Jessamyn Stanley Says Loving Yourself Is a Full-Time Job

Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley

Note

This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.

By the time I got into yoga, I’d eaten my fill of diet culture’s bullshit. I was a textbook yo-yo dieter all through my undergrad years, but by the time I got into yoga, I’d pretty much given up on the endless rat race of weight loss. I was reading the works of Lesley Kinzel, Marianne Kirby, and Virgie Tovar, and I started trying to define body acceptance for myself.

Around the same time, I was accidentally living a healthy lifestyle. Every day I rode my bike up and down the hills between me and my grad school classes. I sort of paid attention to my diet, and by that, I mean I ate a lot of salads and tried to avoid fast food.

Within the first four years of my yoga practice, I gradually lost at least fifty pounds. My memory is left to guesstimations because I broke up with scales around the same time, and it’s been damn near a decade since I’ve weighed myself without a doctor present. My weight loss had everything to do with being too cash-strapped to afford groceries for more than a single meal each day.

Since quitting my restaurant job to focus on teaching yoga, the weight I lost in the early days of my practice has gradually crept back and multiplied. As I write you, I’m the fattest I’ve ever been in my life. But since I’ve always identified as Fat, even when I was a kid, the weight gain hasn’t felt like a big deal to me. If anything, it’s felt like a return to form, like shedding this weird thin skin I grew in my twenties and returning to who I was before I learned to hate myself. Being thinner never felt familiar to me. It always felt abnormal, like the greatest mask of all. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed that I was thinner. In my thinnest years, I distinctly recall thinking I looked then exactly as I do right now. But projecting my latent self-hatred on to other people? That’s familiar. That’s a tune I’ve been singing for far too long.

It turns out that no matter how much body positivity I ingest, I’m nothing but a fatphobic slut-shamer just like the rest of you. Why wouldn’t I be? Body negativity is basically an American value at this point. To love your body is to stand in direct opposition to capitalism. Plus, it’s really not that hard to love your curves when your body shape is cosigned by the fantasies of white cis masculinity. A love of my curves doesn’t make me any less plagued by fat phobia and self-hate. Accepting the curves that white supremacy cosigns does not equate to body liberation. It just means I’ve got more boxes that need to be deconstructed.

It’s not brave to live in your own skin, especially not when your body is the new average. And by this point, life as an unapologetic US 18 should be beyond the norm.

My body positivity has only ever extended as far as white supremacy will let it. It’s proof that capitalism has figured out how to monetize a commodified version of my Truth. Beneath adoration of my fat ass and thick thighs lies unresolved resentment toward the parts of my body I haven’t been granted permission to accept. When the demons come, I still find myself wrestling with my physical body.

It’s not brave to live in your own skin, especially not when your body is the new average. And by this point, life as an unapologetic US 18 should be beyond the norm. What’s hidden at the root of my professional success is an insidious belief that if a fat Black person can find a way to love themselves, then “regular people” must be capable of self-love. I think this is supposed to make me feel fulfilled and satisfied. I think I’m expected to find my life’s purpose in the idea that anyone would care enough about my yoga practice to catch it on film. Even if they’re only filming it with the same supremacist curiosity that stirs the audience at SeaWorld.

Beneath adoration of my fat ass and thick thighs lies unresolved resentment toward the parts of my body I haven’t been granted permission to accept.


The language of Fat is really what scares people. Everyone, we Fats included, have been trained to think Fat is a dirty word. When I call myself Fat in a room full of non-Fats, it’s like firing a shotgun. Once the smoky silence clears, non-Fats always leap to correct my language. 

"You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!" is their endless refrain. I shrug my shoulders, amused by the obvious awkwardness. I simply said I was fat. I never said I wasn’t beautiful, too.

Fat Blackness is only allowed in the mainstream when it’s controlled by whiteness. But what happens when my yoga stops making thin white people feel good about themselves? What happens when their mammy complexes are thrust into the spotlight?

What happens when my body positivity stops being about them and (finally) starts being about me? How long before they realize I’m the fat nigger they’ve been taught to fear? What happens when my body positivity disgusts them? What happens when my yoga disgusts them?

Common wisdom says we Fats should limit ourselves. It discourages us from trying new things, stepping out of boxes, or even accepting Fat identity as part of our Truth. There’s a cultural disease that wants us to believe our bodies do not belong to us and the white man’s body positivity ain’t enough to bridge the divide. There’s no solving Fat identity: only acceptance.

Excerpted from Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman Publishing) Copyright © 2021.

Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance
Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley $14
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