It seems we are finally getting to a point where society accepts that health and fitness definitions are not a one-size-fits-all set of specifications. It’s not uncommon to see debates and discussions on social media over whether a plus size woman is “healthy” or not according all the body police who base judgements on an image posted online.
The idea that celebrating your body no matter what it looks like can be incredibly offensive to some, who are so used to carrying on the work of entire industries such as marketing and advertising who have built an empire off the back of tearing women’s bodies down and forcing them to conform to a narrow standard to even feel acceptable.
With the explosion of social media, there has been a huge shift in the burgeoning of everyday voices speaking up and sharing more varied opinions about health and body image, challenging the status quo. It is important to continue having these conversations because it means the advertising, fashion, beauty and fitness industries are going to pay attention and take their cue from us.
Along with the rise of everyday voices comes everyday body image role models who are speaking up about the importance of self-love no matter what stage you are at in your body journey. You can’t hate yourself to success. Two women who are together blowing the internet’s collective mind are yoga teachers Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti. You may have seen images or videos of these women posted on a number of different sites, as they are disrupting ideals in a badass, yet zen-like manner.
In a video posted on the Cody Facebook page, Dana talks about how there is this false notion of a yogi looking a certain stereotypical way: thin and Caucasian. As she candidly shares her own story, we realize that her journey is such a common goal that many of us have been taught to chase.
“I had been chasing that concept of ‘I’m going to be happier when I’m smaller’ my entire life. And I know a lot of people are in that position, where they just feel like nothing else matters until they can lose weight,” she says, while we watch images of her in difficult yoga poses that defy what we think a plus size body is capable of doing.
After losing weight and realizing she was still unhappy, she came to the conclusion that chasing the external was irrelevant. When she started doing Yoga and realizing what her body was able to do, it became a “paradigm shift” for her in the sense that all the years she had been telling herself (as well as messages from the world, no doubt) that she couldn’t do something was a waste of time, and that in fact she is worthy.
Now she gets to share her story with the world (the video has 10 million views and counting!) and be the type of visual role model she always wished she had growing up.
“Just seeing someone who looks like you doing something you don’t think is possible can be the thing that sparks an entire journey toward a more positive lifestyle,” she said.
This is an important message which we need to hear more of. The idea that beauty, health and happiness is not just about the external is the key to finding acceptance. And Dana is not alone in her mission to break down myths and misconceptions about what a fuller-figured body is capable of.
One of the women she has teamed up with to teach yoga is Jessamyn Stanley. A queer women from North Carolina who goes by the moniker “Fat Femme”, Jessamyn is fighting against the skinny-girl yoga stereotype in order to spread a message of inclusivity.
She has a Youtube Channel where she regular posts instructional videos of her flow and uses them to also answer questions regarding body image. In an interview with The Cut, she shares the advice she gives to other plus size women who feel going to a yoga class will make other people stare at their body.
“We live in a society where we are trained to think that being overweight is wrong so people are going to stare at you. They’re going to have ideas about you. The only thing that you can control is your reaction to that. I think that the best way to really get comfortable in practice is to just start practicing at home. And to build that happiness that will be with you regardless of what studio you go to,” she said.
Ever since she became a certified teacher and started sharing images and videos of her classes, she began receiving messages from other plus size women asking her to come and teach them, which made her realize there is a huge need for more body variety in the yoga industry.
“Western yoga is so white. You don’t even recognize that you’re expecting to see someone who’s white until you see someone who’s not…Come to this class with whatever preconceived notions you have, because the whole point is to get rid of them. You’re going to be so surprised when you can get much more out of life than those stereotypes give you,” she said.
Jessamyn says there is a rise in “fat” yoga studios, where people can go and not feel judged for being a certain size, but she has mixed feelings about the existence of these places.
“I think it is so much more important for us to focus on equality. With yoga, there shouldn’t be a reason we need to separate. However, we do live in a size-focused society. If you’re a larger-bodied person, I completely understand how beautifully comforting it must be to go into a studio and have people who are not going to look at you weird…it adds to the community of people thinking that you’re either one way or the other, as opposed to thinking that we’re all the same way. Until that kind of discrimination stops I don’t see any way to get beyond this point,” she explained.
In a video interview with Glamour magazine, Jessamyn talks more about the negativity toward body image we as a society still have to overcome, while showing off the incredible power and capability of her body in certain yoga positions. When it comes to focusing on the external when judging a person’s health, it does make a difference to see women like Dana and Jessamyn putting stereotypes to rest.
But both of their messages about acceptance and understanding how much more important the internal is, will go much further to create the positivity, and self-acceptance that is still lacking in a lot of media messages aimed at women’s bodies. Dana and Jessamyn are only two plus size yoga teachers, there are many others who are changing the way we typically think of health and fitness. We hope that if nothing else, these women will challenge society and widen the discussion over body image.