Mindy Kaling says she used to be 'sheepish' about telling people she worked out because she 'didn’t look a certain way'

Mindy Kaling talks body image with Yahoo Life for It Figures. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Mindy Kaling talks body image with Yahoo Life for It Figures. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

“I am completely in awe of my body,” writer, producer and actress Mindy Kaling tells Yahoo Life over a Zoom call. “I have two kids, and they have such big personalities and lives of their own — and that comes from me. So, I am completely in awe of my body, and I just love her.”

When it comes to teaching her kids — Katherine, 4, and Spencer, 20 months — how to appreciate their bodies, The Office alum says no education is necessary at the moment. While Kaling says she was “never comfortable” in her skin and always felt like she was “apologizing” for herself as a kid, her children have no such hangups.

“My daughter will come home from school, and she'll just be like, ‘Mom, I'm so beautiful,’” she shares. “I'm like, ‘Who is this kid?’”

The Never Have I Ever and Sex Lives of College Girls producer explains that growing up, her own parents were "struggling to build roots in this country and just survive." Body image wasn't something that was often discussed in her home.

“There wasn’t a lot of time for them to sit there and be like, ‘OK, how do we make sure that our children's self-worth and confidence in their physical appearance is supported?’ So I do have that time," she continues. "That was the gift my parents gave me, is now I can do that [for my kids].”

Growing up, Kaling witnessed her own mother and aunts criticize their own bodies — and now, she's careful not to send "messages of self-hatred and dissatisfaction" with her body to her daughter.

“I don't want her to grow up thinking those same things,” she says. “I know she'll have her own insecurities ... but I really want her to think of her body as this miraculous thing.”

Now, Kaling is celebrating her body in a new way. She’s working with Propel Fitness Water to launch a national fitness tour that’s all about “JOWO” — aka, the “joy of working out.” Propel gifted trainers who will teach classes on the tour $25,000 to continue on their inspiring fitness journeys. It’s a cause Kaling says she was “excited” by because she has long made fitness a regular part of her life.

Kaling really resonated with the campaign's message, which recognizes that no matter what level of fitness someone's at, from beginner to Olympian, movement can bring joy. "That's something I've had trouble in the past owning,” she explains. “When I was in my 20s I was sheepish to even tell people how much I worked out because I didn't look a certain way. When I would tell people I work out four or five times a week, people would be like, ‘You do?!’ And I was like, 'OK, I’ll just shut up about it.' But there's a lot of people like me out there, who love, love, exercise, love working out, love the social component of it, love that it makes you feel centered and focused, but that we don’t feel like we can own it.”

As a writer, Kaling says one thing that inspires her to move is the fact that her job is, by nature, sedentary.

“I used to think that if I wasn't running a seven-minute mile for 45 minutes, it wasn't a workout,” she recalls. “I've completely abandoned that. I have embraced, ‘Hey, I have a 20-minute window before my daughter comes home from school, I'm going to go for a walk around the block and call my aunt in Boston.’ I try to do that a couple of times a day.”

She also squeezes in these workouts when she’s on set, taking walks during lighting setups and other downtimes during a busy filming schedule.

“I feel like I’m accomplishing my goals,” she says. “I love this new way of working out.”

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.