Chasi Jernigan looked at the Lane Bryant dress she’d wear at Easter. Only 14-years-old and always the largest person in her class, size could be an unsavory subject.
“I didn’t have the privilege to shop in [the juniors] section,” said Jernigan, a faith, fashion and fitness influencer known for her blog, Sweat In Mascara.
Unlearning harmful rhetoric in beauty-culture is part of Jernigan’s story, and one she shares with women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Her words, given to followers through bite-sized Instagram captions, is a bit of patchwork quilt: a blend of her upbringing, unlearning and relearning.
Jernigan was born to an economically marginalized, single mother and a family of thrifty women who were always well-dressed. Her love of fashion comes from them, and her love of community from the village that raised her.
“I am a reflection of the Boys and Girls Club, United Way and local churches that had different Sunday school programs,” Jernigan said. “But the way I give back is pushing women to love themselves, encouraging women to love themselves beyond their size, and teaching fitness classes that are affordable.”
Jernigan has a soft-spot for leading low or no-cost fitness classes. She teaches a special weeknight class at a studio in Tupelo for women who can’t pay ‘thirty-five dollars a class.’ More recently, she agreed to release short videos for Joyn, a “body-neutral,” free fitness platform owned by Nike. Fitness classes are no longer about weight loss to Jernigan. They’re about joyful movement, about loving yourself where you’re at.
Seven years ago, Jernigan would tell a different story. She dieted and exercised relentlessly, resulting in a 130 pound weight loss – a milestone she hoped would mean more to her self-esteem.
“I thought that losing weight would fix it, but it didn’t,” Jernigan said.
She pivoted. Wondering what fitness could look like if it were focused on community instead, she found herself ripping up the carpet from the floor of her husband’s church.
“On Tuesday and Thursday, it was a dance studio. On Wednesday and Sunday, it was a church,” Jernigan said.
What amazed Jernigan most were the hearts of class attendees. Women would ask for everything from prayer to styling tips. She live streamed a few classes, and a year later, in 2016, Sweat In Mascara went live.
Jernigan’s aptitude for empowering others has bloomed through blogging. Now, her community is everyone, anywhere, globally. It’s taken her to New York Fashion Week and into the inboxes of women looking for affirmation. It’s also allowed her to connect with Black women, especially those embracing natural hair texture like she does.
“Black hair has been oppressed for years. My mom was saying back in the ‘60s, they all wore afros, but in order to get a job, you had to make your hair flat,” Jernigan said. “[Getting locs] was the best decision ever, and now I am sending a message to women of color that locs are professional, black hair is professional, and that you don’t have to do something that’s unnatural.”
Just as Jernigan works to reframe the stigma against natural hair, she also speaks out against fat-phobia, and the cultural ideas we hold against plus-size bodies (think: dirty, lazy). As a ‘neat-freak’ who pedals three times a week at 5 a.m., Jernigan believes these stigmas are perpetuated by how plus-size bodies are represented in media.
“Plus-size women deserve love,” Jernigan said. “I’ve been married for 16 years, and my husband married me when I was over 300 pounds. So many plus-sized women are desirable. They make great wives. They make great moms. They make great instructors, great stylists. They’re successful.”
When Jernigan isn’t developing content for followers or reminding women that the scale is ‘the least interesting” thing about them, she’s sporting Lane Bryant. This time, though, she isn’t shopping in the women’s section as a teenager or finding an item or clearance. She’s fielding questions from their marketing team, who sought her out to represent their merchandise.
“It’s really an authentic and genuine collaboration, because these brands, they dressed me as a kid,” Jernigan said.