Summer can be one of the hardest seasons to maintain a work-life balance, according to 39% of respondents in a recent consumer behavior study by Zelle. That is especially true for someone like Mindy Kaling who is building a media empire while single parenting two children.
In the near two decades since Kaling got her big break as Kelly Kapoor in the The Office, she’s created several hit television series including The Mindy Project and most recently, The Sex Lives of College Girls; launched her own production company—Kaling International; written three books and starred in several blockbuster films such as Ocean’s 8 and A Wrinkle In Time. She’s now hard at work finalizing the upcoming third season of Never Have I Ever, co-writing Legally Blonde 3 and starring as the voice of Velma in a new adaption of Scooby-Doo.
She’s also raising two children—four-year-old Katherine and one-year-old Spencer—as a single mom. With her children still too young to travel, Kaling says work-life balance these days looks like going out for dinner with the parents of her kid’s friends and hosting events at home, both activities for which the single mom says she uses Zelle to reimburse others.
The media mogul celebrated a partnership with the digital payment platform at The Pendry West Hollywood last month, where she spoke with Forbes for this exclusive interview.
Did you adopt the athleisure look of the pandemic or are you loving dressing up again?
I’m someone who unabashedly loves to get dressed up, so the beginning of the pandemic was a bit of a bummer for me. I did The Mindy Project for 117 episodes and I loved the makeup, and the hair and wearing high heels. But because I was pregnant and I gave birth in September 2020, everything changed—I was happy, for the first time, to be wearing flip-flops and athleisure. It’s been fun though now getting super dressed up. [Laughs] I almost get too dressed up when I’m just meeting friends for dinner.
A lot of fashion companies are trying to be more body-positive these days. Do you feel like brands are finally walking the talk when it comes to being more inclusive?
I’ve seen an amazing difference. I am sometimes a little skeptical when brands are like, ‘now we’re size inclusive.’ But when I went the Met Gala—I’m not a sample size—and I was like, ‘wow I’m not the only person who’s not a sample size now.’ It was diversity of sizes, but also diversity of races, sexualities—things have changed a lot in the last couple years. Which is great because I was raised in the 80s and 90s where body positivity was not the norm. I feel psyched, especially having a daughter who I hope inherits my sense of loving style. I do think there has been a change. Obviously, it would be great if there was even more. But I’m happy with where we are, from my point of view, in the fashion world.
It never made sense to me that brands wouldn’t be inclusive given that majority of American women are a larger size. Size zero is not the average.
Agreed. I love fashion and I’ve always been like, there’s got to be other people like me who aren’t traditionally thin but who want to look fabulous and wear couture. There have been a lot of changes in the past couple years. I saw an advertisement for Gucci with Beanie Feldstein in New York City on a billboard recently. They see how beautiful and talented and fabulous she is rocking their clothes. I thought that was a cool moment.
Do you have any pieces or outfits you’re excited about for the summer?
I’ve always steered away from light-colored jeans or white denim because I’ve never felt comfortable wearing light colors on the bottom half of my body, I think a lot of women feel this way. I’ve decided to make the commitment that when it gets to the dead of summer, I’m going to wear white jeans.
What’s your skincare routine like these days?
I’m obsessed with skincare. In my early forties I still break out—that’s not something I thought I’d have to deal with when I was 16- and 17-years-old. It took me a long time to realize that when you have oily skin that breaks out, you actually should use some products with the right kinds of oils that help it.
I use Dr. Lara Devgan—she makes this Vitamin C Serum that I put on my skin that is great for hyper-pigmentation. I love Joanna Vargas’ Rejuvenating Serum before I go to bed which feels really rich. It takes care of zits and evens my complexion out. And [laughs] I use Cetaphil to wash my face. It doesn’t make me break out, really gets the guck out of my skin. Then I use a LA MER toner. It’s a real mix of things. I’m a product junkie so I try everything and those are the things I tend to come back to.
What is self-care looking like for you these days?
Self-care [sighs], it’s funny, that’s a term that maybe three to five years ago—I don’t know if this is because I’m Asian or because I’ve worked since I was 15-years-old—used to have pejorative connotations for me. Like, ‘who has time for self-care? I’m trying to build an empire and be a single mom.’
I think it was during the pandemic, when I was working from home and my children were at home, I decided that was an outdated way of thinking. Now, to me, self-care is once or twice a week having a dinner with friends that’s not professional. That’s where [laughs] Zelle is really helpful. I’ll use it several times a week if I’m going out with girlfriends or if we plan a girls trip. To me, I’ve always been a foodie, so now that restaurants are open, self-care is going up. I’ll do a bubble bath now and again but the idea of doing that several times a week, that’s less of my personality.
Self-care really means, for me, putting my phone in another room when I go to bed and not being on Instagram at 10 o’clock. When I think of it like that—self-care is getting my sleep—it’s not just massages and getting my nails done. It’s a commitment to taking your probiotic and going to bed at 10, which is a little bit less luxurious than some of these other things but it makes a huge difference.
You mentioned sending money with Zelle, has being a single mom changed your outlook on money at all?
I’ve always been a person where I’m like the monopoly man [laughs]. [I’m a] child of immigrants who came over here with nothing. In another life I would’ve had the job of those guys from Wolf of Wall Street. I love making money, I love working hard. I don’t have a rich husband, I didn’t come from money. So I have a completely emancipated idea about making money and spending it. It’s awesome. I feel like I’m at a place in my career now where I have enough to support my family but also my support staff, the people who help me like my nanny. It’s just nice to be able to go on nice vacations now and not worry about it. I love working and I love making money.
Do you feel like you know how to treat yourself? I think a lot of women struggle with that.
Yeah I do. I have a live-in nanny. It’s a big expense in my life but it’s so worth it. For me, that’s a big part of treating myself. I don’t know a lot of people who have that. I need it, obviously, because I’m a single mom. The other way I treat myself is—my birthday is on Friday, so I’m going to buy myself a fancy watch or something. I was not this way in my thirties. I think I was in a different place financially too. But now, I have no problems treating myself.
You create these strong Asian female characters that counter the stereotype that Asian women are shy. Do you feel like people are still surprised by your confidence?
[Laughs], at this point if anyone knows anything about me then it probably isn’t that surprising. What’s been great is writing Asian characters that counter this expectation that an Asian woman is going to demure, and not have anger, and want things like relationships and sex and be ambitious, and be super flawed as well.
I just watched Pachinko, it is so beautiful and the female characters in that are the leads and have had the most fascinating life. It’s interesting when I write about the Asian stories because there’s some things that I’m like, ‘hey I had a pretty traditional mom who wanted me to get A’s and become a doctor,’ but I try to show other parts of the Asian American experience that maybe you haven’t seen before, like commitment to mental health, seeing a therapist, wanting to date a guy. Those are things that are really interesting and fun because I feel like not a lot of people are doing it. It feels like a great way to bring something new to media.
And such a diverse representation of the Asian experience too.
On our show, we’re really proud of it, we show South Asian Americans that are from Southern Indian. Then we show a Muslim Indian girl. Culturally we see how they’re different from each other. The Asian experience is not a monolith. Why would people necessarily know that if they don’t have shows that explain and explore that difference? I have this movie with Priyanka Chopra, she’s Punjabi Indian from India and I’m an Indian American Bengali girl form the East Coast. It’s so different and that’s what makes our dynamic so fun together.
Even Devi in Never Have I Ever is a unique representation of being Indian from Mississauga.
Yes! If you’re Indian from Toronto, it’s such a different experience from being Indian from Southern California or New Jersey. I’m learning about that, just from meeting actors that I’m casting.
Some interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.