The woman who ran a marathon with blood running down her legs: Kiran Gandi
Most of us women bleed each month. The unfertilized eggs from our womb leave our body so that our womb refreshes itself for the next reproduction cycle. So that we can give birth to life. It’s not sacred, or holy, it’s just the way female body is. Yet so interestingly, we are not supposed to talk about it, and hide the fact that we do bleed.
Last time there was a global conversation about this was when Rupi Kaur’s photos about period were removed from Instagram. Rupi Kaur won her fight and now Instagram do not mark period as “inappropriate content”. A big step for Instagram, a small one for the fight against patriarchy and sexism.
And now the conversation is back up. Why? Because 26 year old Harvard MBA student and drummer Kiran Gandhi, ran the London marathon back in April without a tampon, with her period running down her legs! Let alone the fact that she was also running for breast cancer and raised 2,000 pounds for that! Her story got viral after she gave an interview to Cosmopolitan about what she did, and why she did it. And as soon as it got viral, there began the discussions: “Oh this is disgusting!” vs. “Way to go, our new feminist heroine!”
So I contacted her and wanted to hear about all of this from her own words. Here’s what she has to say about her courageous act:
How did you decide to run this marathon without a tampon during your period?
As I explained in my blog, I got my flow the night before the London Marathon and it was extremely painful. I had spent a full year enthusiastically training hard, but I had never actually practiced running on my period. I thought through my options. Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd. Plus they say chaffing is a real thing. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons etc, to be part of a society that at least has a norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly. But then I thought… If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. On the marathon course, I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this norm of shaming. I decided to just take some midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run. A marathon in itself is a centuries old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don’t have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide it away like it doesn’t exist? 66% of African girls know nothing about menstruation until they start. More than 40 million women in the United States live on the brink of poverty and a yearly supply of sanitary pads or tampons averages 70 dollars a year and they’re not covered by food stamps. Only 12% of women in India use sanitary pads or tampons. There are so many examples like these from all around the world.
Did you have any negative reaction during the marathon while you were running?
There was this woman who came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period… So with thumbs up I responded to her: “No way, I had NO idea, thank you!”
How would you define period-shaming?
To me period shaming is when you are someone who’s experiencing the bleeding yet you have to make somebody else comfortable before yourself. Period shaming is when I have my period; I have to be quiet about it even though I’m the one in pain. I’m the one who has to pretend like it doesn’t exist, just for your comfort. You’ve been able to oppress me by telling me that if I speak about it I must be disgusting, I must be dirty, I must be weak, I must be unsanitary. Those are the reasons why period shaming exists, why it’s silent, why we don’t have words to talk about it and why it matters. To me one of the most interesting things about my decision to run free was that I was thinking the fact that the decision was so difficult for me in that moment, the fact that I was like “Oh God, I really do not want to run with a tampon, because I do not want to hurt myself, that just doesn’t seem like something I’m comfortable with or I’ve done before. The fact that I had to think about what other people would think of me. The fact that I had to feel like I only had really 2 or 3 options, options that I do not feel comfortable with or I haven’t explored. That shed light on the fact that there’s no global conversation about this. The fact that I feel women don’t have as many resources as they should to talk about their own bodies, and the fact that if we want, we should be able to run or do whatever we want to, how we want to.
How was the reaction you’ve received once your story got viral?
Honestly, this is something that should not be a big deal, and you should be able run however you want, if there’s a little blood somewhere, it should not be such a big deal. The global response was so split, with a lot people understanding it and then a lot of people basically just saying that they thought it was gross. I don’t feel personally offended, it’s someone else’s opinion but that’s exactly what the story is about. That’s exactly the point. Something that 50% of us go through, that is so normal, honestly it’s just like 50% of the population has a certain hair colour, or has a certain build. It’s just so human. The fact that me existing and showing that it exists made so many people so deeply uncomfortable! It was really the point that the story was about. To take a moment and analyze that. Where does that deep insecurity come from? Where does that deep discomfort come from? I found it completely amazing; I think when you get such an overwhelmingly negative and positive response, the extremes of both directions, that’s when you know that you struck a chord. I never would have thought this many people would have read the piece, let alone cared, but the fact that it started a global discussion about something that we go through, something that is real is just epic. It’s awesome! I don’t really care if people want to make fun of me, I felt good doing it, that’s my life and that’s my story.
What’ the next step for you on this topic?
I think the next step for me is to travel to understand the issues more deeply. I addressed it from someone who is very much living in a position of privilege. I know my own privilege, I honor it and I’m acting on it. I think being aware, doing something that you think is radical, doing something that you think can create a conversation globally, being brave enough to get people to be pissed at you, to take that heat; that’s where I want to be. That’s what I want to be doing. I can’t wait to work with people who are deep in this field. I’m brand new to understanding the problems of women’s periods abroad. But I can’t wait to work with them. I can’t wait to have them educate me. I can’t wait to partner with them. I can’t wait to help direct this attention in the right way.
*Photos: Courtesy of Kiran Gandhi