Fat and fit: These women are redefining what fitness looks like

Jessamyn Stanley and Kristy Fassio. (Photos: Stanley: Lydia Hudgens; Fassio: Courtesy of Kristy Fassio; artwork: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

What was known as the body-positivity movement is now a new world order. From advertising and television to lingerie and fashion lines, different body types are becoming increasingly more accepted and normalized. That said, the one space where we continue to routinely see cultural pushback is in the realm of fitness.

Being physically fit does not necessarily mean being a size 2 with six-pack abs. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and physically fit bodies are no different. But finally there is a push to more widely accept physical fitness without weight loss — a long-overdue end to the theory that you can’t be fat and fit.

When I was growing up, I was an active kid. I was on the volleyball and track teams in high school. In college, I swam all four years and made captain. Something I noticed early on was that I was always the biggest girl on every single sports team. That fact came with stares and the surprised looks that I wasn’t only on a sports team — I was actually good. Sadly, I never felt good enough; no matter how many races or games I won, I was always focused on my weight.

As I’ve gotten into my mid-20s, my focus on weight loss has waned. Now, at 26 years old and 220 pounds, I just recently took my first gymnastics class and participated in my first triathlon.

There are many fit, plus-size women like me who are challenging the status quo — and their bodies: Jore Marshall, a professional dancer, Jessamyn Stanley, an internationally known yoga instructor, and Kristy Fassio, a body-positive personal trainer — to name a few. I spoke to these three women about times they have been discriminated against, why representation matters in the fitness world, and the different ways they’re taking care of their bodies rather than obsessing about their weight.

Kristy Fassio – personal trainer

Kristy Fassio’s fitness journey started after she had her first baby in 2007, when she joined a fitness class that incorporated strollers into the workouts.

“It was my first fitness community,” Fassio tells me. “There was no encouragement to lose weight, just an open space to move my body. I remember lying on my back that first day, staring up at the trees thinking, ‘I could do this every day.'” Fast forward 11 years, and Fassio is a personal trainer and owns a company called Fit From Within, where she’s helping clients to accept the bodies they have.

So, how does a plus-size personal trainer challenge her body and gain confidence? Her daily workouts consist of walking, strength training, tap dancing, and doing away with diet culture. “I moved away from anything regimented when it comes to fitness, and now I ask myself, ‘How do I want to move?’ and I do that,” the Washington-state-based trainer says.

“Your body is yours. Learn to cherish it,” Fassio adds. “Listen to it. Love to run? Run with your body. Swim? Put a fantastic swimsuit on that body and get in the water. Act? Get up onstage and shine. Do not hide!”

Jore Marshall — dancer

Jore Marshall, who danced with Beyoncé at Coachella. (Photo: Courtesy of Jore Marshall; artwork: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
At 9 years old, Jore Marshall’s passion for dancing took hold, when she first learned how to krump, a style of street dancing that originated in South Central L.A. From there her passion snowballed, and she and her sister Amari both became dedicated to dance. The sisters were so committed to pursuing their dreams that in 2015 the whole family moved from Florida to Los Angeles.
Three years later, the Marshall sisters were side by side with Beyoncé during her celebrated Coachella performance of her reggae-inspired number. Looking back, Marshall knew that moment was huge for the plus-size community.
“It was so powerful. I’m still shocked because not only are we representing thicker women, but I was able to share that moment with my sister and with Beyoncé. We have so many people writing us saying how inspired they were. I would’ve never, in a million years, thought I’d be dancing with Beyoncé,” Marshall tells me.

[caption id="attachment_3193445" align="alignnone" width="800"] However, achieving that moment was far from easy. Marshall knew what she signed up for being a professional plus-size dancer, but she didn’t realize the discrimination she would face, not only from casting directors but from fellow dancers. Marshall recalls countless auditions in which she and her sister were typecast because of their size.
“There was a dancer I actually heard saying they were surprised that bigger girls got the gig. There’s been a lot of times I’ve gotten discriminated against because of my weight. I’m so used to it because it’s the dance industry,” the 21-year-old says. “The industry standard for dancers is small — very pretty and petite. Now the industry is changing, and they’re getting bigger girls in general. I think it’s amazing.”
Marshall remembers trying to “look the part” when she started working as a professional dancer, until one day it clicked and she just thought, Who cares? “I’m beautiful the way I am, and I’m just as capable as any other dancer that’s smaller. Either you’re going to take me or you’re not,” Marshall says.

Now her sights are set on dancing with another music legend: Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott.

Jessamyn Stanley — yoga instructor

Jessamyn Stanley strikes a yoga pose. (Photo: Lydia Hudgens; artwork: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
If there were a piece of advice Jessamyn Stanley would give a young girl struggling with her weight, it would be: “Your strength is not limited by what you look like. And honestly, the way you look is a benefit. No one can tell you [differently] about yourself.”

Stanley got into yoga after her aunt, grandmother, and former partner’s brother died within a matter of months. Yoga became a solace for Stanley after she nearly slipped into depression. Now, seven years into a yoga practice and a book , podcast , and several yoga tours later, Stanley is relearning how she can challenge her body besides doing yoga.
[caption id="attachment_3193459" align="alignnone" width="800"] “My thing this year is weightlifting. Yoga and weightlifting are complementary. I go to a CrossFit gym, and one of the coaches coached me through a lifting routine. But then I immediately ran into that mental barrier of I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’m not good enough to just be hanging out over here powerlifting. [I’m] pushing past these new boundaries and learning about myself in a new way, ” says the North Carolina yogi. “I’ve spent decades pouring hatred into my body. At this point, it’s a detox.”

Being one of the very few plus-size and queer yoga instructors, Stanley knows she’s an anomaly in the fitness industry, and she also knows that people view her as an underdog because of her weight. But she’s no longer concerned with the opinions of others. These days she’s focused on doing the inner work.                                                                                                                 

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