Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t set out to become a political icon. But, as her colleague and fellow Squad member, Ayanna Pressley, tells Vanity Fair in the recent cover story on the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, "I think it was her destiny.”
In candid interviews with Vanity Fair, AOC talks at length about how those kinds of expectations weigh heavily on her. As much as her three-letter nickname, AOC, has become synonymous with her fiery political acumen, she’s keenly aware that the political future of the United States need not rest on any one person.
“I don’t want to be a savior,” she says. “I want to be a mirror.”
Part of that entails using her image to both represent and project a different vision for what a political leader can look like. Much has been made of AOC’s background -- how her family struggled to make ends meet and how she had to take a bartending job to help out -- but to the Bronx native, such an origin story only highlights how better equipped she is to represent the working families in her district and to push Democratic leaders further to be more ambitious. It’s why she’s been a vocal advocate for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and higher tax cuts on the wealthy.
“I think, honestly, a lot of my dissent within the Democratic party comes from my lived experience," she notes. "It’s not just that we can be better, it’s that we have to be better. We’re not good enough right now.”
One thing her background has highlighted is how ill-equipped she was when it came to looking the part of a congresswoman.
“It’s legitimately hard being a first-generation woman…and being working class, trying to navigate a professional environment,” she tells Vanity Fair. “It continues to take me so long to try to figure out how to look put-together without having a huge designer closet.”
But from the beginning, she’s known what kind of message she wants her image to send. Her choice of hoop earrings and bold red lips are rebukes to the kind of censuring such flourishes often elicit. Indeed, the Squad knows that when AOC comes wearing her signature crimson lips (Stila’s Stay All Day Liquid in Beso, if you must know) it’s her version of war paint. It’s what she wore, with a matching red suit, when she took the floor to speak about an incident with Rep. Ted Yoho on the steps of the Capitol.
Lest you think, though, that AOC has it all figured out -- from outfits to policies and everything in between -- the cover story makes clear that, like many of us, the young representative struggles with prioritizing self-care.
A self-avowed night owl, she admits she often gets FOMO when going to bed early and that it’s a challenge to put her phone down at night. One thing that’s helped? Her dog, Deco, who forces her to slow down and partake in the only kind of mothering she can afford right now.
And while many would like her to run for president one day (including Cardi B!), don’t expect the savvy politician to make any promises about what her political future looks like.
“I think it’s part of our cultural understanding of politics, where—if you think someone is great, you automatically think they should be president,” she says. “I joke. I’m like, 'Is Congress not good enough?'"