You might know Tunde Oyeneyin as the Peloton spin instructor with chiseled arms who flashes an innocuous smile right before she sets your quads on fire. But the Texas native had a successful career as a makeup artist before she ever took a spin class, and she hasn’t stopped tackling new projects. She’s also a Nike athlete, Revlon ambassador, host of Peloton’s new podcast Fitness Flipped, and debut author of SPEAK: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (out May 3 and available to pre-order now).
Oyeneyin’s rides (which often include dance breaks) are high-energy, but there’s also a quieter, more subtle vulnerability she infuses into her workouts. She’s not afraid to mention loss or grief. In June 2020, her Speak Up Ride was the first in a series of classes that address racism and encourage empathy; she told riders to embrace discomfort as she discussed why Black lives matter. Oyeneyin’s friends describe her as a bridge connecting people from different cultures, though she’s well aware she can’t be everyone’s favorite. So, she says, she chooses to focus on love.
Oyeneyin—who’s currently on tour—spoke with SELF from New York, while her beloved miniature pinscher-Chihuahua mix Cesar pawed at her legs until she placed him on her lap.
SELF: Tell me about young Tunde. What were you like growing up?
Tunde Oyeneyin: My parents emigrated from Nigeria to the United States. I grew up in a Nigerian household, but when I went to school, I was American. I went to school with predominantly white kids, and it wasn’t until college that I immersed myself in American Black culture. So I lived between these worlds, and so much of that shaped who I am.
I was plus-size growing up. Not only was I one of the only Black kids in school, but I was also the darkest person, and chubby, so I stood out. As a kid, the last thing you want to do is stand out. I had low self-esteem and low confidence. I felt like I was a very extroverted person living in an introverted person’s body. I was outgoing but I never was too outgoing because then people would see me. And if they saw me, they’d see how big I was.
It was during those years that I fell in love with makeup and, for me, it was about control. I didn’t think I could control what my body looked like, but I could control the way I did my face.
You were a successful makeup artist for several years. Can you describe the moment when you decided to teach cycling?
I’d worked my butt off, landed my dream job, and I hated it. I went to New York on a business trip and the hotel gym was busted, so I decided to try out a cycling studio.
Three minutes into class, I’m in a state of euphoria. I’m in this other world. I leave the class, I’m walking back to the hotel, and my walk turns into a skip. Then I’m laughing and crying. I have this vision, this wave of energy moves through my body from my fingers to my toes. I see it all so clearly. I knew that I was going to be cycling for the rest of my life. I knew that I’d be teaching it. And I knew that I would touch the world doing it.