Jessamyn Stanley is unapologetically the biggest, blackest, and baddest chick in yoga. This unforgettable 29-year-old South Carolinian yogi simply annihilates every stereotype, one asana at a time.
Others may feel more comfortable with descriptions like voluptuous, chunky, plus-size, big-boned, or curvy, but Stanley proudly prefers to call herself a “fat femme” who has found authenticity and loving self-acceptance on the mat.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just for slim, young, Lululemon wearing, latte-drinking, white women. Yoga, as Stanley proudly proclaims in her beautifully photographed book, Every Body Yoga, is for everyone.Stanley’s refreshing perspective reminds all of us that you are always worthy and capable, and you never needed any special qualifications or permission to begin yoga (or anything else, for that matter).
After the unexpected death of her aunt, Stanley said, she fell into a deep depression. “I couldn’t sleep, I was sleepwalking through my life, not engaged, and I wanted to get back to feeling good and strong. I was in a small apartment, but I would roll out the mat and do the postures that were familiar.”
In those moments, she decided to face her fears, get on the mat, and love her body just the way it is. She began her yoga journey by starting a home practice, and later began posting images of her progress on social-media platforms. She quickly attracted a mass following, and blew up Instagram and the yoga world in the process. To date, her Instagram fan base is about 293,000 and growing.
However, Stanley’s passion for yoga goes beyond the mat. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the brilliant, beautiful, black woman, the ultimate outlier who’s the trailblazer in the body-positive movement, making room for bodies of all sizes, shapes, ages, colors, genders, and sexual orientations.
Here’s some of Jessamyn’s wisdom to get you started on your yoga practice today.
Kimberly: How did you get started?
Jessamyn: I started practicing at home. That is how I began a self-care practice, and everyone needs some type of self-care in their life. You don’t need the right leggings, or need to go to this specific yoga class, or practice for 90 minutes. I say begin with 5 minutes, then 10, and 15. Let it gradually fit into your life. Yoga is a life path. You don’t need a special certification to care for your spirit, and before you know it, you’ll be practicing for an hour. There are no rules, only opportunities.
K: You’ve talked about the discrimination you experienced in the yoga community, which is merely a reflection of the larger society’s stereotypes about race, class, and gender. What advice do you have for the African American community to counteract, minimize, or eradicate the impact of internalized self-hatred and low self-esteem?
J: When I was growing up, I didn’t realize the damage being done. I grew up in a predominantly white community, and that was the image everyone was fed. Here I was, the epitome of the big, black, and beautiful African queen surrounded by dainty white nymphs. Yet, I thought I should look different than my biology. When I was younger, I found it nearly impossible to reconcile my African beauty with the white portrayals of beauty that surrounded me. The self-loathing and internalized depression was a normal part of socialization, but you don’t acknowledge it. The way we can stop it is to look within as an individual and get to the root of it, see the damage, own the damage. Then look within for the truth and light, tell the stories that need to be told ... yoga is not a bad place to start the healing.
K: That’s a very refreshing perspective. Now, how did you transition from that to becoming the hottest thing in yoga and a social-media darling?
J: Initially, I began looking at photos online and trying new styles. Instagram had just come out, but very few people were using it. It was a little isolating doing my practice at home; I wanted feedback. So I started taking pictures to check my alignment.
K: Jessamyn, you are an amazing woman. What is next on your agenda?
J: I am happy, humble, and satisfied with the current moment. But I never learned how to eat properly, so maybe a cookbook will be next.
Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears on the first and third Wednesdays monthly.