Alejandra Campoverdi is a current congressional candidate, a former White House aide, an ex-waitress and a one-time Maxim model – all titles she’s glad to have held.
The 37-year-old – who is running for California’s 34th district – opened up about the sexism she’s faced during her political career in a new essay for Cosmopolitan titled “I Posed for Maxim and I’m Running for Congress. It Shouldn’t Be That Shocking.”
“I’m proud of the mosaic of experiences that make me who I am,” wrote Campoverdi. “My life experiences have forged me into a fighter and that’s why I decided that I won’t let others’ boxes stop me from doing what needs to be done — running for office, standing up to Trump and Republicans, and standing up for women in Los Angeles.”
Campoverdi wrote that she started working at age 15, the daughter of a single mom who immigrated from Mexico. One of those early jobs was as a model.
Eventually, Campoverdi found her way to President Obama‘s White House, but just a week into her position, photos from her old shoot for Maxim surfaced.
“Right behind the photos followed the hotter, more humiliating blaze of unveiled snark that pointedly implied that I didn’t deserve what I’d accomplished and had been overambitious for even trying in the first place,” said Campoverdi, adding, “I was now stamped as the ‘White House Maxim Model.’ I had been reduced to a stereotype.”
She continued, “After crying for a week, I put my head down and worked even harder. The only thing that ever got me anywhere was working hard, showing up when I said I would or earlier, and doing more than just the job I was hired to do. And that’s what I did for my next four years at the White House.”
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Campoverdi is one of 23 candidates running to fill the seat vacated by now-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in the April 4 special election. The top two candidates will continue onto a runoff election in June.
She wrote in Cosmo that now, eight years on, she understands “a lot more about the systemic sexism in politics than the young woman who beat herself up and took all the shaming so personally.”
Calling out “double standards,” Campoverdi said that she’s fighting back against the roles that women are sometimes typecast in, and notes that females shouldn’t have to choose between being intelligent and feminine.
“The larger problem is our need for many more women — diverse, young, and from a range of perspectives — to run for office, now more than ever,” she said, adding, “Now more than ever, we must recognize and accept the complexity of real women, and celebrate them in their quest for leadership roles. Whole, multidimensional women. Please throw your name in the arena, whichever one you’re in — because it only gets better every time one of us tries.”
In addition to her congressional run, Campoverdi is currently facing another challenge: a double mastectomy. She has a genetic mutation called BRCA2, which means she has an 85-percent likelihood of developing breast cancer. Campoverdi has decided to have the preventative procedure in two years.
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Speaking to PEOPLE earlier this week, Campoverdi said that she’s opening up about her decision to bring attention to the importance of health care.
“Health care is a life or death issue for so many Americans, so many people in my district in Los Angeles,” Campoverdi told PEOPLE. “Sometimes we can get into debates that are very theoretical about issues, and forget that there’s a lot personally on the line for people every day — that every day someone doesn’t have access to health care, or that every day somebody has a bill that puts them in the position of going bankrupt.”
She added, “I’m fine being vulnerable about [my BRCA2 status], because if it’s able to bring the attention back to people, which is what this is all about, then it’s worth it for me.”