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Fat, Black, and Teaching Yoga
Journalist Danielle Friedman explains why you should follow entrepreneur and body acceptance advocate Jessamyn Stanley.
Here’s the fourth and final segment from Friday’s episode with Danielle Friedman, the author of Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World.
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ERIC: We have time for one more follow today. Danielle, I asked you for someone who makes the internet a better place and you said Jessamyn Stanley who is on Instagram and TikTok @mynameisjessamyn. She's also on Twitter @JessamynStan and on YouTube @JessamynStanley
You mentioned her earlier in the conversation, when you were talking about online fitness pioneers, but she's yet another extremely multi-talented person. She's an entrepreneur. She's an advocate. She's an author. She's the host of an advice podcast called Dear Jessamyn. And she's the founder of a virtual yoga studio called The Underbelly Yoga.
The floor is yours: Where do you want to start with her?
DANIELLE: Well, it's funny, this theme keeps coming up. As I was thinking about who I follow and why I follow them, everyone I currently choose to follow is somebody who I'm slightly obsessed with, and love and admire, which is probably my attempt to create this lovely little bubble, like I mentioned at the beginning, a sort of supportive community.
I interviewed Jessamyn for my book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I think she is doing really important work. I nominated Jessamyn for this category because I believe that she really is making the world a better place. Well, that was actually an interesting slip there — the internet a better place, and therefore, the world is a better place through her account.
I interviewed Jessamyn for my book and profiled her. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, I think social media can be so toxic when it comes to fitness and body image and the kind of images that we see. She is leading a charge to change and to expand the images that we're confronted with, of what fitness can mean.
She's also inspired many others to post photos of themselves and buck this really deeply ingrained notion of what a fit body has to look like. Jessamyn describes herself as fat. She's a woman of color. She's also queer.
For so much of women's fitness history, which I really saw firsthand through my research, the type of body that was portrayed as aspirational was a thin, white body. It was sort of just accepted that that's what we should be striving for. Her own story of how she started posting, and the community that she found on Instagram, is really interesting and pretty inspiring.
She first came to yoga through a favorite aunt that took her to class. She was going to in-person classes. And then she reached a point where she couldn't really afford to go to the studio anymore. So she started practicing at home and she posted photos of herself on Instagram, to get some tips on how to improve her poses and her form.
She talks about how people would respond and say, "Wow, I didn't know if that person could do yoga." And she would be like, "Yeah, we can do all kinds of things." And she found a really lovely community that way.
She's talked about how practicing at home has given her the freedom to feel like she can fall down, and not feel self-conscious about it. So I really love what she's doing and I think she's helping to usher in the shift that I mentioned in terms of how we think about fitness.
ERIC: I mentioned that she runs a virtual yoga studio, The Underbelly. I don't know if you do yoga, but something that I've found when I go to in-person classes is that the instructor can have a huge impact on how you feel about the class... The instructor is such an important role in the class.
Is she intentionally trying to be different in her instruction or is it more the representation of Black and fat body types, is the more important than the fact that, hey, all bodies are welcome in this class?
DANIELLE: I think that is extremely important but it's all interconnected. She's doing it all. She makes a really conscious effort in her teaching to create that welcoming environment.
I loved this detail about her. She has a tattoo on one of her arms which is the English translation of the state motto for North Carolina, where she lives. It's "To be, rather than to seem."
[Another one of Jessamyn’s tattoos, above, reads “You have to learn to bend so you don’t break”]
When you think about what that means when we're talking about fitness and why we work on our bodies, I think that's really meaningful. She also is really quick to point out that she doesn't consider herself a guru. She even has a hard time embracing the fact that she's a teacher, because she feels like a perpetual student.
I just think that kind of humility and approach can have such a positive impact on how accessible she seems to students. She's very mindful of how she's practicing and how she's using her influencer status.
ERIC: Absolutely. You already talked about how Jessamyn is making the internet a better place. But what is something that the rest of us can learn from her example? How can we make the internet a better place in the same way that she does?
DANIELLE: Well, this might be kind of basic, but I think we can look to the completely unfiltered view of herself that she shares and the way that she's been celebrated for it. I think it can be really scary to make ourselves vulnerable in that way and share, literally and figuratively, unfiltered photos of ourselves.
But I think for women especially, there's such a need to hyper-curate our feeds and the views of our life that we share with the world. This also goes back to what we were saying about Katie Sturino and mental health. I think that there's a lot of value in honesty, and showing our lives as they are.
ERIC: Very well said. Well, that was Jessamyn Stanley who is on Instagram and TikTok @mynameisjessamyn. She's also on Twitter @JessamynStan and on YouTube @JessamynStanley.