Be the Change looks at real life projects and inspiration to make the world better.

As a lifelong competitive dancer, Jenny Gaither was used to being judged on her appearance. This scrutiny fueled a pattern of negative self-judgment that eventually led Gaither to develop an eating disorder. Gaither was still battling food and body issues when she moved to New York nearly a decade ago to pursue a professional dance career. Before long, she found herself drawn into the fitness world; spin classes became a quick favorite because of their similarities to dance. She realized there that the physical qualities that she had always been embarrassed about — like being chosen to lift her friends in dance routines instead of being the one who was lifted — translated to strength on the bike. After three months of spin class, Gaither knew she wanted to become a spin instructor herself. She also knew that the only way forward was to conquer her eating disorder and build a new relationship with her body.

Now, Gaither is not only a Master SoulCycle instructor, but the founder of the Movemeant Foundation, an organization that’s dedicated to promoting self-confidence in girls through nutrition and physical fitness. Gaither tells us that opening up to her riders about her eating disorder, and learning that men and women of all ages had had similar experiences, inspired her to get Movemeant off the ground.

“Physical movement, whether it be cycling, dance, aerobics, kickboxing…i s the vehicle for which we build self-worth and confidence. We’re more in our bodies and when we’re in our bodies, we learn to take care of them,” says Gaither.

Through the Movemeant Foundation, Gaither hopes to give girls the same physical outlet she had growing up (Gaither still credits dance for her confidence to stand up for herself) but without the self-scrutiny and hangups that foster disordered eating. A core part of the foundation’s mission is its Body Positive Curriculum, a 12-week program for girls in middle school — a pivotal age for self-esteem and body image. Movemeant sends instructors to middle schools and community centers to teach two 45 to 60-minute fitness classes each week for the duration of the program. Each class includes a discussion that, Gaither tells us, is “loosely structured around 12 different topics such as body positivity, confidence, nutrition, body genetics, and more.”

By the end of 2019, at least five middle school curriculums will have been implemented in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville, as well as five in Oregon. Gaither says that the program has become so popular that the foundation plans to build a virtual curriculum to make the program more widely accessible. Gaither and her team also plan on implementing a mother-daughter program to get parents involved in the conversation, which Gaither calls “a big piece of the puzzle” in overhauling girls’ body confidence and self-esteem.

Another piece of the puzzle is the program’s careful messaging around food. “[Movemeant instructors] talk about food as power,” Gaither explains. “If you’re going to go for a run later, think of the things you’ve been eating and how it will make you feel. We talk about food in a way that isn’t connected to anything, but what you’re craving. And we try to disconnect it from good and bad. The more in control people feel, the more power they have in their life. We’re giving them that power at a much younger age.”

Gaither is adamant that food and fitness are never framed in relation to losing calories or weight, but as “part of taking care of yourself.”

“If you want to be a leader in the world, you have to be a leader in your own life. That means making yourself a priority,” explains Gaither.

The Movemeant Foundation also awards young girls with the She Plays, We Win Scholarship, which is aimed at lightening the financial burden of elite athletic training. One of the prize’s most recent winners is 12-year-old Alina Albert, a competitive rock climber who recently earned a spot on the USA Climbing Team. Over email, Alina comes across as self-aware, passionate, and full of goals, which include competing at the Olympics and influencing other girls.

“I want climbing to be a part of my everyday life,” she proudly declares. “I want to sleep on a portaledge, underneath the stars, and watch the sun come up, and just climb until my fingers run out of skin. I want to get better at climbing every time I touch a wall. I want to be physically fit, feel good about who I am, and be ready to take on any of life’s challenges.”

Alina’s attitude is exactly what Gaither hopes to continue encouraging through the Movemeant Foundation. “I’m trying to help people focus on everything but image,” she tells us. “When we focus on our image, we’re just holding ourselves back. That’s seeing a one dimensional human. We have more qualities that need to be brought to life.”

(Photos Courtesy of The Movemeant Foundation and Christin Rose)

Does Gaither’s story inspire you to move? Let us know @BritandCo!