The WANT Women: Jessamyn Stanley On Being Worthy From Top To Bottom

The WANT Women: Jessamyn Stanley On Being Worthy From Top To Bottom

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“Negative talk shows up in my life in the typical places – it’s at lunch with my college girlfriends, and in the locker room of the gym. It’s at work, with my coworkers. But you know where it isn’t? At my house, in my bedroom, in my heart, or on my yoga mat. And that’s all that matters.”

That’s when I knew for sure I’d fallen in Insta-love with Jessamyn Stanley.

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Western “yoga culture” elicits strong opinions and feelings from practitioners, teachers, and pop culture mavens who see it plastered on billboards and capitalized on in commercials as well as headlining summer tours and vacation retreats. Becoming a yoga teacher is now considered a lucrative and fulfilling career (as it should be!), and folks are now foregoing happy hour in order to get their flow on. Hippie-dippie festival gear is headlining the aisles at Target. Mats and mantras are being sold in the same strip malls as 7-Elevens.

And that’s not a bad thing. The more people who are open to yoga – whether it be a regular asana practice or simply a yogic lifestyle – the better. Like the food you choose to eat, yoga is a fluid concept that can be tailored to each individual’s life and lifestyle. And just like healthy eating is trending right now, so is yoga – and that inherently exposes more and more people to an aspect of life that isn’t just good for YOU, it’s good for the world AROUND you. We’re all just bouncing off each other’s energy waves, after all.

The problem with yoga as a pop culture phenomenon isn’t the yoga itself…it’s the generalizations and assumptions surrounding it. It used to be that yoga was just for the crunchy-granola set of the population. Not the case any more. It can sometimes seem like yoga is just about the gymnast poses and aerial acrobatics.

But the biggest problem and biggest yoga myth that’s out there? That yoga is just for one body type.

People like Jessamyn are the solution.

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As a yoga teacher, body positive advocate, writer, and all-around incredible human being, Jessamyn is all about yoga equality; about the fact that all yoga is accessible whether you’re a size 2 or size 22.

The majority of yoga photos we see – mostly of “advanced” poses – while aspirational, aren’t necessarily portrayed as accessible. The lack of diversity in yoga pop culture can be harrowing, making those who don’t fit into the stereotype believe by default that they’re unable to practice in a certain way, or lift themselves into picturesque poses without their curves or “girls” getting in the way (I know. I’ve been there). Jessamyn argues that yoga is not about being heavyset or rail thin, it’s about owning your body and getting to know yourself through that full range of self-expressed movement, whatever that looks like for you.

I was instantly drawn to Jessamyn for her honesty, humor, and wisdom. In general, yes (she’s one of those women you feel you know really well just by reading what they have to say, you know?) – but particularly on the subject of body image and self image. I’ve felt my own insecurities in my journey with yoga, thinking I “should” look a certain way in order to be able to practice at a certain “level.” Yet I soon learned it’s not about looking a certain way or being at a certain level. Levels + looks are fallacies. When it comes to TRUE yoga, your practice + purpose are what's real. Click To Tweet

Her blog and now-famous Instagram account (104K followers and counting, go girl!) feel like a belly laugh, breath of fresh air, sigh of relief, and kick in the pants all at once. Because Jessamyn speaks of observations, issues, experiences with such candor and grace. She’ll be cracking you up one second then reach a little crevice in your heart the very next. Jessamyn is not about perfection – she is about progress. Jessamyn isn’t about extremes – she’s about the journey. Jessamyn isn’t about unreachable – she is about what is fully attainable, as long as you reach out and try. It’s beyond an honor to be hosting this beauty on here today.

WANT Jessamyn.
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Name: Jessamyn Stanley


How you’d know me: I’m a body positive yoga Teacher, Writer, Activist


What I love about myself (and why): I love my commitment to personal authenticity at all costs- that I actively strive to be myself at all times.


How/where negative talk shows up in my life: Negative talk shows up in my life in the typical places – it’s at lunch with my college girlfriends, and in the locker room of the gym. It’s at work, with my coworkers. But you know where it isn’t? At my house, in my bedroom, in my heart, or on my yoga mat. And that’s all that matters.


When I talk negatively about myself, it’s usually… when I’m disappointed in myself and my ego’s gotten in the way.


When others talk negatively about themselves… I am dismayed by the fact that our language can seep into each other’s lives simply by talking negatively about ourselves.


It baffles me that women still… can’t accept the role they play in the continuation of rape control by condoning slut shaming.


I wish that more women… recognized all parts of themselves as beautiful and worthy, from top to bottom.

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My top female role models: I am a big fan of many female athletes- I love Amanda Bingson and Serena Williams. I also love Beth Ditto and I’m constantly inspired by Kathryn Budig.


Men can help women crush their negative talk patterns by… being more open with themselves about their actual desires. I mean, if more men just admitted that they love to have sex with chubby women, imagine how they could boost overall female morale!


Favorite negativity-busting activity: You’re probably thinking “um, OBVIOUSLY SHE’D SAY THAT” but whatever- YOGA. YOGA. YOGA. It is the universe’s medicine.

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Fave self-love ritual: a DIY pedicure and full body scrub can work wonders for my mental health.


Favorite feel-good foods: Dried fruits, Coconut Water, Tater Tots


Favorite movies to watch when I’m feeling down: Love, Actually, Adventures in Babysitting, Shortbus


My feel-good playlist: It’s basically just Rachmaninoff symphonies with a few Kendrick Lamar songs thrown in.


Advice I would give my
…4 year old self: “Enjoy nap time. Just try to fucking appreciate it.”
…14 year-old self: “Yes, this is as good as it will ever get with boys.”
…24 year old self: “Don’t be defined by your relationships with other people. Define yourself by your own goals and dreams.”


5 Things, personal or professional, on my bucket list:
1. Learn to surf
2. See the northern lights.
3. Write my memoir.
4. Find out my genealogy and travel to the part of Africa where my family most likely originated.
5. Visit a Japanese cat café.

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My best tip on self love: Stop using other people’s opinions to define yourself. Figure out who you are and make peace with it.


Right now, I am most excited about… my fall yoga teaching schedule, because I will get to visit so many different places and meet so many different students and feel our internet borne yoga tribe bloom into a true mobile network.


My body is: a monster of epic proportions.


Three words to describe me: Curious, Relentless, Free


Current mantra: “Esse Quam Videri”- To Be Rather, Than To Seem

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Photos courtesy of @mynameisjessamyn
Cover photo credit Allie Mullin

Catch Jessamyn on her East Coast tour this Summer and Fall! Check out tour dates here – you don’t wanna miss this. Trust me.


 

 

The WANT Women: Gigi Yogini On Self Respect, Dress Size, and Being Unstoppable

The WANT Women: Gigi Yogini On Self Respect, Dress Size, and Being Unstoppable

Body WANT Women

You deserve to be loved – and the best time to start is now. -@gigiyogini Click To Tweet

Yoga culture: let’s go there. Sure, yoga is a phenomenal way to get back in touch with your body or cultivate self love that lasts. Rolling out your mat, whether at home or in your favorite studio, can be like a homecoming. Emphasis on can.

I’ve been practicing yoga for over a decade, and in the last couple of years , I’ve watched it morph from a perceivably hippie-dippie ritual to a full-blown pop culture trend. And let me be clear – that is not an inherently bad thing. Yoga for all, I say! The more yogi-minded folks in this world, the better.

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However. Just like with other fitness classes and healthy food catchphrases, yoga has become a form of social clout, a way to prove a point or achieve Insta-star status. No truly honest conversation about yoga is complete without addressing the elephant in the room – the plethora of picture-perfect poses on social media and “power”-driven classes that can do more to intimidate than inspire. I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I’ll write about it again: if an “advanced practice” is all about the external display, it not only diminishes the real power of yoga – the internal work – but it can activate those negative voices in your head that say things like “You can’t do that class. You’re not strong enough. Fit enough. You don’t have a yoga body.”

Brigitte Kouba, better known as Gigi Yogini, is working to change all that.

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As one of yoga’s biggest body image advocates and body-positive pioneers, Gigi inspires people (especially women!) of every age, shape, size, and look to love their bodies exactly as they are.

Gigi is the woman behind YOGAudacious, a blog that diversifies the faces of yoga and shows what courage looks like from the inside out, as well as a co-founder the Yoga Body Image Coalition, an action-oriented community advocating the Body Positive cause. No body shaming or stereotype-filling allowed: she’s determined to create safe spaces for all body types and backgrounds to be their most courageous selves. Just try this video on for size:

All that bod-pos talk isn’t just lip service, either – she practices what she preaches, and infuses everything she does (from producing the video above to her writing on sites like MindBodyGreen and Elephant Journal) with a little more compassion and encouragement than it would normally have. Thankfully for us, Gigi’s in the process of building out her Secret Studio in Los Angeles, a safe haven she’s kept hush-hush for over three years (ps. it’s not so secret anymore). She’s now bringing other all-inclusive teachers and workshop leaders into the mix and keeping it by women, for women. You read that right: finally, a yoga studio that feeds our hunger for supportive, powerful female connection.

Gigi is a breath of fresh ocean air in the midst of mixed messages telling us what a “yoga body” should look like. She is badass. She is a force. She is making the yoga world a kinder place – and is the epitome of a WANT Woman, on and off the mat.

WANT Gigi.

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Name: Brigitte Kouba


How you’d know me (occupation or role): I’m a yoga teacher, better known as Gigi Yogini, who shares lots of posts, articles and videos about body positivity.


What I love about myself (and why): I love the fact that my imagination is wild and I have the audacity to chase my dreams…no matter how crazy they may seem.


What is your definition of “positivity?” Finding a way to weave gratitude into everything.


When did you start to love yourself – did you have a self-love “turning point?” I’ve had reoccurring awakenings all the time. Sometimes I get into a rut and then do something good for myself (like yoga, dance or take a bubble bath) and think to myself, “Oh yeah. This is what it feels like to love myself.”


How/where negative talk shows up in my life: Negative talk creeps into my life on the shoulders of regret and the underbelly of expectations.


When I talk negatively about myself, it’s usually…a result of following fear down a rabbit hole.


When others talk negatively about themselves…I realize how natural it is for all of us to speak unkindly about ourselves.


It baffles me that women still…try to fit into a narrow stereotype of beauty. I’ve found that self-respect and confidence are by far the most attractive qualities a woman can posses, regardless of dress size.


I wish that more women…could embrace what makes them unique and support each other rather than compete.
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The coolest thing about women is…our ability to manifest the miracle of life within our bodies. Even if women never have a child, they still have a magical power to manifest miracles in life.


My favorite way to shift a negative into a positive: is to stop, breathe deeply and repeat an affirmation.


My top female role models: First and foremost, my mom, Patricia Kouba, is a great role model. Also Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, Tyra Banks, Ellen Degeneres, Amy Purdy, and Kia Miller. Historically, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Lucille Ball, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Susan B. Anthony, and Mother Teresa. I’m also inspired by any woman who has given birth, survived breast cancer, gotten out of an abusive relationship or cared for an aging parent or sick child. Every woman has the potential for being a positive role model. -@gigiyogini Click To Tweet


Men can help women crush their negative talk patterns by…complimenting women on non-physical qualities like intelligence, courage, strength, compassion, etc.


Favorite negativity-busting activity: spending quality time, laughing and goofing off with loved ones.


Fave self-love ritual: bubble bath with candles.


Favorite feel-good food(s): I always feel good when I eat quinoa and veggies. I also love banana or sliced apple with almond butter. Plus I adore dark chocolate because just a little is enough.


Favorite movie(s) to watch when I’m feeling down: Comedies or uplifting documentaries.


Favorite empowering book(s):
Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Yogananda
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Cure – Dr. Timothy Brantley
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
Way of the Peaceful Warrior – Dan Millman


My feel-good playlist: includes anything that makes me want to move…because moving feels good!

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Advice I would give my…
…4 year old self: play more
…14 year-old self: breathe more
…24 year old self: dream more


5 Things, personal or professional, on my bucket list:
Raise a healthy family with my soon-to-be husband, Antonio Neves.
Build a Habitat for Humanity home.
Go on a silent retreat.
Bike across New Zealand.
Quit my coffee addiction.


My best tip on self love: You deserve to be loved – and the best time to start is now.


When I truly love all of myself…I am unstoppable.


Right now, I am most excited about…marrying the love of my life this summer.


My body is: brilliant and I am so grateful for all it does.


Three words to describe me: Curious, Compassionate, Authentic


Current mantra: I am grateful for all the growth opportunities in my life. I am Divinely guided and protected. I trust all things are happening for the greatest good of all.

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WANT Yourself:
In the comments, tell us what part of Gigi’s words of wisdom struck a chord with you (there were a lot of good ones!). What’s one thing you can do to show yourself love today?

Photo credit: Corinna Lander



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The Cover Up.

The Cover Up.

Body Community Motivation + Inspiration Shift Of Power Work

SHE SITS there staring, at what it doesn’t matter. A loose top by her side, you wonder why she doesn’t throw it on, she seems so cold. Her hands look placed and her head seems positioned.

He walks with his friends, laughing a little bit louder than the rest, his stride just the teeniest bit longer.

Look in the car next to you, quick glance, you see this porcelain doll of perfection in the righthand lane. And you see her hair and her tan and her manicured nails and brows and you honk to tease her. Because why not? There’s a pretty little thing next to you and grabs your heart but simple instinct protects you and tells you to egg her on a little, cause man is it fun! Grab her attention. And then she doesn’t look back and you keep going and she turns on the red light and by that time it’s too late to take back your advances because you didn’t notice before but she is crying.

This job leaves me in tears, this town is stale, this relationship is a one-sided fallacy. I’m not that fine today, how are you?

Covering up fear, covering up our desires, covering up our bodies and our truths with the show of the cool-calm-collected person we feel is the person to be. This is what it means to be the best.

~

There is a conversation not going on in the fitness and wellness community, a conversation I am afraid to start but want to start anyway. Being in the spotlight, calling cues, all mic’d up, we are front and centre and it’s an easy cover. The bigger the platform the easier it is to convince we’re cool-calm-collected. There is this pressure to look like the ideal picture of fitness and it makes me sick to my stomach. Breakdowns over our bodies. Comparing to our colleagues. Equating our value as professionals with the way we look and the fancy words we use. Yes. This is happening.

If we are “experts,” then shouldn’t we be the ideal? This is a sales job. We are selling what you could look like. Act like. Be like. We are selling you the picture of health. I get it. I get that we must “look the part.” As professionals, it is our job to portray the image of health and wellness.

I don’t have a problem with that at all. What I DO have a problem with is the myopic view of what this means. What I DO have a problem with is seeing other professionals and thinking you are less proficient than them because your waist is not as small or triceps aren’t visible through your long sleeves. Fit does not equal being “cut” or having an athlete’s body fat percentage, or the amount you choose to work out per day, or how much you just can’t get enough of lunges.

There are breakdowns. And comparisons. And a class count drops or a client drifts away and you think “I don’t look like so-and-so; I must not be the picture of fitness.” And similarly – the pressure we put on ourselves to maintain a certain aesthetic is absolutely nuts.

I am made like a woman. Jealousy is an ugly trait, but I am sometimes jealous I was not gifted my mother’s beautiful body type. Straighter and narrow and easy to define. I am a crooked sentence; I am a convoluted question mark. I am athletic yet you don’t see it everywhere. I have a chest that doesn’t accept more than 3/4 of the sports bras that are on the market. No matter what I do there will always be a tiny little bit of softness underneath my belly button and teeny dimpled valleys in my thighs.

I used to dread my morning classes because they meant I was still soft from a night of maybe a few drinks, or a late dinner still sitting in my stomach, or a bit of salt that still lingered in my heavy eyes and poofy body. I would dread these classes and I felt so guilty: here I was; I was supposed to be the professional. And when my body started to change from a wide-eyed lonely 19 year old with disordered eating tendencies into a healthier sassy post-college chick who would walk down Abbot Kinney in a sports bra and short-shorts into a strong woman with hips and thighs and curves and arms twice the size of her once wispy limbs I did not know what to do with myself. My professional self was becoming stronger and stronger, why did my physique not reflect that hard work?

Apparently, I do not have a “body type.” Because as it is dictated, I do not fit into any of the categories defined. I am curvy but not “hourglass.” I have a small back and long torso, and short muscular legs but am not “pear shaped.” When it comes to building muscle in my arms I DID get my mother’s genetics with that one (thanks Amy!), but in my darker moments they seem horribly misplaced on my narrow back.

And you know what?

I am no less good at my work because of it.

I love running; I love yoga. But I am too curvy to look like a runner and too obtuse to look like a yogi. Or so Runner’s World and Yoga Journal and the run clubs on Sunset Blvd say. There is a “look” associated with these (and other) activities. Which strikes me as odd, since these are apparently activities anyone can do. 

So why is there this “Favorites” game that goes on in the fitness world, when we as leaders are supposed to be the ones that celebrate every shape and size and version of what strength can look like?

For these reasons and more, I refuse to write any piece that states “To look like This, do That.” Absolutely refuse. I feel a personal and professional responsibility to cancel this kind of work out of my editorial repertoire. Because every body is different and if I tell you what-to-do-to-look-like-that you will definitely-100%-NOT-look-like-that.

Let me tell you a little story. I have had the That. Those slim hips, those washboard abs. Could I do anything I can do now? A headstand in the middle of the room? 20 push-ups? A mother-effin’ proper plank? Ah-Nope. The “That” was the little 22 year old Katie who prided herself on being the image of fitness in her “group;” the one who was the example, the one who had her shit together. In their eyes, I was the queen of fitness and wellness. It was my happy place and my area of expertise. In reality, I was feeling so very alone on the inside, so much less talented than my prodigious musician friends, and my external show of “expertise” made me feel…well, it made me feel special. Really good at something.

Welp, I am a lot older now, and I don’t have that kind of physical definition any more. I just don’t. And a few years ago, when that physical shift started to happen – my first thought when seeing an old friend would be, “I hope they don’t think — wow — Katie’s become average.”

This is really, really messed up.

AND I WISH I COULD SAY I WAS A UNIQUE CASE, BUT I SEE THIS KIND OF FEAR ALL THE TIME.

I am not against having a ripped body, or physical goals. Really. I am not.

What I have a big problem with is using your external self to validate what a good. job. you are doing.

It’s so important for us to feel ourselves inside our bodies. It’s so important to not be able to do everything all of the time. It is so important to be in a room and know we are not the best nor worst but that we just Are. This is important for everyone – but for us, as leaders, it is absolutely vital.

Every time we get up in front of a class we have a choice: to cover up and feed the beast or strip down and take a baseball-bat swing to the mold. I say we choose to swing. I say we connect.

I am on a mission now, and it’s to feel my best in my core – no, not meaning in my abs or glutes – in my SOUL. And that is my mission in my classes, is to get others to tap into their unique power from the inside and not give a crap about what we’re gonna make their bodies Look like.

If I ever once tell anyone what their body will look like from taking a class of mine, please slap me. If I EVER tell anyone that a certain exercise will give you those “long lean legs you’ve always wanted” PLEASE call me out.

Because that girl in the corner who’s all torso, I will have not only just given her false hope, but I will have basically just said to her, “your body is not a success.”

Because that guy who feels less “macho” because he is 5’5 and has what’s been called “chicken legs” his entire life should not have to drive himself insane pumping up his biceps to prove he is strong and commanding.

Your body is a success right now, at this moment, exactly as it is. Your hard work will not manifest itself like anyone else’s. Forget about the external. It’s what we must say and what we must believe in ourselves. It is the example we must set.

What I am hoping happens in our community…is…I hope we become okay with not looking and sounding like something out of an anatomy book. I hope we become okay with admitting our struggles, both internal and external, with our classes and instead of covering them up with the muscular striation and spray-tanned biceps and stoic language we think are so indicative, we come clean and say, “I am just like you, so let’s go through this together.”

Be okay with opening yourself. Be okay with it all. I struggle too. I am scared, just like you. My insides are in hysterics, curled into a ball on the cold bathroom floor. The only difference between us? I am the one who has been unimaginably blessed with the opportunity, education, insight, and bravery to hold your hand and say, let’s walk through this together.

Bravery. Our job is to be brave. For ourselves, for others. Nothing more.

The body will follow.