Let’s talk about girl crushes. I totally have one on Jessamyn Stanley, whose class I had the pleasure of taking at The Yoga Collective in New York City. A certified yoga instructor in Durham, North Carolina, this 29-year-old is simply awesome—not just because of her friendly spirit (she gave me a big hug at our first meeting), but because every time this self-described "fat femme" steps onto the yoga mat, she proves that getting bendy has little to do with your shape or size.
Need proof? Just scroll through her Instagram account. Each pose she posts to her 227,000 followers is of her twisting or contorting herself into challenging positions, often while clad in nothing but yoga pants and a sports bra. The difference between her and the other yogis who have reached social media stardom: Stanley is many sizes larger, and is still flaunting her flesh in all its glory.
“I cannot be contained within a definition,” explains Stanley, who confesses that if yoga were a person she would marry and have kids with it. “I think that it is important for other people to see that and to acknowledge that they don’t have to be contained by a definition either, and they can just be whoever they are.
After we got down (dog) for about an hour, Stanley opened up about why yoga is such an important part of her life, breaking stereotypes, and loving the skin you are in.
Why do you love yoga?
It is the thing that changed my life, honestly. I was in a dark place of depression and I always wanted to loose weight and “be healthy,” and I had never given it any real energy, and then I just reached this place where I was so sad for a lot of different reasons. Yoga pulled me out of that. But more than that, it has allowed me to acknowledge that those times in life don’t go away. There is always going to be something happening where you are like “Oh my God I can’t handle this!” And it always reminds me that there is reality; that these boxes that we live in are not real.
What is your favorite pose and why?
It always varies depending on what stage I am at. The poses that resonate for me are the ones that are very difficult for me. They are the ones that I have to work on, and eventually stop obsessing over, and see, oh my god, I can be this person who is not ego driven, and I can just be in it to do something. So I love poses that get me to that place. For a long time it was Camel; right now it is Dolphin or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, and it has been for a while. It’s a very difficult pose that seems much easier than it is. It has just taught me so much over the years, especially in terms if building my practice.
There is an image associated with what a yogi looks like, and you are not that. What are your thoughts on that?
That is probably the reason why I am teaching. There is this stereotypical idea, this physical picture that comes with it, which is typically a slender, white, traditionally educated, and affluent woman, and if you are not that then you are automatically different. That is why social media is cool. I feel like I can get out there and show what the yoga lifestyle really looks like, and being able to showcase that is critical at this point. At the end of the day, we are not trying to be popular; we are just trying to be ourselves. And if I can encourage other people to do that, than that is amazing.
What makes you feel body confident?
I feel the best about my body when I am just walking around and not thinking about what anyone else thinks about me. So much of our lives is what does this person think of me, and how can I affect this person. And as confident as I am in myself, that urge doesn’t go away. But in those moments, in those glimmers where I am just totally in myself, those moments are priceless; it’s gold. You can’t walk away from that. And I wish I could bottle that and give that to every person on the planet.
Do you have any advice for young girls, or even women, who struggle with body image?
If I could go back and talk to myself when I was younger—because I used to have horrific body image—I’d tell myself, "Don’t think about what other people think about you; you think about what you think about you. And try not to obsess over everything." You must always just work towards this light; work toward living in your truth. As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.