‘Fat femme’ yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley on her life outside social media

Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley of Durham.
Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley of Durham.

Jessamyn Stanley, who lives in Durham but has made a name for herself nationwide as a body positive yoga instructor, gets asked when she’s going to move to a major city like New York.

“Why would I want to move to New York?” she said. It’s expensive, she said. Plus, “I’m a Southerner.”

Stanley grew up in Winston-Salem and moved to Durham in 2012. She describes herself on social media as a “yoga enthusiast and fat femme” and has hundreds of thousands of followers from all over. But her friends are here, too, so that’s where she’s staying.

“The more that I travel, the more I love the state,” she said.

She spoke with The Herald-Sun this month at Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham after returning from a book tour for “Every Body Yoga” (Workman Publishing, $16.95). She has an office nearby. Stanley teaches at Durham Yoga Company but isn’t currently on the schedule because of the book tour.

“I’m sure I’ll teach by the end of the summer,” she said. Once fall arrives, she’ll be busy again with new ventures. Stanley said she’s in the process of starting a nonprofit of pay-what-you-can yoga classes worldwide. That’s all the information she divuldged, referring to her website — — for when it launches.

The ‘fat’ instructor

Stanley, 30, said people who come in for yoga classes don’t necessarily know that she’s the “fat” yoga instructor.

“There’s still this implicit bias, the same my whole life,” she said. “Oh, people are disrespectful of fat black people? Same s---, different situation.”

Stanley’s editor at Workman Publishing in New York contacted her after reading an essay by Stanley about the notion of what a yoga instructor looks like.

“Jess has such a strong voice,” said Maisie Tivnan, her book editor. When she contacted Stanley about the idea for a book, Stanley told her she was already working on a proposal.

“She’s funny and so smart. That’s like catnip to an editor,” Tivnan said, especially since “Every Body Yoga” is a merger of a classic how-to book and “incredibly vibrant, incredibly personal memoir. You don’t often see those two things together,” Tivnan said, outside of food writing.

Stanley said her tour was an amazing experience and overwhelmingly emotional, too.

Social media impact

“Every signing went on way longer than anticipated. Every person wants to tell me their life story,” she said. While Stanley enjoyed meeting her fans, the problem with social media is perceived intimacy, she said. “People think they can say whatever they want to me.”

Stanley has 325,000 followers on her Instagram account and 118,000 followers on Facebook. She has been part of multiple advertising campaigns, including television and print ads for Kotex. Stanley said she doesn’t usually respond to comments on her social media accounts because she needs to spend time on her own life, too.


A post shared by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) on

“Because I talk about things that are more intimate, that makes people think they know me, and they don’t,” she said. “It’s really easy in this digital world to be way caught up in s--- they don’t need to be. Why aren’t you engaged in your own life?”

Stanley said that the numbers of followers people have on social media can be wrapped up in how they see themselves. That’s why when she posts something, she posts because she wants to, not because she’s immediately going to check how many “likes” it gets.

“We are so much more than our avatar or an @ handle,” Stanley said. Social media is a great way to document yoga and life in general, she said, but life is “more than just the ’gram.”

The rest of her summer in Durham includes visits to her parents, a Durham Bulls game, the Eno River and “doing the things that make this state amazing.”

Once fall arrives, her travel schedule will pick up again, and Stanley has plans for a second book and podcast. The working title for both is “Don’t Call Me a F---ing Yogi.” Yogi is a culturally appropriated term, she said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan