Meet Jessamyn Stanley: The Plus-Size Yoga Star Giving New Meaning to Body Positivity
Every Body celebrates inclusivity and the representation of human beings in every shape and form.
Jessamyn Stanley is everywhere in the wellness world lately. After becoming a social media star and making waves in the yoga and fitness community with her inclusive and empowering yoga practice, Stanley has been on a whirlwind tour for her new book, Every Body Yoga, which is as much an instructional guide for all aspiring yogis as it is a heartfelt (and hilarious) memoir.
Talking to us by phone from her North Carolina office, she’s happy to have some time back at home, and while she’s more soft-spoken (and frankly, less potty-mouthed!) than you’d expect based on her writing, she’s exactly as genuine, insightful, and humble as you’d guess. We spoke with Stanley about the importance of representation, showing up in your own life, and the true meaning of body positivity.
B+C: I gotta say, I love your honesty and candor in your book and on social media, and I know I’m not the only one!
JS: It’s very much a working practice for me. So much of this experience is not about perfecting your poses, or meditating the best. I’m just trying to show up in life in a really authentic and present way. Sometimes that means being awkward and having unpleasant interactions. But I’ve really seen my social media as like a journal, and it really just reflects where I am in my life. If other people get that impression, I’m like, “Dope! That means I am showing up!” We all have a tendency to not do that.
B+C: Did yoga teach you to show up, or was your desire to do that what fueled your practice?
JS: Yoga brought that to me. Everybody has their reasons to practice yoga. Maybe somebody told you this would make your body feel better, or you work a job where you stand all the time and need to stretch more, maybe it’s prenatal yoga, maybe once you’re older, or you’ve had an injury. But the reason you keep practicing doesn’t have a lot to do with why you start.
B+C: Is there a way you could encourage people to listen and find that deeper meaning, outside of any fitness trend or exercise goals, in yoga?
JS: I think the best way to start being open to it is to just show up to your practice and not think about specific athletic outcomes or specific weight loss or whatever. You have to commit to it; it’s not a magic trick. Immediately stop assigning values to the practice. You have to think, “I’m going to go to this class, and I’m not going to think about what everyone else around me is doing. I’m not going to be discouraged any times that I fall or don’t know what’s going on and have to watch.”
Start being compassionate with yourself, and give yourself the permission to have a genuine experience. Your expectations are the problem. Don’t set expectations. They’re never going to be met; your expectations are bullshit. Just show up for something, don’t think you know everything, and then whatever happens will be perfect.
B+C: We could all stand to apply this advice to our lives on a larger scale!
JS: Exactly. Really, the experience on the mat is just a mirror for what’s going on in the rest of your life. The moments that make us tremble and shake on the mat, when seen in a different lens, are the exact same things that trouble us in other parts of life.
Not being able to sit with discomfort is a big thing. There’s many moments in any yoga Asana practice where you will be like, “I’m not trying to do this anymore. This hold takes forever; this pose is awful. I hate everything about it and I don’t want to do it anymore.” Then you spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how not to do it anymore. Well, where else in your life are you doing that?
B+C: Body positivity gets used a lot when discussing you and your teaching, and a lot in general right now. How do you think we can all stay accountable to making it a real thing and not just a buzzword?
JS: It’s basically at this point, like, “Fat girls should have clothes too!” which is completely belittling this idea of, “All humans are as they should be.” Everyone should be happy and live their truth, which is really the message of body positivity.
Visibility is really important, and it does make a difference. But the biggest thing, is [the media] just reflects what we do. So if we tell them that what they’re trying to sell us is watered-down bullshit, and it isn’t actually body positivity, it will gradually become more reflective of what the movement actually is.
B+C: Throughout your book and in your online presence, you show such wisdom and clarity on confronting your past and your own truths, even the hard ones, especially early on. Is this an ongoing part of your practice today?
JS: Oh, yeah, all the time. Literally every day. It’s wild to me that I seem, well, the words you used are so positive. I’m teetering on the brink all the time! No matter where you are, you’ll constantly be in a state of evolution, and there will constantly be something new to bite into, to understand and digest. Life serves us the most amazing opportunities to figure yourself out and to be confronted with truth. That is true for me just as it is true for everyone.
What does body positivity mean to you? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photos via Christine Hewitt)