a child who wore cardigans) and getting them to let me grow my hair out past my earlobes was a first huge step that took years.

Cosby sweater on, lovin’ life.

So, yeah, now that I’m an adult, getting made beautiful by a team of professionals for a red carpet event or a magazine photo shoot is heaven to me. The part that is not fun is someone picking out clothes for me.

I love shopping and fashion, as anyone who has read more than a paragraph of this book will know. But for magazine photo shoots and things, they hire stylists for me, because they have a certain idea for how they want me to look, and it isn’t necessarily how I would style myself, which is 1980s-era Lisa Bonet.

Since I am not model skinny, but also not super fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall in that nebulous “normal American woman” size that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size eight (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size, because I think, to them, it shows that I lack the discipline to be an ascetic or the confident sassy abandon to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like: pick a lane! Just be so enormous that you need to be buried in a piano, and dress accordingly.

For the record, they’re not all bad. I’ve worked with some really badass stylists who make me look so smokin’ hot your face would melt. Monica Rose, who styled me for this book cover, totally gets my body and celebrates it. (Yes, I say things like “celebrates my body” like your old hippie aunt.) But many stylists don’t know what to do with me.

Over the past seven years, here’s what stylists have tried to make me wear:

Navy: Ah, navy, the thin-lipped, spinster sister of black. Black, though chic and universally slimming, is considered a boring red carpet color and is rarely featured on best-dressed lists. That’s why I get shown a lot of navy. Navy has made a comeback in the past few years, which is terrific, because before that, navy was most famous as the signature color for postal workers.

Cap sleeves: Cap sleeves look good on no one, and yet I am given them all the time. I believe it is in an effort to hide the flesh where my arm meets my torso, which I guess is disgusting. Cap sleeves should be worn exclusively by toddler flower girls at a wedding.

Billowing bohemian blouses billed as “Poet tops”: Skinny girls like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen look ethereal and gorgeous in hippie clothes with lots of volume. I love the bohemian look, but when I try it, I look like a chubby gypsy. Also, chubby people can never truly pull off ethereal the same way skinny people can never be jolly. The only fat ethereal person I can think of was Anna Nicole Smith, and in her case, ethereal might have meant “drugged.”

Layers of chunky beaded necklaces: Nothing makes me look like a social worker from the 1970s like several layers of colorful, conspicuous, statement necklaces.

Muumuus: In college, I was cast in a student-written musical that was a retelling of a Greek myth. It was a very cool play with a small cast, each of whom played several roles. The costume designer, an always-frowning girl named Stephanie, had us in for a fitting. She gave tight black unitards to every other actor, so when they played different roles, they could layer simple costume pieces over them and become the new character. I loved the idea. Then it was my turn to get fitted. I was given an enormous, shapeless black muumuu held together by a wad of Velcro and tied together with gold rope. It was obvious it had been made out of the same material as the black canvas curtains of the stage. Stephanie (not a skinny girl herself, by the way) so clearly didn’t want to “deal” with my body. When I complained to the director, he talked to her. She was furious, saying I was “a difficult fit.” I did not know Stephanie would be the first of many people who would throw a muumuu on me and call it a day.

Shawls: I routinely get shawls draped on me, as though I am Queen Elizabeth. A routine injustice done to the non-thin is to make them look like creaky old ladies.

Sherlock Holmes-style cloaks: This I don’t mind so much, as long as I have a pipe and a monocle.

Ponchos: Nothing says “English is not my first language” like me in a poncho.

Billowing pants: Once, a stylist for a famous women’s fashion magazine dressed me in massive charcoal gray pants with a drawstring. They looked like something a sad clown might wear running errands. Maternity tops billed as “Grecian style” are a relative of billowing pants.

Daisy print: I think there’s something about daisies or daisy prints that stylists consider synonymous with “cheerful, simple, fat woman.”

Honestly, I feel like some stylists would put me in a hot dog costume and try to convince me that in Paris all the girls are dressing like the Oscar Mayer wiener, just to cover up my body.

In 2011, People magazine named me one of the Most Beautiful English-Speaking Persons in North America, in a countrywide vote where I just fucking destroyed. But I don’t need to remind you of this; you probably have the page torn out and stuck on your fridge as inspiration. In all seriousness, it was an amazing surprise, and I was very flattered and excited. I would even say it was an honor to be singled out for my looks, but I don’t think I could in good conscience write something that silly in a book that teenage girls might read.

In case you thought the photo shoot that produced that image in People went seamlessly—pun intended and relished—here’s what happened:

The photo shoot took place on a Saturday at a public elementary school about an hour away from Hollywood. As I drove there, I got more and more excited, chatting with my mom and promising her I’d send photos. I was set to do the shoot with my Office costar Ellie Kemper, who is a close friend and one of my favorite people.

A charismatic and almost incomprehensible French stylist took me to a trailer filled with gowns. It was like walking through Saddam Hussein’s niece’s closet. Organza, tulle, and silk filled the trailer from floor to ceiling; rhinestones and feathers were everywhere. Each gown was more elaborate and gorgeous than the one before. And they were all a size zero.

The stylist had not brought any non-samples. The only thing that came close to my size was a shapeless navy shift, which I didn’t want to wear because of my aforementioned feelings about navy, and also because it looked like what Judi Dench might wear to the funeral of someone she didn’t care that much about. I looked around for other options. There were none.

I excused myself by saying I needed to use the bathroom, which, since we were shooting in an elementary school, was the same one the kids used during the day. I went into a stall, sat down on a kid-size toilet, and cried. Why didn’t I just lose twenty pounds so I never had to be in this situation again? Life was so much easier for the actresses who did that. Was my problem that I was this food monster destined to only wear navy shifts? Lots of stupid people were skinny, and yet I couldn’t do this incredibly simple thing they could do with seeming ease.

I reached for some toilet paper to wipe my tears and saw that the dispenser was empty. I sighed and went to the next stall. No toilet paper. I went to another stall. In this stall there was toilet paper, and there was something else. There was a small amount of excrement smeared on the wall, and next to it, in black Sharpie pen, someone had scrawled, “This school is bullshit!”

I laughed out loud. Even at this fancy photo shoot, we could not escape the angry, immature graffiti of a mad little kid smearing shit on the wall. I loved this tiny, disgusting rebellion. I don’t know why, but it made me feel better. “This photo shoot is bullshit,” I thought, and went back to the room of gowns.

They were steaming the navy gown in anticipation of my arrival. I walked past the stylist and over to the other gowns. I picked my favorite one, an ornate dusty rose pink gown with a lace train.

ME: This is the one I’m going to wear.

STYLIST GUY (gently, as if to a fragile idiot): Zees will not fit you.

ME: Oh man, then we’d better get the seamstress to make this one fit, huh? We don’t have too much time!

STYLIST GUY: She is only here for zee small alterations, not zee large-scale reworking of zee gown.

That’s when I decided to just pretend as though I somehow had the power (in this weird situation, where no one was boss) to end arguments and make decisions.

ME: Well, I don’t know what to say, because I just don’t think I’d feel comfortable in anything but that.

When I played the “I don’t feel comfortable” card, he knew it was over. “I don’t feel comfortable” is the classic manipulative girl get-my-way line. It’s right up there with “I don’t feel entirely safe.” Was it fair? Nope. Was it cool? Absolutely not. But it also wasn’t fair or cool for him to have brought three dozen size-zero gowns to my photo shoot.

In the end, the seamstress literally cut open the back of one of the gowns and quickly added about a foot of canvas material to the back, pinned it together, and put it on me. The stylist was near tears at the destruction of the gown, but it fit like a glove—er, a glove that is kind of ugly and makeshift on the back. But on the front? Perfection. I love you, canvas. I love you, safety pins. If I ever do a voice in a Disney movie where I’m the princess whose friends are a bunch of inanimate household objects who come to life, I hope mine are a swatch of canvas and some sassy safety pins.

Later, in our gowns, I took Ellie to the bathroom and showed her the shit-stained graffiti. Ellie loved it, as I knew she would. I spent the rest of the shoot having a blast and posing goofily for photos with my pal, like the awesome, Most Beautiful, and Least Dressable, Girl that I was.