Yoga Star Jessamyn Stanley Discusses Body Positivity Through the Lens of Eunice Johnson's Ebony Fashion Fair at NCMA | Arts

Yoga Star Jessamyn Stanley Discusses Body Positivity Through the Lens of Eunice Johnson's Ebony Fashion Fair at NCMA

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Jessamyn Stanley at the North Carolina Museum of Art - PHOTO BY KIARA RUTH
  • photo by Kiara Ruth
  • Jessamyn Stanley at the North Carolina Museum of Art
On Friday, the North Carolina Museum of Art hosted Bespoke: Body Positivity with Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga teacher, body positivity advocate, and writer based in Durham. The discussion centered on Eunice Johnson’s progressive inclusion of all body sizes in the Ebony Fashion Fair—the subject of the Inspiring Beauty exhibit that closes January 21—and the idea of self-image. Stanley emphasized the overlapping concepts of self-image and body positivity.

The body positivity movement encourages people to adopt a forgiving and affirming attitude toward unique bodies. During the discussion, it was suggested that the stereotypes that exist in the yoga profession often stand in contrast to the principles of the body positivity movement. The stereotypes surrounding yoga suggest a certain body type, race, and culture: slender, white, heterosexual, and female.

But the uniqueness of Stanley’s body challenges and stretches the future of what yoga in the Triangle looks like. She acknowledged that her skin color, shape, and sexual preference disrupt the norms in the profession. As a result, a more diverse group of people is getting interested in yoga.

Personally, I feel the shift. As a #boymom and a married African-American woman, I often find myself as the only woman of color in yoga sessions—or, I find myself in a session with no white participants. Both experiences are consistent with the shift occurring in the perception of the black body.

Whether someone is experiencing a local class for the first time or choosing it as a daily practice, yoga has hit mainstream. This shift is a sign of inclusiveness. Doors are opening for different ethnicities, body sizes, and classes to experience their own yoga flow. Beyond the appearance of the instructor, visiting a yoga session forces you to evaluate how individuals view their own bodies in comparison to the perceived ideal image.

Stanley talked about how her mind used to revert to what the average yogi should look like. She built walls around herself that created body negativity, and how she dealt with this determined her ultimate reality. Body positivity isn’t about making a minority feel like a majority; it’s about letting that person know he or she is just as beautiful, regardless of shape, size, or color.

As the body positivity movement grows in the Triangle, it is important that we encourage people who struggle with low self-esteem, especially as it relates to race, body size, and gender. Yoga can be a vehicle to shatter stereotypes. Stanley concluded her commentary by promoting the idea of building relationships with people who have low body positivity and helping them realize their full potential. We must acknowledge the role that we play, and that yoga plays, in positivity, and how it affects us now and in years to come.


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