Jessamyn Stanley explains how the darkest point of her life led her to self-acceptance: ‘I just need to look inside myself’
It will is Yahoo Life’s body image series, which delves into the journeys of influential and inspirational figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Jessamyn Stanley has built an entire platform based on self-acceptance, becoming a person to whom others look to appreciate their bodies and to rebel against the many norms that society has placed on them. But the author of Yoke: my yoga of self-acceptance explains that it was her experience of being a marginalized figure that allowed her to become the influential voice she is in the wellness space today.
“I have often felt that being ignored and thrown out was one of the greatest virtues of my life, one of the greatest learning points, and I learned so much because I was bullied and left out because it means I’ve put my strength in find myself,” Stanley tells Yahoo Life. “I can’t look to anyone else to give me power. And that’s something I’ve felt from a very young age.”
A native of North Carolina, Stanley says she grew up in a predominantly white area where she always looked different from the people she was surrounded by, as well as from those celebrated in the mainstream media for their beauty.
“There was a time in my life where I thought, ‘I’m worthless. I don’t deserve to live,'” she recalled due to the lack of representation. “I went through a long phase in my adolescence where I was self-mutilating. I felt very horrible that I even existed as a human being. I thought I had to apologize for my existence.”
At that dark point in her life, Stanley only had the option of finding the light. And although she couldn’t find it from the outside, she was forced to turn inside.
“It’s only when you’re at your lowest level that you can really understand the power that’s already inside you,” she reveals. “Because from that place it was like I could die or just try to carry on. And like, I can’t look at anyone else to lean on. I just have to look inside myself.”
Ironically, when she began to create a space for herself where she chose to get rid of society’s norms and judgments, rather than her self-esteem; she simultaneously built a community of people who felt their experiences were validated in hers. This was greatly illustrated by her discovery and practice of yoga – a discipline largely whitewashed and seemingly reserved for thin people.
“When I started sharing my yoga practice on social media, I had been sharing my life for a long time, so sharing my yoga practice didn’t feel like a big deal to me,” she explains. “I noticed a lot of the responses I got from people were like, ‘I didn’t know fat people could do yoga.’ I was like, “Why do you think fat people can’t do yoga? Fat people do all kinds of things all the time. We obviously have a huge visibility problem.” And so I kept sharing my practice because I wanted to show that I’m not alone and that the world is bigger than what has been painted by the mainstream media.”
If you look at her social media now, where Stanley has over 471,000 followers on Instagram alone, it looks like she’s managed to provide representation for those who haven’t had it for so long. However, in her experience, she has learned that external representation is not the only path to acceptance.
“If you don’t see yourself, you think you need to be erased. Or you go out of your way to mimic what’s being shown,” she says. “The most revolutionary thing for me as an adult was to understand that I don’t have to look to the media for representation. I don’t have to look to the media for reflection or visibility. Mirror.”
It was only after these revelations that Stanley really discovered the root of the “self-loathing” and “self-doubt” she felt as a young girl. And while most people might label her work within the positive movement of the body, she characterizes her efforts as anything that dismantles bodily negativity.
“We as a society are training towards body negative. Capitalism has really relied on body negativity until now as a way to sell things. Because if you fundamentally believe there is a problem with your body, you will always be a consumer” , she says. explains. “So I think whether you call it body neutrality or body acceptance, any language feels good as long as we start moving away from body negativity and into something where it’s okay for people to accept themselves.”
And a big part of that acceptance, Stanley says, is resisting the noise from outside.
“My yoga of self-acceptance is that in the end I’m problematic, I’m complicated, I’m right at the root of so many different things and that’s messy and it doesn’t look pretty. And that doesn’t always mean having the right answer and that means often that you hurt other people. And that has to be good too. I have to accept that too,” she says. “It’s like saying this is all done on purpose and that’s why it’s OK. That kind of acceptance is radical, it’s political. It’s very much the reason to live.”