"To me, to use the word fat is not an insult."
Jessamyn Stanley is not used to attention. She's not even that comfortable with her newfound fame in the wellness space. But the 30-year-old yogi has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram and troves of fans reading her new book Every Body Yoga ($12, amazon.com).
Jessamyn's fans are drawn to the way she's representing both fat yogis and black yogis in a totally new and incredibly empowering way. She's made waves in the fitness and yoga community, providing a place for women—specifically women of color—to feel safe and comfortable and inspired in their yoga practice.
She says the attention she's earned sometimes makes her feel like a snail who wants to crawl back into her shell, which "is a weird thing because I do feel very confident in my everyday life."
Sometimes she even forgets why she's getting attention.
"I don't really think of it and I've only recently become aware of this not being a thing where only a couple people know about me," she says. "It's brought to my attention when I encounter a random person who knows me and I'm, like, oh right, yoga and the internet."
Still, it's a lot to take on.
Jessamyn's story is now being featured in a new short film called "Unbelievers" produced by Bai Brands, a line of antioxidant-infusion drinks, in partnership with Tribeca Studios. The “Unbelieve” campaign highlights the origins of the brand and celebrates people who strive to better themselves and their communities by moving beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.
Jessamyn shared more wisdom like this with Women's Health, alongside photos from her new book, explaining how she's changed her life by reclaiming the word "fat" and how being a woman of color makes her feel in the fitness world.
ON DEALING WITH HER NEWFOUND FAME
Jessamyn says it's been an adjustment trying to stay grounded and true to her message amidst all the attention she's been getting. "One of the things I’ve been critical of is the reasons why you’ll find yourself in the spotlight, and I think that we all tend to lean toward ego and it’s something that I definitely struggle with," she says. "I’m being very, very conscious of that because the attention is blooming at the same time that my book's coming out and the Bai film is out and it’s a weird balance."
ON REMEMBERING WHAT'S IMPORTANT
"What yoga helps me with is understanding that the world we live in is not about who you're in love with or what job you have. All of those things are going to change because you are constantly changing. There's always a truth and understanding that what's bigger than the self is what's within the self."
ON BEING FAT
"The use of the word fat is absolutely a reclamation technique. It's very much like the word has been used as a weapon against me, and I hear people still using it as a weapon toward themselves, toward one another, and then it doesn't mean large, it means stupid, it means ugly, unworthy to exist. To me, to use the word fat with its designated meaning of large is not an insult, it's just a statement of truth. I'm saying I'm fat because I am fat is the same thing as saying I'm black because I am black."
ON TURNING 30
"I'm assuming my thirties will be rough, too, because life is rough. But I'm really excited to enter this stage of life. There's just so much that can happen in this life, and this life can be extraordinarily brief, and I don't hold myself above that, and I just want to enjoy everything."
It's important to Jessamyn to continue to represent everyone in the yoga community, but ageism is a factor she thinks is often ignored when it comes to discrimination in the fitness space. "I think a lot of older women are very upset about the fact that the entire conversation of women's health is really centered around young people, especially in the yoga world," she says. "Then people associate being able to move quickly with these younger bodies because there's so much strength and power and age. I wondered: How much of a role can I play in this and still be on the younger side?"
ON DEALING WITH COMMENTS ON INSTAGRAM
"To me, Instagram is like my journal in a way. I'm not trying to express a controversial opinion, but it has elicited so many strong reactions," she says of some commenters who ask if she's trying to lose weight, those who react to her political views, and even the ones who thank her for her positivity. "When people have a strong, negative reaction to it, it's interesting social commentary that we all need to be paying attention to. Why are we so affected by this?
ON PEOPLE ASSUMING SHE COULD NEVER BE A YOGA TEACHER
"There's definitely a visceral reaction if people don't know who I am when they walk into my yoga classes. It's like, they ask: 'Oh, are you teaching class?' and it's very clear that they're skeptical. But that's always the same person who can't catch their breath during class. We all come to everything with our own assumptions about stuff, and the problem is that we don't talk about it enough."