In the past decade, the fitness industry has come a long way toward being inclusive of all bodies. The focus has largely shifted from aesthetics to overall well-being, plus-sized activewear has hit the mainstream, and mentions of “bikini bodies” are now fewer and farther between than ever before. Yet despite these strides, there’s still a common misconception that a “healthy” body looks a certain way–namely, thin, white, and toned.
For actor and producer Mindy Kaling, this toxic belief made her feel “sheepish” about ever wanting to talk about her love of exercise. “I have been into fitness since I was 22 years old, and have been working out four to five times a week ever since, but I never felt like that was something I could own because I didn’t look a certain way,” says Kaling. “I was worried that people’s reaction would be, ‘You don’t look like someone who works out four times a week.'”
But the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all look to being fit. Six-pack-abs (which have long been seen as the gold standard for being in shape) are a total scam, and there’s an entire movement of fat-positive personal trainers proving that you can be healthy at any size. It took Kaling, who’s 42, nearly two decades of “punishing” herself at the gym to take this lesson to heart. Now that she has, it’s completely changed her relationship to her body.
“I used to think of my body as just like, my brain with some attachments attached to it–I never used to think about the gift it gives me every day simply by being alive,” she says. “But then I had kids, and I was like ‘Oh, this is not just a vessel to carry my brain around in.’ It’s the thing that gave me my children, and especially as a single mom, I really have to treat it well.”
These days, instead of forcing herself through grueling workouts in pursuit of a certain body type (she reportedly used to get up before dawn to sweat it out on the treadmill before heading to the set of The Office), Kaling focuses primarily on movement that brings her joy.
“I think the idea that it doesn’t have to be punishing in order to be effective and making me feel centered and focused and happy has been a huge way that my workouts have changed,” she says. “After I put my kids down for a nap, I’ll take 20 minutes and go for a walk around the block with my dad or talk to a friend from college as I go for a stroll, and will feel so good that I’ve gotten to connect with someone but also that I’ve gotten in this good movement… And I stretch now, which isn’t something I used to care about when I was younger, but it’s a necessity now given that I’m in my 40s. It keeps me from getting hurt when I’m working out.”
More importantly, though, she’s no longer afraid to tell the world just how much that movement means to her. “I am someone who loves fitness, and I look how I look,” she says. “Working out has improved my health, and I want to be proud of saying that I love it. I look like an average American woman and mom, and by owning the fact that I love to work out, my hope is that other women will feel like they can do that, too.”
“I look like an average American woman and mom, and by owning the fact that I love to work out, my hope is that other women will feel like they can do that, too,” –Mindy Kaling
This ideology is arguably most pertinent this time of year, as we head into summer and the broader conversation shifts toward getting “beach ready” (yes, even in 2022)–which is something Kaling refuses to subscribe to.
“I’m not really someone who necessarily thinks about how my body can look differently for different times of the year, probably because I do these shows about young women who are all like 15 to 22, and a lot of that outdated thinking just is not going to fly with them,” says Kaling, who is the brains behind Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls. “I work with these young actresses who are so confident and comfortable in their skin in a way that I wasn’t. It’s not like they don’t have challenges in their lives, but what I’ve noticed from these women who are literally half my age is that they don’t have the same hangups as I had. They’re golfing, they’re walking, they’re swimming, they’re playing tennis, but it doesn’t consume them.And as someone who is supposed to be their mentor, I don’t want to be this person who has those hangups. It’s just not modern anymore.”
As a means of paying this mindset even further forward, she’s partnered with Propel to distribute four $25,000 grants to trainers across the country who are working to make fitness feel more inclusive. “[The trainers receiving the grants] don’t look like your stereotypical Los Angeles trainers, but they’re changing lives and helping their communities so much,” says Kaling. “What’s so great about this campaign is that it shows that everyone is in different places in their journey, and people who are fit can look so many different ways.”
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Every body is a beach body,” right? Still, navigating the summer can be challenging. This week, Well+Good is publishing All Bodies Are Beach Bodies–A Realistic Guide to Preparing for Summer to help you hold on to your confidence, embrace joyful movement, manage sweat, make meaningful memories, and find major swimsuit inspiration all summer long.
Tags: Fitness Tips