Photography by Christine Hewitt
She’s not what you expect to see on the cover of a fitness and lifestyle magazine. In today’s world, heavy black women fall far on the spectrum of cover models. I did an Internet search using the phrase, “women in fitness,” and of the 160 images that came up (that’s where I stopped counting), two were black. Two! That is a gross misrepresentation of a nation with over 14.5% people of colour! The vast majority of the female models (that is, 98%) were ultra slim or muscle-bound, long-haired, and white.
Now, do another search using the phrase “women doing yoga.” Of 100 models, 11 were black. Keep scrolling, and you’ll find that one woman, in particular, shows up more often than any other: Jessamyn Stanley. If you don’t recognize the name, you can’t miss the face (or the body). She’s the only overweight black gal with a super-short do, striking some of the most advanced yoga poses on the market. Once she’s on your radar, you can’t miss her. She’s everywhere. Full Splits, Wheel, King Pigeon, Forearm Balance, Dancer Pose, Crow, Bound Triangle, and Camel: you name it, she does it. And she makes no bones about flaunting it. Almost exclusively every picture shows Stanley in a bathing suit or bikini, sports bra and tights, short shorts, and often enough—her birthday suit. Even more striking than a big, black bikini-clad body in an impossibly contorted posture, though, is the 1,000-watt smile that goes with it.
Stanley opened her Instagram account well before social media was the epic entity that it is today. Hardly anyone was posting at that time, and her intention was to be part of a community. She wanted feedback on her asana practice, and most of the yogis then were instructors and hard-core practitioners committed to a home practice. Without the studio vibe, the path can be a lonely one at times, so Stanley reached out. That was over five years ago. Now she is in high demand. With over 342,800 followers on Instagram alone; a book on the list of top sellers; a publicist; and a roster of events under her belt, including the Hawaii Yoga Festival; a guest appearance at the Indonesian embassy; New York conferences; and video shoots in LA, I’m not alone in deciding that Jessamyn’s got something worth wanting. But what is it? To read more about Jessamyn and her radical self-love, find us on iTunes.