Jessamyn Stanley is changing the yoga world simply by being her. She’s a curvy yogi posting about her practice on Instagram, and she’s amassed 220,000 followers that look to her account for its infectious body positivity and realness. There are haters, of course, and she does it for them, too. “When I first started, I would practice in underwear and then I would go put on leggings for the photos. And then I realized that there are no curvy people who are showing their bodies in this way, and therefore there are a lot of people who are repulsed by it,” Stanley said in an interview with SELF, in an article that celebrated the relaunch of their website on Wednesday.
“They’re offended by it because it rubs up against what you were taught to believe. And that’s fine, but I’m gonna continue to do it and continue to show you that so that you can stop thinking that way.”
Stanley wasn’t always the image of body positivity that her followers see, though. “Honestly, it’s bizarre to me that I’m perceived as such a confident person when I spent such a huge chunk of my life buried under truly toxic body shame,” the 29-year-old wrote on Instagram. “And it’s not like those feelings have completely dissipated — just like anyone, I have ups and downs. And I always roll my eyes whenever people draw the conclusion that yoga is the source of my body confidence. I mean, Instagram is littered with proof that an aggressive yoga asana practice can unintentionally sow the seeds of body negativity.”
In the early stages of her practice, Stanley fell victim to this very issue. Her body hate intensified before she finally took her practice at face value. “My belly is still here but I am strong as f*ck,” she told SELF. “I’m out here doing all this stuff, how can I continue to throw shade at this part of my body that is a very crucial part of who I am?”
Now, Jessamyn is done underestimating her body, her ability, and her worth. “I always thought that, because I’m fat, because I’m not the tallest, because I’m not ‘the prettiest,’ that there’s always going to be something wrong with me. But as I’ve gotten older, and the more that I practice yoga, the more I realize that there is this really subtle elegance and grace to every human action,” she said. “As a woman of color, you definitely grow up thinking that there are certain limitations to what it is that you’re supposed to do.”
Jessamyn is on a mission to change that. “When I was 12 and I was just feeling terrible every single day, I wish that I could have seen a woman who looked like me,” she told SELF. “I think that it could have had a very positive impact. If I could give that to somebody else then I definitely would like to do that.”