Photo Courtesy of Lauren Perlstein Photography
If being a yogi means being thin, using fancy equipment, and wearing the latest Lululemon leggings, then Jessamyn Stanley is the anti-yogi. The self-described “fat femme” is redefining what it means to be a yoga practitioner, one Instagram post at a time.
Stanley, who has 123,000 followers on Instagram, posts photos of herself in intricate yoga poses wearing nothing more than her underwear. Her message: yoga is for everyone.
“There’s so much message conveyed by a fat girl in her underwear practicing yoga. It says so much,” she says. “It takes a single image and you can change someone’s mind forever.”
For the North Carolina native, the body positivity movement is more than just rhetoric. It’s about displaying your own body proudly, curves and all, even if it makes others uncomfortable.
“I feel like the reason people feel uncomfortable about fat people is because they are not confronted with the fat body,” she says. “What they see is a covered up thing that someone else is ashamed of, but if you take off your clothes and you say, ‘actually I’m fine,’ it’s confronting that person.”
She applies the same logic when using the word fat. For Stanley, using the word strips it of its negativity, making it a word that describes how someone looks rather than who they are.
“I think it’s pretty clear that I’m the textbook definition of fat, and I’m comfortable with that and I think other people should be comfortable with that,” she says. “The most important thing that other fat people can do is to really label themselves for what they are so we can take the power out of this adjective.”
Stanley wasn’t always a yoga-devoted, body-affectionate proclaimer of self-love. At 16, Stanley tried Bikram yoga and describes her first experience as “hell on earth.” Seven years later, on the heels of a messy breakup with a Groupon discount in hand, she tried it again.
“Everything that was so bad about it thatfirst time was perfect,” she says.
Returning to yoga helped Stanley cope with her depression. After struggling with weight issues her entire life, yoga finally gave her the tools to accept herself for who she was.
“Yoga makes you stare at yourself,” she says. “It literally puts a mirror up in front of you where you are like, this is who you are. And this is what you have to become okay with.”
For the young 20-something, yoga became a metaphor for the obstacles in her life. Instead of letting her past experiences and fears dictate her decision-making, she decided she would take on new challenges.
So when the Groupon ran out, and she couldn’t afford to take classes, she transformed her living room into her own personal studio, using anything from a dog leash to VHS tapes as equipment.
“For me the hardest part was just getting to this place where I actually understood just how much of my own boundaries—my own mental boundaries—were in me not enjoying the experience,” she says. “You can't sit around and think, 'oh, well there’s not already one of me doing this.' Well, that could be said for anything—are you going to let that hold you back your whole life?”