Jessamyn Stanley has long been walking, talking, forearm-standing proof that every damn body is a yoga body. Her Instagram feed is filled with photos of her contorting into pose after pose in her underwear. Her “fat, black, flexible body,” as she calls it, is a source of inspiration for those who have been traditionally underrepresented in yoga and fitness. Recently, she decided to further her mission by introducing a digital fitness app.
Stanley tells me her followers would often reach out to say that they’d been inspired by her practice, but didn’t feel comfortable entering a studio. With today’s launch of The Underbelly, an app Stanley named after “the part [of your body] that you want to hide from other people, but is actually your strength,” she’s created an inclusive place for her community to come together to practice yoga.
“Nothing has been about just pure, straight-up body-pos wellness. Not about, what is your body going to look like at the end of this process, but what’s going to happen to you on the inside.” —Jessamyn Stanley
“I wanted to make a space that was totally different from all other digital yoga offerings, because I felt like everything up to this point was just so fitness-based,” Stanley tells me. “Nothing has been about just pure, straight-up body-pos wellness. Not about, what is your body going to look like at the end of this process, but what’s going to happen to you on the inside.”
Over the last few years, Stanley has been at the forefront of the movement toward making wellness more inclusive, so I ask her flat out: How are we doing? “Recently, I’ve been thinking that things are so much more diverse now than they were five years ago,” she says. “But I don’t want to get complacent. I don’t want to get to the place where I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I finally can find leggings [that] everywhere,’ because that doesn’t actually mean anything…We need to get beyond body size. We need to get into spaces talking about ability, age, and gender identity.”
Stanley adds that individual teachers and studios need to do their part to make their spaces safe for everyone. “I think there are a lot of different ways in which teachers are unintentionally ableist and fat-phobic, and it has a lot to do with the way that they speak of and think of themselves,” she says. “I think the most helpful thing that any yoga teacher can do to make their space more inclusive is to lean into their own personal yoga practice and really ask questions of themselves to draw up the things that are currently making their spaces not inclusive. Once you start acknowledging your own biases, that will make the spaces more inclusive.”
Until then, we can all download The Underbelly and get to down-dogging at home in our underwear.
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