A North Carolina yogi is causing a sensation on social media by breaking down body stereotypes with her personal photos.
Jessamyn Stanley, 27, who lives in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and posts to Instagram under the handle @mynameisjessamyn, has attracted more than 42,000 followers in the last two years sharing images of challenging forearm stands and intense back bends.
The difference between Stanley and the seemingly myriad talented yogis posting online? She is a self-described “fat femme” with ample curves where others are stick straight.
"People need to see diversity, to feel included,” Stanley told ABC News. “It’s really not that I look different, it’s that I look the same as everyone else.”
A lifelong North Carolinian, Stanley was first introduced to Bikram yoga as a teenager by an enthusiastic aunt. But at the time, she was put off by the high-temperature rooms and studio experience. Years later, in college, when a friend mentioned a Groupon discount for Bikram classes, Stanley decided to give the practice a second try and this time something clicked.
“I was going through a lot of transitions and personal changes at the time, I was depressed,” she said. “And being forced to stare at yourself in the mirror and challenge your body was very useful for self-reflection. It turned out to be the saving grace of my entire life.”
But after committing to a regular practice, Stanley eventually moved and didn’t immediately have the disposable income to attend studio classes in her new neighborhood. It was then that she began doing yoga at home and documenting the experience online.
“When you practice, it’s important to note your alignment and progress,” she said. “And it’s a great way to get positive feedback from people. In the studios, there is a lot of judgment. And where I live, it was predominately white, well-educated, upper class people who attended and it tints the student’s perspective. I would feel like, ‘oh, my body will never look like that.’ So, [sharing on] social media has become a great way of feeling normal about being different.”
The attention she’s since received does at times detract from the original intent of recording her postures. But, Stanley reasoned, it’s not a bad thing.
“Sometimes I do wish I would get more feedback that was along the lines of ‘let’s talk about how we can all strengthen our practices,’” she acknowledged. “But if people are more focused on my physique, and connecting with someone they can look to as a peer in this life struggle… if you feel like there’s someone who really gets where you’re coming from, that’s way more powerful.”
Stanley, who currently also teaches classes in Durham, N.C., will embark on a yoga tour in select cities this fall with a fellow “curvaceous teacher.” There are also plans for a full-figured retreat next year.
“My big thing now is trying to be as accessible as I can to as many people as possible,” said Stanley. “I’ve always felt the yoga community is badly cloistered and it’s really important to me to make it clear that it’s for everyone.”