Life-changing moments often come when they’re least expected, and that was true for Jenny Gaither: pedaling a stationary bike in a studio in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, sweltering under a gold lamé jacket. After becoming a SoulCycle instructor only a few months earlier—a career move that brought her face-to-face with a lifetime’s worth of body image issues— Gaither used her sweaty, endorphin filled classes to advocate for strength, empowerment and self-worth. But when the 22-year old led a Rihanna-theme ride and found herself too self-conscious to shed her gold lamé jacket, she was faced with the uncomfortable truth that her journey of self-acceptance was only beginning. Four years later, that journey inspired her to found the Movemeant Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to empowering young women to feel confident in their bodies by providing them with tools to be active.
Gaither’s story doesn’t follow the traditional lines of your typical athlete. As a kid in Santa Cruz, Calif., her less-than-perfect hand-eye coordination kept her on the sidelines of most team sports. Then she discovered dance. As an adolescent, Gaither performed at national and international dance competitions, and did so for over a decade. She followed her love of dance to the University of Illinois where she studied Dance and Kinesiology. But in her early 20s, something started to change. The pressure of unrealistic body standards lead to issues with her self-image, and eventually a struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Gaither moved to New York hoping that a change of scenery would help, but soon gave up dancing professionally altogether.
Six months later, she took her first SoulCycle class and in 2010 became an instructor. Her work as a teacher—dealing with women from all walks of life who confronted body image issues—was eye-opening. After Gaither found herself crippled by self-consciousness and unable to shed the gold lamé jacket, she was inspired to reach for something bigger: combating negative body image issues that constantly surround women and girls. After returning to San Francisco to launch the Northern California SoulCycle studios, Gaither founded Movemeant Foundation in November of 2014. In addition to serving as the organization’s CEO, Gaither has been a recipient of a Lululemon Athletica Ambassador Leadership Award, a ZICO Endurance Team Athlete Ambassador, Co-Founder/CEO of SEAK Foundation and creator of The Sports Bra Challenge, and a blogger for Huffington Post.