In a world of size-two, blonde-haired yogis, there’s Jessamyn Stanley: a full-figured Black woman with natural hair who’s not just a yoga instructor but a gamechanger.
Stanley began practicing yoga in 2011 when her friends encouraged her to purchase a month-long, unlimited Bikram yoga pass on Groupon. “I was intrigued by how self-satisfying the practice could be,” she says. “Unlike other physical activities, yoga awakened my spiritual curiosity, even when I was pressed against the boundary of physical exhaustion.”
While her practice began as a personal journey, her social presence began to grow as other full-figured Black women began to identify with her. With over 350,000 people now following her, Stanley has become an inspiration because of her honest posts about her yoga journey and techniques. Still, she argues that she’s not an anomaly, despite the fact that she’s surrounded by health magazines and blogs that rarely show diverse women in yoga stories.
“If we lived in a world that did not denigrate Black female bodies — and specifically fat Black bodies — then I doubt that anyone would’ve ever paid attention to anything that I’ve put on the internet,” she says. “A lot of people are like, ‘Wow, this will make so many people of color practice yoga,’ but I’m like, ‘Black people and people of color are already practicing yoga!’ It’s really just being more representative of what’s already there.”
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.