Mindy Kaling on Her #InnerStyle: "I Don't Beat Myself Up or Make Apologies"

For our new column inside the October issue of InStyle, on newsstands now, we've partnered with the nonprofit organization I Am That Girl. We want to chat frankly with celebrities about issues affecting girls' self-esteem. This month Mindy Kaling talks to I Am That Girl's co-founder Emily Greener about the upsides of being hypersensitive, the downsides of bumbling through junior high, and why projecting confidence is sometimes more important than always being 100 percent correct.

Mindy Kaling
Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

We all know people who are “style stars.” But what we want to talk about today is the concept of inner style—qualities that make you feel unique and beautiful that have nothing to do with outward appearance. If you could name your greatest invisible accessory, what would it be?
I think, for me, it’s social IQ, a perceptiveness about how people are feeling in a social situation. I was a hypersensitive kid—one of those kids who just thought that everyone was judging and hating them. Most of the people I know who experienced that as children end up being writers. They find creative outlets where they can use that [sensitivity]—it’s sort of like the gift that they’re given later in life.

There has been a big push on the red carpet lately to “ask her more.” As a writer, a producer, and an actress, what is your take?
When I’m at an awards show—where every person has just spent three hours getting ready and putting on restrictive undergarments—I don’t really expect thought-provoking questions. I will say this: In interviews that are not on the red carpet I do wish people asked me about the process of writing, about how we create the characters on the show, what it’s like writing a book versus a screenplay or an essay versus stand-up comedy. That, to me, is very interesting. But instead I get asked a lot about confidence … People, especially in the media, are very suspicious of women who don’t hate themselves. And by the way, I’m desperately neurotic. I care way too much about what everyone thinks of me. But in interviews I’m not like, every two seconds, incredulous [over my success]. I don’t beat myself up or make apologies. If I were a man, no one would ever say, “It’s weird that you have this job.” But when you’re an Indian woman, people are like, “Aren’t you amazed?”

How has your perspective on self-esteem changed since you were in, say, junior high school?
When I was younger, I was ruled by self-doubt, which I think is natural because I didn’t know what I was good at. As you get older, you start to see that the world values things other than just being conventionally pretty or good at sports.


"When I was younger, I was ruled by self-doubt, which I think is natural." @mindykaling to @iamthatgirl inside the new @instyle

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These days, do you ever still wrestle with feelings of self-doubt?
Oh, absolutely. My friends make fun of my anxiety at parties. I’m 36, and when a lot of people in your circle have kids or are married and you aren’t, that can be very intimidating. The way I handle it is that I try to switch into the mind-set of, OK, everything will be good for a script. I’m lucky that I’m a writer.

What do you think makes you a great leader?
I’ve found that decisiveness and confidence are really important, sometimes more than being correct. I am guilty of overthinking things, but I’ve realized that keeping some of that to myself has helped with my success as a leader.

What is the best compliment anyone’s ever given you?
“I don’t know how her mind works.” I loved hearing that.

If you could give every girl in the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
Never take naked photos of yourself.

Be that girl! Share a gram or tweet with us and @iamthatgirl saying how you rock your #InnerStyle (confidence, compassion, sense of humor, intelligence) for a chance to be featured on instyle.com/iamthatgirl.

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