January 14, 2018 | New York, NY
I guess, no matter how old you are, the one thing we can all agree on is that our idols carry us through life.
For me, that was Mindy Kaling. Mindy, the hilarious brown woman on TV that my introverted brown girl ached to be. The witty writer. The coolest girlfriend. The voice in my head – literally – as I played her audiobooks on repeat in my early twenties when I was broke and forgot how to be funny. Mindy made it okay that I spent Friday nights in college watching rom-coms in bed while my friends picked up men at the W. Hotel. She’s proof that hard work allows you to drunkenly ride a bike into a pool and millions of people will cheer you on. She’s the woman who pops out a baby and a movie trailer in the same week.
How cool is it that kind of woman exists?
Today, I get to interview her.
Some East Village tapas bar – Mindy walks in wearing a glam Ted Baker dress and sparkly pumps. I call out to her, “Right here! Hi Mindy! Hi! I’m Soné!”
“Soné. Whoa, awesome name.”
Mindy sits down across me as I silently review the conversation topics I rehearsed in the mirror this morning. There’s so much I want to ask her about her new baby girl Katherine Swati, how cool Rihanna was on the set of Ocean’s Eight, how long Mindy’s childhood crush on Dana Carvey lasted, how she feels about Hollywood’s recent growing pains…all so that Mindy will later think, “What a great conversationalist, that Soné. I’m gonna make her my best friend.”
But as we order croquetas, Mindy says, “Did you know there’s a Glamour article that advises Walk and Talk therapy? So you basically look like a character from The West Wing while also gaining mental clarity.”
“Yeah! Isn’t that nuts?” I laugh.
Mindy made it okay that I spent Friday nights in college watching rom-coms in bed while my friends picked up men at the W. Hotel.
“I swear, women’s magazines these days,” Mindy says, “Don’t get me wrong, I loveee Cosmo and Glamour, but to be honest, my daughter’s role model is totally gonna be hand-picked by me.”
I try to think of how to veer this conversation back to my handy list of topics.
But she cuts through my thoughts – “Actually, I’ve already met her role model.”
“Oh! That’s amazing! Who?”
“Fiona! Fiona the Hippo!” Mindy smiles.
I stare as she tells me how she went to the Cincinnati Zoo a few months ago, how she got to pet the Internet-famous Baby Hippo Fiona, how smooth Fiona’s skin was (“I’ve got to find out which moisturizer that hippo uses”). She stares dreamily into space and it occurs to me that I’m a reporter.
“I’m so sorry Mindy, but how did you…get there?”
“Well, I’ve been so disheartened with the news this past year and it got me thinking about Katherine’s place in the world. Do I want her to grow up in a world where men can get away with anything, or where hippos can do anything? I chose hippos.”
I take a sip of wine.
“I’m actually putting up a sign in my daughter’s room: ‘If Fiona Can Do It, So Can You!’”
“And what exactly can Fiona do?” I ask.
Mindy looks at me like I’m crazy. “What can’t she do? That little hippo came into this world beating the odds. She promotes a positive body image with her cute double chins. She takes fabulous selfies. And have you seen her twirl? That, my friend, is womanhood.”
She takes out her phone to show me pictures. I swear, mothers and their goddamn babies. But when she hands it to me, I see Fiona the Hippo cheesing back at me.
“And you know what I love?” Mindy asks, beaming now, “Fiona demands the world for herself. That’s what I want for my daughter. I want her to be a queen and wave to her fans. I want to expose her to exotic foods, like lettuce and pumpkins, which Fiona also eats. I want her to totally flaunt herself and photobomb engagement photos. God, how amazing would it be if my daughter grew up to be just like Fiona?”
“Do I want my daughter to grow up in a world where men can get away with anything or where hippos can do anything? I chose hippos.”
Mindy can’t stop smiling.
I can’t hold it in any longer.
“Except, well, be her,” I laugh, ”Because she’s a hippo.”
“Hippos are beautiful, majestic creatures,” she says, “I really think as humans, we should learn from this real-life social media star. I’m so lucky, Fiona came into my life at the perfect time.”
“You mean Katherine.”
“No- Fiona. I’m even starting an organization in her honor: Feminists For Fiona! My assistant got a tiny hippo-sized tiara & sash made, just in time for Fiona’s first birthday! I’ll send you a memo for the ceremony. Gosh, motherhood is the best.”
Her excitement’s contagious. We order a pitcher of sangria, Mindy gets the bar to turn up the music, and we dance in our seats to Drake for the next hour.
One of my idols is a beautiful, majestic woman named Mindy. One of her idols is a beautiful, majestic creature that happens to reside in the Cincinnati Zoo.
Maybe the best part about idols is that they always point us towards something new.