If you flip through all the yoga pictures on Instagram, it won’t take long to see that the majority of popular yoga personalities look the same — white, slim-bodied, and oh-so happy. Jessamyn Stanley is the kind of yoga teacher who has always brought a level of realness to the yoga world that we’ve been all been secretly looking for. She’s an award-winning body positivity activist and a self-proclaimed fat femme who is internationally renowned for her motivating yoga classes and singular message — that every single body can do yoga, no matter the size or color.
If you’ve never had the chance to hear her story or witness her in action, now’s your chance. Jessamyn has just released a brand new book called Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body.
In short, it’s Wellness 101 — with a twist. Jessamyn doesn’t only lay the groundwork of the physical asanas of yoga and give advice on how to start up a sustainable practice, but she also writes honestly about her experience with body discrimination, racism, and the mistakes she’s made in her life. It’s the kind of book that will make you feel less alone.
HelloGiggles spoke to Jessamyn about what inspired her to write this book, and what sets it apart from the other basic yoga books that currently live on bookshelves. She notes that many people have approached her in the last couple years with questions of how to start yoga, admitting that they haven’t previously felt comfortable enough to step into the yoga world since they never saw their own bodies represented.
“I had to get the book out,” Jessamyn tells HelloGiggles. “A lot of people don’t know how to start because there isn’t anyone who looks like them in the yoga world.”
Representation is more important than ever in our society. Every small victory counts — Moonlight winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, the diverse women of color on the cover of Allure‘s April 2017 edition, etc. — and each has a tremendous impact on people of color who feel ostracized in their everyday life. Jessamyn is trailblazing this kind of representation in the yoga community, which means there will be women from many different backgrounds who are inspired to improve their health.
She asked herself, “‘What book would be helpful for me? What book would give me the clarification, remind me that I’m worthwhile, I’m not alone?’ There are so many of us that think, ‘Am I the odd one out?'”
Jessamyn grew up in a suburban Southern town that was predominantly white. In Every Body Yoga, she shares what it was like to be nicknamed “oreo” by her peers, who teased her for looking black yet enjoying “white people shit.” As a result, she fell into an identity crisis and became extremely self-conscious about displaying her natural black hair, a discomfort that lasted well into her adult years.
In addition to living with both the macro- and microaggressions of racism, she was discriminated against for being fat. She sought reassurance that she was beautiful (even entering a beauty pageant at one point), only to be met with more rejection and a growing sense of self-disgust.
Yoga helped Jessamyn find a sense of peace and self-love that she never discovered anywhere else. Which is why she wrote Every Body Yoga. She wanted be honest about her own story and encourage other people to open up about their own lives and take control of their wellbeing.
Jessamyn tells HG there’s a misconception that yoga instructors are perfect. “People see these teachers who have solved all their problems, so it feels hard for them to connect,” she says. “‘You’re untouchable, you don’t do anything wrong.’ That is so inaccurate.”