Alejandra "Ali" Campoverdi is a compelling study in contrasts. The Latina beauty, who modeled for Maxim in 2004, is running for Congress in California's 34th district, with a positive “take me as I am" approach as refreshing as it is empowering. Should she win the seat, Campoverdi would join a vastly male-dominated Congress, which is only 2 percent Latina.
Campoverdi, who grew up in Los Angeles, tells SWAAY she was moved to run for office not long after Donald Trump won the election. With a plan to counteract his administration's attack on women's rights, the former White House staffer is running a campaign on a platform of inclusivity, social support and access to healthcare, inspired by her own personal experience with cancer. These days, Campoverdi is focused on changing the political conversation by embracing every part of herself, including her past as a model.
“I see first-hand the lack of opportunities women see for themselves, many times because of circumstances out of their control," she says. "It has showed me how important it is, more than ever, to have role models that are owning their full selves publicly, especially in politics."
Beauty, intelligence and bravery. Is there anything more powerful?
1. Tell us a little about your background.
I was born to a single mother who emigrated to the US from Mexico. There were eight of us in a three bedroom. We struggled. We were on welfare at times, and took WIC and Medical (California's Medicade program). For me, like a lot of kids of immigrants who were the first in our families to navigate the education system, I've been working since I was young. I've had all sorts of jobs: I've waited tables, I've worked in clothing stores, I've been a model. You do [whatever you have to] to make ends meet. When you juxtapose an experience like modeling with a career in politics, or something more serious, it's interesting how that causes cognitive dissonance for folks; that you could embody these different types of experiences.
2. Can you speak a little about your decision to speak publicly about posing for Maxim?
For me it's very important to own all parts of myself and all parts of my experiences. That's why in my campaign for Congress I've been so honest and vulnerable about things other people might feel embarrassed to share. It's a strength. It's not something to hide from. The fact that you may have had sets of experiences that are different makes you real. I think people are at a point especially when it comes to politics, where they are looking for real candidates. When I was at school at Harvard I had classmates who had been expecting to run for a long time, and who didn't want to be photographed with a solo cup. For someone to be so consumed with the future of power that every decision they make has been to further that ambition, that's scarier to me than a real person, especially a real woman, who has navigated her life in real time and understands the perspective of folks in her district.
3. What's it like running for office?
I've worked as a staffer in politics when I worked at the Obama campaign in '08 and then as an aide in the White House. It's very different being the candidate but I learned that running for office really pulls into focus what matters most to you. You're living in a high frequency and in order to express to others what you care about you have to know what you care about and why you're doing it. There is an interesting introspective process that you go through as a candidate. I feel that it should be something that is empowering for more women; to not feel afraid that going through process will bring shame or scrutiny. All sets of experience are a benefit. I was someone who went to Planned Parenthood in my life so I have a particular perspective about why it's so important for women to have access to these services.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Female sexuality and intelligence aren't inversely related. As a 37-year-old woman I feel fully confident wearing a nice dress and knowing my femininity doesn't have to take away from accomplishments. Every woman's femininity is something very personal, and can be all things at the same time.
4. What sparked your desire to run?
The catalyst for me was Donald Trump's election and the Affordable Care Act being at risk of being repealed. After President Trump's election, I, like a lot of young people, felt really nauseous for a few days and was thinking about what I could do to push back against his disastrous proposed policies. I worked on Obamacare at the White House and for me it was a personal crusade. In my family, generations of women have battled breast cancer and I myself carried the BRCA2 gene mutation, so I know first hand how much is at stake. My aunt had just been diagnosed with breast cancer around the time I decided to run. I wanted to put skin in the game. I wanted to know I did everything I could to make sure the election was about people and how these issues affect people
5. What was working with President Obama like?
It was the greatest privilege to work for President Obama. I never dreamed that I would have that opportunity. When I joined the Obama campaign I had just graduated from Harvard and I had a lot of student loan debt; I still do. But I moved to Chicago and worked unpaid because I really believe in a vision for the country. I lived off my credit card and had no health insurance. When I got the job at the White House I worked from the Oval Office for those first couple of years, and it was the full circle moment of a lot of dreams in my family. My Mom was in her late teens when she emigrated from Mexico and the day I got to walk her into the Oval Office and introduce her to President Obama was a day I will never forget. [Another moment that stands out is] when the President did an interview with Latina Magazine, and I found myself sitting next to him, just the two of us in the Oval, while he's talking to Latina Magazine. As a woman, and as a Latina, that was a moment everything pulled into focus about what's possible in this country. Even though social mobility can be traumatizing and isolating for a lot of us, with hard work and with support and by protecting pipeline programs and educational opportunities that we have right now, what's possible for young people is pretty incredible.
Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton
6. Can you talk a bit about the reaction to your Maxim photos?
When I was at the White House and the Maxim photos first surfaced in Gawker [in 2009], some media outlets took snarky shots at me. I took it very personally initially because I didn't fully understand the depth of sexism in politics. I was afraid it might hinder my career. A wonderful woman I worked with at the White House told me to put my head down and do the work, and that's what I've always done. I always work harder than I have to. I'm a lot older now and I have a better perspective about how sexism in politics actually works. I understand that it isn't something personal to each of us, but we have to each take our own stand to stand against it. When this happened for several months I didn't want to wear makeup. I wanted to wear loose fitting clothes and almost disappear. What I learned is our accomplishments stand for themselves. Just because you wear makeup and a nice dress doesn't take away from your intelligence. Female sexuality and intelligence aren't inversely related. As a 37-year-old woman I feel fully confident wearing a nice dress and knowing my femininity doesn't have to take away from accomplishments. Every woman's femininity is something very personal, and can be all things at the same time.
7. What do you say to women who don't know how to get involved?
I think now more than ever it's a time for women to step up because women's rights and bodies are under siege in Washington. I understand that folks may be disillusioned with the political process, but it's more important than ever to roll up our sleeves. I've been really inspired by women who are are looking for ways to become more politically engaged or are considering running for office for the first time. At the end of the day when only 19 percent of Congress is women, and only 2 percent is Latina; how can we sit there and say we aren't being represented right, when we aren't being represented enough? I would encourage all women to get involved in whatever groups are forming around them. Whatever skills you have, put them towards the defense of women's rights because it's never been more in the balance than it is today.
8. Can you tell us where you see the health care industry going?
It's a huge complicated issue to make sure everyone has access to affordable health care. I personally think health care is a human right. We need to make sure everyone is able to go to a doctor or have access to lifesaving treatments. We need to make sure that kids have access to preventative services that will save their lives. The Affordable Care Act, while not perfect, was an important step in that direction. And it's important we protect the progress we made through the Affordable Care Act. This fight isn't over. The important thing is to keep holding folks accountable for the human cost of the decisions that they're making. This is why I decided in my ad to be very personal about my experiences and those of my family. This is a life or death issue.
9. What do you do in your free time?
Right now I don't have a lot of free time. But I love music, I love traveling, I love eating. I am a big foodie.
10. Do you have a life motto?
Someone gave me advice at the beginning of the process. She said if you run as if you aren't afraid to lose, you will run your best campaign. I would give that advice across the board. If you live life like you aren't afraid to lose you will live your best life. Keep pushing, keep being bold and keep taking those risks. Women of color, young women, women with nontraditional backgrounds, we don't normally have safety nets in our fights, our causes and our careers. But that's no reason to not put it all out on the line. Sometimes that means we will be criticized, sometimes we will be judged but authenticity will always shine through at the end. The more of us join together and push that multidimensionality forward, the more we can blaze a path for each other and the easier it will be every day.
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.