We’re inundated by filtered images of svelte yogis with six-packs doing crane pose and handstands like it’s NBD. Thanks to Jessamyn Stanley, who calls herself a “fat yogi,” that stereotypical view of yoga is being challenged.
The rising Instagram star is not tiny and chiseled, but she still does all the advanced poses you’re always attempting in your vinyasa class—and in the process, she’s shaking up the yoga world as we know it. As an advocate of body positivity, a self-proclaimed “fat femme,” and an example of what a “yoga body” can look like, she is speaking out against the superficial view of yoga many people have.
“Ultimately, words only have negative power if you give them negative power. I choose not to.”
“People think that when you practice yoga, your life is beautiful and perfect and you’re just so happy,” says Stanley in an interview with Shape. “That’s not how it works.”
After her aunt passed away unexpectedly, Stanley tried to regain her happiness—which she realized was through yoga, she tells Shape. She started taking pictures of her practice and posting them simply to check her alignment, but after receiving positive feedback from people inspired by her photos, she kept it going—and now has over 169,000 followers on Instagram.
Through her active social media presence, Stanley’s on a mission to empower women everywhere—of all shapes and sizes—to get their warrior pose on.
Read on for 6 insightful observations from Jessamyn Stanley about yoga stereotypes.
1. Words only have negative power if you give it to them
“I use the word ‘fat’ because frankly, there is way too much negativity built around it,” Stanley tells Shape. “It’s something that’s been turned into an equivalent for stupid and unhealthy, or like calling someone a dirty beast. And because of that, no one wants to hear it. If you call someone fat, it’s like the ultimate insult.” But she says it’s just an adjective that means “large.” Nonetheless, she doesn’t call other people that, due to the word’s baggage. “Ultimately, words only have negative power if you give them negative power. I choose not to.”
2. Labels are limiting
“My problem with the ‘fat yoga’ label is that it turns into the idea that there are only certain kinds of yoga that fat people can do. And that if you’re not doing fat yoga that you’re not allowed to do yoga. I came up in classes where every body type was there, not just fat people. And I succeeded in those classes, and I see other fat-bodied people succeeding in those classes all the time all over the world.”
3. Your body—regardless of what it looks like—gives you power
“I can’t just sit here and think, ‘I just wish my body was different. Everything could be different, would be different.’ When you accept that, you can accept the strength your body parts are actually giving you.”
4. A perfect life doesn’t exist (like it does in pictures)
Stanley is annoyed with the perception that yogis are Lululemon-clad, retreat-frequenting, nimble-bodied women that showcase a very aspirational lifestyle. “I’m in this place of, I want to live my life and be okay on a day-to-day basis, and that means accepting that not everything about my life is perfect, or pretty. There are some very real rough edges to my life,” she says. “As much as I can show those things to other people, I want to. Because you need to see that the yoga lifestyle is every lifestyle.”
5. Don’t let negative opinions of you affect your confidence
Stanley says she can see it when people doubt her expertise as a yogi—yet these same people are dripping in sweat by the end of her class. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you have three out of four of your limbs; it doesn’t matter if you’re fat, short, tall, male, female, or somewhere in between. None of that matters. All that matters is that we’re human and trying to breathe together,” she says.
6. Don’t stress about how you look to other people
“It doesn’t matter to me how my body looks to other people. It’s not a thing.” And thanks to yoga, she’s able to have that mindset.
She’s not the only person taking on body stereotypes in the active world: Meet the woman who wants you to rethink what a “Pilates body” looks like. And if you’re inspired by Jessamyn’s words, here’s how to show yourself a little self-love.