Chaos surrounds Chandra's downtown Los Angeles apartment, but when she welcomes me inside it's quiet and serene. I try my best to leave my own personal chaos outside, but it creeps in. I tell Chandra that my van overheated on the way to meet her, which is why I'm 15 minutes late. I had to call several mechanics and a tow truck on my way here, so I preface that we may be interrupted and I apologize for the inconvenience.
Her cheerful exuberance makes light of the situation and I allow her contagious joy to dull my mini crisis. She offers me a purse-size orange Pellegrino she picked up for me because she knew I was traveling while I pull a pack of 30 pads from my purse. She's elated and so am I.
As CEO and Founder of The Model Behavior, Chandra has dedicated herself to collecting pads and tampons for women's shelters in her community as well being an advocate for all things women's rights -- from menstrual justice to immigration, equal pay, targeted violence and much more.
"I know you just met me, but let's get real," she says with a laugh.
On origins of The Model Behavior:
Commercial modeling and acting are my bread and butter. When I lived and worked on the east coast, I remember having a big internal conflict. I kept thinking, “I'm making all these brands millions of dollars but I wonder what they're doing to help.” By nature of the industry, clients give away tons of products. I had shoes, makeup and clothing but I'm only one person. These days, so many of us just have too much.
I remember asking a coworker one day, "Hey, do you have extra clothes, bras and all this unworn stuff?" And she said, "Oh my gosh, YES." I asked more people and the response was out of this world. So we had a clothing, bra, make-up, etc. drive with all our extra things. This is when I realized our name should be The Model Behavior -- as in inspiring others to ask themselves, "What behavior are you modeling? How do you want to live? What are you doing to give back to others?"
Our mantra is, "Utilizing our platforms for powerful acts of kindness." For me, it began with my friends and colleagues at my job. With ten friends, we decided to use our platforms for something good instead of just to fill people's homes with things.
I always tell people your platform is your school, your place of worship, your job, your community. Everyone has a platform.
On passion > paychecks:
My work with The Model Behavior isn't paid. it was never my goal to make money with this, but it is where I spend the majority of my time. I know my efforts will be compensated someday, but for right now this is just what I truly feel is important.
I really feel like it's incredibly special when you're living in your truth -- when you're not presenting to be something you're not and when you're speaking with heart and passion and truth about the importance of supporting women, often women I never meet. I'm very fulfilled in so many ways by that.
On having access to pads and tampons:
After our first donation round I was researching and I noticed that shelters list pads and tampons as "cosmetic." That means women in shelters don't have much access to them. When I found this out I was really upset. To me it's disgusting that someone would make that grave error or decision to list female sanitary products as "cosmetic." No woman in their right mind would ever classify it as a cosmetic or add a tax on it. It should be just as common as toilet paper or soap in any bathroom. It's these thoughts on the way we design our choices and the environment we create, and it's just not right.
50 percent of the world is women. 12 times a year these women bleed. Myself, I have never questioned purchasing pads and tampons versus food. But for a lot of women they have to decide that.
And of course you're going to choose food. From there, in most of these situations women will use whatever they can in place of pads and tampons. Maybe it's a napkin from a Starbucks, maybe it's toilet paper wrapped around panties or maybe it's paper bags. Paper towels are a privilege. The worst option is using one pad for an entire cycle -- and that happens. A woman that uses one pad for entire cycle will most likely get infections. Imagine having your normal period and on top of that living on the street and on top of that, having an infection. That's horrible and inhumane, and it makes your heart just want to jump out of your chest.
When people learn about what we're doing, the most common reaction is, "Wow, I never thought of that."
When I was first launching in 2014-2015, the only articles I could find at the time were from the US and the UK. It doesn't mean it's not happening everywhere else, it just means it's not being talked about. I'm glad to see that from when we first started until now there's been a definite shift. People are talking about this more which is so important
Now, collecting pads and tampons for neighborhood shelters is The Model Behavior's first campaign. I live in downtown L.A., so I see the impacts first hand in my community. And beyond L.A., more than 300 million individuals lack access to pads and tampons in the world. In other countries and cultures, having your period is viewed as very dirty or unpure. There are many places in the world where women are separated from society when they're on their period. They're not allowed to go school during menstruation. So imagine a week every month you miss school. Then how far behind you are after a few school years. When you start adding that up, it becomes an educational issue. Then an issue of economics because if you can't graduate you have less of a chance of being able to provide for yourself or your family. That's why we want to bring products to for example, Zimbabwe.
Someone once asked me, "What would you do if there's no need for pads and tampons anymore, and no need for this work?" My answer? "I would celebrate. Are you kidding? That would be amazing."
On the impact:
We've been doing a lot of donation drives. Every week I drop off at the downtown women's shelter and I thought for a while, "Oh god, I'm inundating them with pads and tampons. Do they want me to stop?"
I always ask what the shelters need, because that's one of the things that's a missing link. Who am I to assume I know what they need? No. Ask, and then that information I bring to the community and that's how we assist. So one time I asked, "Hey, do you need me to keep bringing pads and tampons or is it becoming too much?" And she was like,
"We get over 200 women a day here. You better keep 'em coming."
We deliver to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, to the downtown women's centers and other safe houses, shelters and halfway houses. Right now we actually have ambassadors in every city that I've lived, which is Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, some parts of New Jersey and New York and Los Angeles. If people want to get involved they can sign up on our website - that would be amazing.
I learned something at the women's march in 2017 that I'm very conscious of saying on this journey. This one trans woman got up and said, "Not all women have vaginas!" And I was in the crowd and I was like, "WOOOOO! Yeah girl!"
So that's one thing to also be aware of. When I was beginning I would say, "women, women, women." Now I say, "Anyone menstruating" to not exclude.
I think it's important to educate, elevate and create a safe space for anyone who finds us, joins us or follows us on social media. We want to create a space that's nurturing in terms of all of the issues women face -- from immigration to targeted violence to equal pay for equal work. We are also inclusive and encouraging of men because I always felt like it wasn't a good thing to bash men.
In the uplifting of women, there's no point in saying anything negative about anyone else.
Men have to be included and their voice is important in our advancement. My husband is the COO and he is instrumental in pushing everything that we do. For all of our drives, I challenge men to go to the store and pick up the pads and tampons instead of sending their wives or girlfriends. I tell them, "You walk down the isle. You pick them out and you buy them." And they're like, "Okay I can do this," but they still look a little nervous. Afterward, every single man that has done this comes back to me excited to tell me that there's too many choices, that they felt a little uncomfortable in line, etc. The same shit that we feel.
On being a woman of color CEO:
Often when I talk about The Model Behavior or our mission, I get this response: "Oh that's so interesting and so amazing. Who wrote all of that?"
So I say, "Oh no, I wrote that." And then you know the blinky eye that gives away how uncomfortable they are? That usually happens. Yeah, you. Why would you think that? You didn't even ask me, and I was the one saying it. Immediately I feel like the work I've done is in question, or it's a celebration but to someone else's credit. I feel discredited as if they had just said, "Oh it can't be you."
I handle these situations just like that and I also make a point to talk about it and share that it happens with people to cultivate awareness. This isn't anything new or new territory for me.
On fuel for the fire:
My background is in architecture, so sustainability and sustainable design have always been important to me. But studying architecture was horrible as a young woman. It was not a safe zone and I was always looking for help. Something. Anything. The industry was male dominated and unfortunately, very verbally abusive. I always felt that this wasn't right, and now I use that as fuel for me on this journey.
On self education and growth:
My parents are both activists. My mom was a teacher, so from a young age in LA I had a sign and I was picketing with her.
Despite what some people say about the children of activists, I've remained very involved in my community. It's just my life -- I legitimately know no different.
I go to a nonviolence workshop every month because it's good to constantly educate ourselves, and this is one way that I do it. The gentlemen I see is Reverend James Lawson -- he is the architect of the civil rights movement. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and trained people for sit in's. He is a living legend. So I go and hear how he speaks and, no surprise, he's an amazing orator. For me it's fascinating to take a past and it seems so distant and then hear him say, "Yeah and Martin said to me...". It puts a whole new twist on things. In moments where I've questioned how to do all of this, he just validates my approach of starting small, doing it with a small portion of community and going from there.
On being an artivist:
I consider myself an artivist - an activist that uses art. I created the women's reproductive system out of plants for an event we did where I wanted to do more than just sit behind a booth. I didn't use water with the plants. The was for it to wilt and for the colors to change as it aged because I wanted it to be a true celebration of femininity and womanhood that is beautiful at any age and at any point. I wanted something more interactive and I do wall pieces a lot.
I want to do a piece for Nia Wilson around L.A. next. I am really moved by her story.
On inviting yourself to your own party:
My one piece of advice is: Start with self. Make sure that you are adequately loving yourself. There was a time when I thought, "My goodness, I'm really supportive of all my friends and everyone, but my inner dialogue sucks. I am not nice to myself!" An in actuality, that's the one voice you can never get away from. The things you say to yourself you would never say to anyone else! EVER. So I started working on being my own best friend.
If you are able to nurture that aspect of yourself it's only going to make you greater and enable you to do greater in the world.
I'm still working on it. I'm getting better at it you guys, I'm getting better. I'd invite myself to my own party now - not a pity party but a real party.
It's not something you decide one day, like I'm making it sound. It's something you continuously work at. And we're living, hopefully growing, individuals, so it's something we should always strive for.