The Poster Girl Who Was Cut Out of the Picture
By Kwame Dawes
Early last year, Annesha Taylor’s face was plastered on billboards, posters and flyers across Jamaica. Dancing and smiling brightly, she looked vibrant in her yellow blouse. The caption told her story: She was living with HIV, taking her medication, eating well and, above all, “getting on with life.”
There were television spots as well, and radio ads. In a blitz organized by the Jamaican Ministry of Health, Annesha became the poster child for the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Some people assumed that the 27-year-old was an actress. (How could such a beautiful woman be living with such an ugly disease?) Others took her apparent well-being as evidence that HIV isn’t so dangerous after all.
I met Annesha last September, when I was reporting on the impact of the disease in Jamaica, the country where I grew up. She was confused by the fame the ad campaign had brought her. Yes, many people on the island recognized her, but she was not a superstar making superstar money. She still lived in Arnett Gardens, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Kingston’s inner city. Her work with the Ministry of Health was just that: work, a shot at some income, some support for the three children she was raising with the help of her mother.
But less than a year into the campaign, Annesha lost her poster-child status. She was pregnant. The billboards and posters stayed up, at least for a while, but her role as the campaign’s public ambassador was over.