When I first decided to run for district representative, I felt sure that unless I conformed to expectations of what a district rep “should” look like, I didn’t stand a chance in the election.
So I ran out and bought a nice suit that covered every trace of my tattoos, took out my nose piercing, and applied a “nude”, inoffensive, bland shade of lipstick for my campaign photos. I even considered straightening my hair after someone suggested I do so in order to “appeal to a larger crowd”. The subtext was clear: “You don’t look like you belong, Valerie, so you’re going to have to fake it in order to fool voters.”
When I realized what I was doing, I felt like a sham. I was pretending to be someone else, and that is not how I was raised. I was disgracing my mother, my friends, and worse of all…my children. How could I tell them to “be true to yourself no matter what” if I was not setting an example?
You see, even if I do cover my tattoos, take out my piercing, and straighten my hair, I will still not be the status quo candidate, especially not in our district. Not unless I bleach my skin and grow an extra appendage. I couldn’t blend in if I tried.
So instead of hiding who I am, I want to set an example for all the other curly-haired little girls out there, and show them that they can be anything they want, without having to change themselves to fit a certain mold. I want young people with tattoos and piercings to see that the art on our bodies dictates nothing about our futures. The only limits are the ones we set for ourselves.
At the end of the day, win, lose, or draw, I have to lay my head down knowing I did my mother proud. I have to know that I was honest with my children, with my supporters, and myself. And I have to prove that I am willing to do what I know is right, even when another path might seem easier.
That’s just who I am.