By Jenny Gaither
I’ve never considered myself athletic. Which makes my story about being a long-time SoulCycle instructor and Founder/CEO of Movemeant Foundation — a non-profit that empowers young women to feel confident about their bodies through fitness — particularly ironic.
As a kid, you couldn’t catch me kicking or throwing a ball. My hand-eye coordination is bad at best and horrifying, at worst. Despite the encouragement of my mom to expand my horizons by taking on soccer, basketball, skiing, and gymnastics, not much seemed to stick. Until I discovered dancing.
I fell hard for dance and soon thereafter began a career as a competitive dancer, both nationally and internationally, averaging 10 competitions a year for nearly a decade. While I have countless memories of the joy that comes from nailing some seriously challenging routines, there were also memories of a lot of makeup to make a pretty face. Of hairspray for the perfect hairstyle. Studded, rhinestone booty-shorts and mini-skirts for a faultless body. And paralyzing fear that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough, because I created a world where appearance was just as important as talent.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realized I had spent my entire adolescence basing my self-worth on how I looked in those rhinestone booty shorts. That I was constantly judged on an unrealistic notion that somehow my looks impacted the way my body could move. Then it dawned on me that my life had literally been a show — that nothing beyond what you could see in the mirror mattered. My frustrations of not feeling perfect enough led to an obsessive behavior to find control in my life. This is when years of anorexia, body image issues, and bulimia started.
I moved to New York City hoping for a change, but brought my insecurities and body image issues with me. And I realized, as I was settling into my new apartment in a brand new city, that it was time to end my dance career — finally understanding that the thing that once made me feel so good about myself, was the same thing that made me feel so bad about myself.
Six months into my new life, I was encouraged to take my first SoulCycle class and it was then, that a light turned on inside of me. In the sweaty, endorphin-filled room, it was the first time that I looked at a body on a stage and didn’t just see a body. I saw energy. I saw power. I was hypnotized by the instructor’s confidence and command. In an instant, I found a new direction: I wanted to be more than a skinny body. I wanted to be a strong body.
I’ve been a SoulCycle instructor now for five years, working with thousands upon thousands of riders who at first, have helped me to overcome my own body insecurities and fears; but now inspire me to tackle the self-esteem and body image issues that affect young women all over the country. Because there NEEDS to be change. There needs to be support. There needs to be a solution.
This past November, I began to work towards that solution by founding Movemeant Foundation — a 501(c)3 organization that empowers young women to feel confident in their bodies, by providing them with the tools to be active. We aspire to be a community-powered, peer-curated platform that motivates young women through positive, relatable mentorship, engaging content about health and nutrition, and financial grants that make fitness and physical movement a reality.
Through Movemeant Foundation's grant program, we provide opportunities for young women to move in ways she might not have been able to before. To dance, ski, snowboard, rock climb, or surf if she wants to. To hike the Appalachian Trail or study yoga in India, in order to build the self-confidence she needs to be her best self.
More so, Movemeant provides every girl who receives a grant with a mentor who they can confide in, a person they can lean on and learn from. Someone who has been through their own personal journey to find self-confidence, and who has come out the other side.
But before we launch our grant and mentorship program (slated for Summer 2015), we’ll be debuting the first-ever Dare to Bare program in San Francisco’s Union Square on Saturday, May 16th, 2015. This flagship fundraising event will play host to thousands of participants and spectators who will raise money by participating in an inspiring, high-energy fitness class led by a team of renowned instructors. The twist? Participants are encouraged to be in their sports bras.
With Dare to Bare, we have dual objectives: To empower women of all shapes and sizes to get active, and to create an environment of self-acceptance by boldly showcasing a new and much-needed perspective of what real women’s bodies look like. Together, in our sports bras, we demonstrate to all women, and in particular young women who are susceptible to body image issues, that despite our appearances, all body types are strong and celebrated.
Many years ago, I was inadvertently taught that being beautiful was intrinsically linked to how well I could move my body. But now I’ve come to teach young women something different — that what’s most beautiful about our bodies is that we all have the ability to move in the first place.
(Update: We sold out our Dare to Bare Soulcycle classes to 300 participants in 24 hours! Because of the demand, we’ve since added a third class and are reserving additional bikes. We’ve also added a dance class for all ages, and are building out live entertainment and performances from our local grant recipients.)
About Movemeant Foundation
At Movemeant Foundation, we believe that every body is meant to move. That we can enable women to form positive, healthy habits in her teenage years, that will further her physical and emotional well-being in her adult years. We believe that any girl who wants the chance to move should be given one.
Jenny Gaither is a nationally recognized fitness expert, SoulCycle instructor, and Founder/CEO of Movemeant Foundation — a non-profit organization focused on empowering young women to feel confident about their bodies, by using physical movement as a platform for building positive body image.
Jenny is a graduate of the University of Illinois where she studied Dance and Kinesiology. She received her Pilates certification from the Pacific Movement Center in Monterey, CA, and began her SoulCycle teaching career in New York City before moving to San Francisco to launch their Northern California studios. Jenny created the highly-acclaimed The Sports Bra Challenge in 2011, and then building upon its success, co-founded the SEAK Foundation in 2012. Simultaneously, Jenny was honored by Lululemon Athletica with their Ambassador Leadership Award, became a blogger for the Huffington Post, and was awarded a ZICO Endurance Team Athlete ambassadorship.