Jessamyn Stanley – everyone’s favourite insta-star
Jessamyn is a 29-year-old, big, black, gay, Southern American woman who stands out from the thin, white insta-yogi crowd. She’s 100% authentic and is inspiring a new swathe of people to have the confidence to take up yoga, whatever their body shape. Here’s what makes Jessamyn special.
“Hi, I’m Jessamyn. I’m in love with yoga.”
This is how Jessamyn Stanley introduces herself on her website.
But Jessamyn didn’t fall in love with yoga at first ‘sight’. As a teenager she went along to a Bikram yoga class with her Aunt and hated it. “Needless to say,” she says, “I spent the next several years being staunchly “anti-yoga”.” It wasn’t until she bought a month-long pass to a Bikram studio at graduate school that she had a yoga epiphany and her physical and spiritual curiosity was awakened.
Fast forward six years and Jessamyn is a social media yoga superstar. She has nearly 315,000 followers on instagram, a new book, ‘Every Body Yoga’, a packed yoga teaching schedule and a host of commercial endorsements. In a list of 50 top yoga teachers on social media, Jessamyn is ranked number 20, up against the likes of Kino Macgregor and Tara Stiles. Through an active and impressive social media presence, Jessamyn has reached far and wide with her message of inclusivity for all body types.
Jessamyn the “Fat Femme”
Jessamyn’s message is loud and clear. She is a self-proclaimed “fat femme” and a proud advocate of the body-positive movement. But it hasn’t always been that way. When she tried experimenting with different styles of yoga she felt completely out of place in classes full of thin, white women.
Undeterred, she kept going to Bikram yoga classes on a work-study basis (helping out at the studio in return for free classes) until in 2012, when she moved to a new area and didn’t have enough money to pay for classes. At this point Jessamyn began a home practice, tentatively at first, but gradually growing in confidence, when she realised how much further she could go beyond her comfort zone when she was on her own. She began to share images of herself on instagram to get some feedback on her poses, and was unprepared for the level of interest she provoked.
“I had so many people reaching out to me saying, ‘Wow, I can’t believe fat people can practice yoga’,” she said.
For Jessamyn, good health is not simply about being thin, and size doesn’t always matter. “Anyone can ‘look’ healthy”, she says, “actually being healthy is often a completely different story and (more often than not) is completely unrelated to size.”
Jessamyn the Authentic
What you see with Jessamyn is what you get. That includes swearing, farting and getting things wrong sometimes, because, as she says, “If I do something off the mat then it would be inauthentic for me to stop doing it when I get on the mat.”
In her book ‘Every Body Yoga’, Jessamyn not only gives readers yoga to practice at home, but also includes the light and dark sides of her life as a way of showing that yoga isn’t the answer to all your problems, but a way of addressing them. In the book she makes this clear; “I don’t think the shitty parts of life are over for me just because I’ve cultivated a vigorous yoga practice. On the contrary, I think shitty things will continue to happen. But that’s life. The fuckery never ends. Any attempts to control or anticipate the crests and valleys will only yield dissatisfaction and disappointment. Instead of trying to micromanage my emotional journey, I use yoga to pull up off the gas and help me see my life objectively and without judgement. It may not be foolproof, but it’s the best tool I’ve found so far.”
This focus on using yoga to view her life without judgement is key to Jessamyn’s appeal. She has learnt to stay true to herself and this inspires others to do the same. As Jessamyn says, “I think (people) are responding to a genuine, honest and authentic human being. I think a lot of people see themselves in me”.
This approach is mirrored in her instagram pictures, which are often unposed and in her messy bedroom at home, “You know, my yoga Asana practice isn’t pretty,” she writes in one post. “It’s f*****g gruesome most of the time. It’s a lot of sweating, crying, swearing, falling down, and picking myself back up again. For most of us, the gruesome reality of an Asana practice is shocking. I mean, it’s all fun and games when you’re looking at Instagram photos, but real life is on some different s**t.”
Jessamyn the Advocate
Jessamyn has found her voice. There’s no shortage of quotes from Jessamyn because she’s writing and responding all the time. But she’s not just speaking for herself – she’s speaking for everyone who feels different and unaccepted.
Jessamyn’s biggest gripe is that she feels that the modern yoga world is inaccessible to the people who really need yoga the most — the marginalized. In a recent talk in Atlanta promoting her book, she said that “The core problem with the modern yoga world is that it is not built to be accepting.”
She is determined to change this through inspiring others to have the confidence to try yoga, such as one fan on instragram, who wrote, ‘You are really a inspiration! I just started yoga and I love it but it always bothered me seeing all these already fit ladies showing me yoga poses and I’m sitting here wondering why I don’t look like that doing it. Until I ran across you. Thank you.’
Now, she has also created a series of beginner-focused online classes, EveryBody Yoga Classes, so that anyBODY can ‘try, repeat, and learn in an environment where you’re comfortable and feel free to be yourself.’
Read more about Jessamyn in the following articles: