Resetting The Standard: Tunde Oyeneyin

The She-Suite Magazine Highlight 

On the bike, Tunde Oyeneyin is an unstoppable force of motivation, energy, and charisma — blasting music, dancing to the beat of her own drum, and daring to be herself while leading with empathy. But it’s what she does off the bike that has defined her lifestyle-focused influence and inspired thousands far beyond losing weight. 

Oyeneyin was raised in Katy, Texas as a first-generation American. Her parents, Nigerian-born dreamers, defined success and hard work from an early age, but this fearless Peloton instructor wasn’t always proud of who she was or where she came from. “I definitely struggled with my confidence and my self-esteem growing up. … I was in this mindset where I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I cared, honestly. I never danced, and if you’ve ever taken one of my classes, you know I dance a lot on the bike now. Even when I went to places like a cousin’s party or a school event, people would notice me if I danced — and if they noticed I was there, I was fearful they would also notice my size.” She admits her health-focused journey began as a “scale-obsessed” weight-loss journey, but it has since transformed into an ever-evolving mission to find herself. “It became less about losing weight and more about finding my focus. I found my confidence, I found my center, I found my ‘thing,’ I stepped into my power, and it’s just been the wildest experience.”

Another factor of Oyeneyin’s childhood battle with self-perception was the color of her skin. “I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, so I was Nigerian at home, but I was Black at school. As a kid, you just want to look like everybody else.” As life went on for Oyeneyin, she embraced the things that made her unapologetically herself, including her skin. “What I hated most about myself growing up was my dark skin, but now, what I love about myself most now — the reason I am beautiful — is my dark skin.” 

After over a decade in the makeup industry, one spin class awakened Oyeneyin’s passion and calling and — two auditions with Peloton later — she is one of the most popular instructors in the community and a strong voice for BIPOC women in fitness and positions of power. She began hosting S.P.E.A.K. Instagram Live sessions right after the murder of George Floyd, in an effort to share others’ experiences with the world. She has hosted Venus Williams, Cynthia Erivo, Allison Felix, Common, and more. “I wanted people to hear that it wasn’t easy for them either. So often, I think people look at others — specifically black people — and say, ‘Well, they made it. What’s your excuse? Why can’t you? You’re making up excuses and this person did it.’“ 

Oyeneyin lives and shares a short-yet-invaluable concept: Surrender. “When conflict arises, I remind myself to surrender to it because there’s a lesson that needs to stem from this, a breakthrough is right around the corner, or it’s a course correction that’s trying to make its way through. I have to accept this and remind myself that it’s all happening in my favor.”

Tunde Oyeneyin’s 2022 memoir, Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, discusses the meaning of Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity, and Knowledge as a foundation for success in all aspects of life. 

Full Interview

  1. What are three words that best describe who Tunde Oyeneyin is? 

I would say, ‘empathetic, leader, and kind.’ 

  1. You’ve talked about growing up in Katy, Texas, and struggling with your weight and self-image.  Walk us through your own journey and the role fitness played in your internal and external transformation.

I think my wellness practice has shaped the human that I am today. I don’t know who I would be or where I’d be if cycling didn’t find me, but I guess that’s why it’s called a journey, right? Because, as you go along, you take different twists, turns, and routes yet you always land up exactly where you’re supposed to be. So yes, I guess that this was always the way that it was going to be. 

I definitely struggled with my confidence and my self-esteem growing up. I think in the notes regarding this interview, you stated I was plus-sized which was true. I was in this mindset where I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I cared, honestly. You know, I was the person that never laughed too loud because if I laughed then people would notice I was in the room. I never danced, and if you’ve ever taken one of my classes, you know I dance a lot on the bike now. But yeah, I wouldn’t dance even when I went to places like a cousin’s party or a school event because if I danced, then people would notice I was there—and if they noticed I was there, I was fearful they would also notice my size. So, I hid a lot and I was a very extroverted person living in an introverted person’s body. It’s interesting because I set out to lose weight, that’s why I began this, and at some point between then and now, what started as losing weight ended in me staying stronger.

It became less about losing weight and more about finding my focus. I found my confidence, I found my center, I found my ‘thing,’ I stepped into my power, and yeah, it’s just been the wildest experience ever since.

Tunde Oyeneyin

I was just saying this yesterday, it’s wild—and I use the word wild because I was somebody who struggled with my confidence like I said. I was insecure. And yet, here I am now, this leader on this massive platform, and every single day I guide people who are embarking on a journey of their own. To go through that experience knowing that life is a journey where you’re bound to take wrong turns, alternate routes, or even the right turns but still lead up where you’re meant to be by the end of it, has all become part of my story so that, as a fitness coach, I’m able to lead with empathy and understanding for people who are trying to find a way to start down their path and journey as well.

  1. Tell us about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle – or make a difficult professional decision? How did you navigate them, what did you learn about yourself?

That’s a tough one! I’ll say this; You don’t learn much about yourself when you’re winning. I mean, when you’re winning, you’re winning— and you’re celebrating because you’re winning and things feel good, so you continue to move in motion and continue to do the same things over and over again. 

You may venture out and be courageous enough to implement something new, but for the most part, when you’re winning, you trust the process and you continue to do the same thing because that’s working and you’re succeeding, right? It’s not until you face opportunity or conflict that actual growth happens. 

When I’m going through difficult moments—and it’s much more difficult to do than to say—I have to remind myself, sometimes with a support group of my friends around me, that ultimately, I truly believe that everything is happening in my favor, every missed opportunity is not a missed opportunity, and instead, every missed opportunity is an opportunity to learn and grow and stay on the right path in your journey. So, when conflict arises, I have to remind myself to surrender to it because either A) there’s a lesson that needs to stem from this, B) a breakthrough is right around the corner, or C) It’s a course correction that’s trying to make its way through, meaning if I feel like something’s supposed to go one way and it doesn’t go my way, I have to accept this and remind myself that it’s all happening in my favor and later down the line, I’ll see that this was actually working in my favor.

  1. In your book, SPEAK you speak about Second Chances. Tell us about what you have learned from your experience about giving and receiving a second chance. 

I think this ties to my opinions on missed opportunities, really. Nothing is a failure, it’s just a learning opportunity. However, for me, when it comes down to giving people second chances, absolutely, I believe that! You know, there’s that Maya Angelou saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time,” which I wholeheartedly trust and believe, but I do also believe people deserve second chances. 

  1. You worked as a makeup artist for 16 years before really beginning your career as a Peloton instructor. What inspired you to hop on the bike? 

Well, the bike found me… it chose me! I think, at the time, I’d been a makeup artist for maybe over twelve or thirteen years and I had worked my butt off to become not just a makeup artist but a brand educator also. And so, I had this really fancy job doing celebrity makeup, doing print work, traveling around the world, training makeup artists and I think, you know, from the outside looking in, it was golden, and there would have been so many people who would have fought for my job back then, I fought for my job! but, I was in the role doing it for a couple of years and I realized, ‘I hate my job,’ like I actually dreaded getting up and going to work every day. 

And, basically, I was in this place of extreme uncertainty. I was so uncertain about what was supposed to be next. Long story short, I was in New York for a makeup gig, and I wanted to work out, so I had been hearing Kelly Ripa talk about indoor cycling a lot and I thought, “Well, okay, they clip in, and then what? Like, what is this thing?” so I roll up to this cycling studio, it looks like a nightclub, the whole thing—and, keep in mind, by the time I went to sit down on the bike, I was already like forty dollars deep! I bought a water bottle, shoes, a towel, all the things—and I’m judging myself fully for spending that much on a workout. But then, three minutes into the workout and I’m in a state of euphoria.

 I walk back to the hotel from the cycling studio. I’m walking and then I start skipping and suddenly, my skip turns into a hop. Then, I just start laughing about laughing and crying at the same time. Within a matter of five seconds, I feel this blue energy moving through my body from the fingers to my toes. And, within those five seconds, I was certain. I knew that I’d be cycling for the rest of my life, I knew that I would be teaching this thing, and I knew that I would be touching the entire world by virtue of cycling. I knew that I’d be touching the entire world with this experience. And all of this is just after my first cycling class.

Now, I could have gone on and thought it was some type of wild hallucination from being dehydrated from flying that day or the workout class, but rather than looking at it as just that, I saw it for what it was. It was a vision that I decided to trust. I said earlier, the beautiful thing about uncertainty is infinite possibility. I say that because I was in this place where I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Did I love not knowing what I was supposed to do next, did I love being uncertain? No, I didn’t. I was not happy about being uncertain but I knew that I was uncertain. The beautiful thing about not knowing what’s next is that you don’t know what the heck is next! Plain and simple. Because I didn’t know what was next, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for, and so I was open to receiving any and everything. I think that when we know what is supposed to be next, we go into the state of tunnel vision, and when opportunities arise, if they’re not within the framework—the brackets of what we think we’re supposed to be looking for—we block the opportunity and we say, “No, that’s not in line.”

But, because I was unaware and because I didn’t know, I was open. Now, to go beyond that, because I surrendered, I finally surrendered to not knowing what the hell was next, I was open to what was actually next. I was able to see it because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to be looking for.

As people, I think we get worried when doubt arises. But, I think doubt isn’t a bad thing. I think that doubt is your body’s way of allowing course correction. When you doubt something, whether it’s a relationship, a work dynamic, a friend, I don’t think that doubt is necessarily bad. I think that doubt is your body trying to signal that it’s time for change. I surrendered to that signal.

Tunde Oyeneyin

Not much time after that first class, I started teaching cycling classes. Peloton found me, they asked me to audition, I auditioned and didn’t get the job, I auditioned again, and they called me back, and then I got the job!

  1. What have been your own struggles with being comfortable in your skin and how did you find your voice?

I made this joke yesterday but growing up in Katy, Texas, I grew up in little Nigeria. I say that because, although I was born here, I’m first-generation. My parents were both Nigerian, and so I grew up in a Nigerian household, and then, when I left my house, I went to school and I was American. Then, I came back home and I was Nigerian all over again. I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood, and so it was just this interesting dichotomy where I was Nigerian at home but then I went to school and I was black—and I was one of the only black kids at my school too, so I was living in these two worlds—three worlds, you could call it—and so yeah, being one of the only black kids was very strange and singled me out. As a kid, you just want to look like everybody else—you want to blend in—and you want to be just like everybody else.

I struggled with that. I remember a moment in my life when I thought the answer was bleaching my skin. I filled a basket with bleach, it was my brother’s suggestion—unknowingly because he was a kid too—and I only decided not to go through with it because I didn’t like the way that it smelled. I didn’t want my body to stink. When I look back, that was my turning point—that was my turning moment. I decided to show fully in my skin after that. What I hated most about myself growing up was my dark skin but now, what I love about myself most now—the reason I am beautiful—is because of my dark skin.

Being a black woman in a community that doesn’t usually look like me is something I’m still very aware of. I’m very aware of that in the sense of, I’m not only a black woman, but I’m also a black woman that shaved her head. So, the message that can be interpreted or assumed about me I’m very aware of, and yet, I still choose to show up fully as me because the only person that I can be is me. The person I’m going to play the role as best is me!

  1. You have a new book coming out that will discuss this topic in full detail entitled, Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. However, if you could explain this message and the movement you founded around it for our audience, what does SPEAK mean to you and to those that will surely buy your book?

SPEAK is really a memoir. It shares the stories of my greatest joys, overcoming adversity, tragedy, losses, and some of the greatest triumphs that I’ve had in my life. My goal or my hope is that anyone that picks up SPEAK, When they hit the final chapter and then close the book, I hope that they are moved to dream, and to not only dream but to step into the greatest version of themselves by trusting their intuition and trusting their gut. 

I think about all of the opportunities, every single moment, that’s led me into the space that I’m in right now and there were five elements that showed up within every facet of this journey. That’s what led me to the title of this book, S. P. E. A. K. Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity, and Knowledge. 

I look back and I think, ‘wow,’ every time that I surrendered, it allowed not only space for growth, but for change. When I stepped into my power—and not just my squatting or bench pressing power—I define power as the tingling feeling that you feel when you’re living ‘in purpose, on purpose, of purpose,’ I think that a life well-lived is a life that is led in service. Being of purpose and living on purpose. When I stepped into that, connected to it, tapped into what I describe in the book as the ‘drumbeat,’ and acknowledged the drumbeat as my connection to the universe where I feel most ‘of purpose,’ that’s when my life began to change. I define authenticity as the intersection of truth and trust. When you’re able to trust yourself enough to show up in your full truth, you live authentically.

And then, learning to have empathy with myself. I think learning to have empathy with others is not easy, but I think learning to have empathy with yourself? Baby…

So yes, those five elements led me on to this moment, a moment that I saw in a vision and trusted it would arrive. So yeah, when I sat down to write the book, I thought about all the constants and about what kept coming up that has led me here, and it was those words. Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity, and Knowledge.

You also have a S.P.E.A.K movement as well. Is your movement tied into this new book?

Well, it’s somewhat separate entities but they do tie together. I created an Instagram Live series called S.P.E.A.K., and it was just after the murder of George Floyd, and I thought the world was at such a standstill and there were so many different types of feelings: disgusted, angry, mad, sad, upset, confused—all of these emotions at one time within one human. 

And so, I want to create a space where people could talk about their experiences, their life experiences so that we could understand each other better as people. I wanted a place where people could speak their story and not only speak safely but also a place where people could listen and just keep asking questions. 

I looked for people that were willing to surrender, that knew their power, led with empathy, were authentic, and had the knowledge and experiences to back it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have on people like Venus Williams, Cynthia Erivo, Allison Felix, Common, recently Meg Robbins. and I wanted people to share their stories of adversity. I think about Cynthia Erivo who’s one of the best performers of all time ever in the world, and I think about Cynthia Erivo growing up and being on Broadway and being as talented as she is. And yet, her ability to be the lead in roles was limited based on the color skin, like, she’s amazing, she’s phenomenal, nobody will argue that, but there are only so many roles she was allowed to play as a black woman. I think about my conversation with Venus Williams and her talking about when she showed up at Wimbledon. Serena and Venus had trained tirelessly and they showed up, and there was so much hate and racism by people literally just upset at their very existence.

I wanted people to hear that it wasn’t easy for them either. So often, I think people look at others—specifically black people—and say, “Well, they made it. What’s your excuse? Why can’t you? You’re making up excuses and this person did it.” 

So, I wanted people to hear their story and know it wasn’t easy for them either so we could understand each other better. And so, while the two are intrinsically connected, I think of these divine people—and I say divine because they’re showing up in their divine full selves and their light—I think about them and again, the same words show up: Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity, and Knowledge. So there’s definitely a link there and I think they exemplify those words, really.

  1. You’ve said that you don’t sell weight loss but a lifestyle. How have you learned to turn big visions (i.e. losing weight, gaining confidence, going after your big goal) into smaller, more manageable goals? 

To be honest, my goal isn’t to turn them into more manageable goals per se. More so, when I was a ‘scale-a-holic’—let me find a different way to put that—when I was the person who weighed in every single day, the scale had so much power over me. I mean, when I jumped on the scale, it literally dictated my mood for the whole day. If I weighed in and the scale said what I wanted it to say, what I wanted to see, I was happy. But, I know when I looked on the scale and it said what I did not want it to say, it would ruin my day. So, I just decided ‘I’m not going to allow this machine, this contraption, to dictate how I feel about myself.’

So, rather than measuring my progress through the scale, I started measuring my progress through how I felt instead. Like, ‘I feel strong today, I feel like I’m moving quickly today.’ Because, that I can control, the scale you cannot. You can’t control what the scale is going to say, right? I always say about the scale, ‘that liar, that liar scale!’ 

I can control the way that I feel in my body, and so my confidence stems from that. I think my confidence also stems from the fact that I allow myself to know that I’m human. I didn’t have the greatest day yesterday—just yesterday—and yet, even when I’m going through the rough, they’re still an unspoken understanding that ‘I’ll get through this.’ I guess I would call that self-trust, just to trust within myself that I know whatever I’m going through is simply a moment that will pass. Whether it’s an actual problem or just the made-up things I’m telling myself about myself in my head—the lies that I tell myself that can be hindering—I realize that it’s just a space that I’m and I’ll move through it. I think there’s confidence in knowing the things around you are sometimes not real and you have to trust yourself to know the difference.