Kiran Gandhi is famous for an unusual reason. You may not know her name, but I’ll bet you’ve seen her in triumphant, post-race mode—thanks to her decision to go with the (menstrual) flow at the 2015 London Marathon.
Gandhi chose to skip pads, tampons, or anything else she felt could keep her from a PR—and the image of her at the finish line in bloodstained run tights was at once shocking and exhilarating. (So that’s what we’re all so afraid of? Not so bad!) To say the photo went viral is an understatement.
But to Gandhi, at the time it was a no-brainer. “Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd,” she wrote last year in a column for Independent UK.
“We’re raised to prioritize the comfort of others, and that’s a really messed-up thing when you think about how deep that goes.”
And the fact that this had never been seen before on a public stage made women everywhere realize, all at once, how much time and effort goes into protecting the world from the realities of our biology.
“I was worried about whether my dad and my brother would be embarrassed, rather than how I could run this marathon the best. And then I thought, that’s crazy! Why do we do that?” says Gandhi, who’s clearly not your average marathoner. Or your average anything. As in: she’s a Harvard MBA as well as a drummer (performing under the name Madame Gandhi) who just toured with M.I.A.—plus she’s on her own US tour right now, through December.
“We’re raised to prioritize the comfort of others, and that’s a really messed-up thing when you think about how deep that goes. You’re not really caring for yourself unless you’re doing what’s best for you, whether it makes other people comfortable or not,” she explains.
So, what’s the first year as a menstrual hero been like for this New Yorker-turned-Angeleno? “Badass! It’s been such an amazing year. I have been so passionate about not only gender equality, but specifically feminism,” she says.
The budding menstrual rights activist has become an advocate for women around the world to handle their (period) business without shame—speaking at the United Nations on the topic and, next week, appearing at President Obama’s South by South Lawn event (or SXSL, the White House version of SXSW). “This marathon gave me the platform to talk about the things that I am so passionate about,” Gandhi notes. “The impact I want to make is to help young girls around the world be their best selves.”
How has she adjusted to her new life (and new platform)? Read on for the lessons Gandhi has learned in the past year.
Menstrual issues aren’t just about periods
The reaction to Gandhi’s finish-line photo was as strong as the stigma that still surrounds periods. (Though in the past year, everyone from advertisers to political activists to Olympic athletes have been working to change that.)
“Especially when you’re living in extreme poverty, menstrual products are low on the list of priorities. But not being able to handle that part of your life and your body is just crippling for women, it really holds them back, which holds everyone back. There’s an empathy factor that I was trying to address at the UN, to this audience—because men are usually writing the rules about what’s important or not,” Gandhi says.
“My younger brother, who’s 19, explained it so well. He said, ‘I don’t understand the big deal. Everyone should be able to exist in their body comfortably.’ It’s like, yes! He gets it. I want everyone to get it.”
Sometimes the things you don’t plan are the best
“My inbox is crazy. It’s been a year of extreme growth,” she says. “When I was going through it, I thought I was doing a terrible job, but I look back and think that’s how it had to be.”
And she saw the power of flying by the seat of your pants while touring with M.I.A., everywhere from the UK to Japan to Mexico: “It made me believe in myself, more than anything. By that point she was such a strong artist that if she had a vision, she would do it. She would say, ‘I think we should crack a coconut onstage because it’s a holy day in Sri Lanka’—and we’d do it. So I saw someone at the top of her game who had gained the trust of everyone to go out and execute her vision.”
In crazy times, wellness is an anchor
Is Gandhi a green juice-yoga-meditation kind of person? “Of course!” she says. “But my meditation is really when I play the drums or when I’m running.”
And she’s not going to beat herself up for the occasional trip to McDonald’s or night of drinking. “It’s very demotivating to think you can’t just start again in this moment. Because you can,” she says, crediting her mindful outlook to her mom. “She always says that we are to the universe only what we give back to it. So, fame and fortune—you only have all that if you’re doing something that offers something of value to people.”
Another way to exist in your body comfortably? Get in on the clean beauty revolution with non-toxic products. And hey, why not give yourself a chance to recharge by slowing down a bit—it’s time to stop glorifying “busy.”