Publishers of glossy magazines should be careful what tales they tell. But no one seems to have warned Betty Irabor, Editor-in-Chief of leading women’s magazine, Genevieve.
Irabor has been telling careless tales. To quote the lady herself, the ill-advised non-story she tells in the June issue of her magazine is one “brow beaten” tale. A big to-do about plucked eyebrows and a mix-up over a razor whose unwrapping she did not witness. Recalling the thoughtless paranoia she whipped up at a photo session months before, Irabor revealed herself to be a hysterical drama queen. And it wasn’t edifying.
Much ado about a pair of eyebrows, perhaps. And if eyebrows were the only things at stake, we could leave preening socialite-publishers to their fickle ways. They can continue to mingle in exclusive social circles, air-kissing with mutually appreciative society ‘darlings’; doing lunch; doing their hair and nails endlessly; and wearing criminally expensive clothes. For good measure, they can throw lavish parties for charity, to reassure themselves that their existence is not without purpose.
But this is not about eyebrows; it is about HIV/AIDS ignorance on a grand scale. And so we cannot look away, neither can we keep silent.
Whether or not one cares for elitist company or extravagant colour-coded parties, there are reasons to like Genevieve. For a start, it is a glowing example of successful Nigerian entrepreneurial flair. After the June edition however, readers may question their devotion to Genevieve and its ubiquitous publisher.
Irabor’s magazine did what she called “a first” for its March issue. Instead of models or society belles, Genevieve had as its cover-girl a woman living with HIV/AIDS. The HIV-Positive Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, one of
Alas, with her massive AIDS goof in the June edition, not only has Betty Irabor undone the good work of the March cover, her sincerity is called to question. For how could someone have an HIV-Positive mother on the cover of her fashion magazine and still harbour the kind of intolerance displayed by Irabor? One may conclude that the March cover idea never emanated from a profound place. The kudos and goodwill garnered so far by Genevieve – and its reputation – are under threat. And Irabor has only herself to blame.
So, what exactly did she say in the June editorial to bring about this state of affairs? It is a tale of extreme vanity, in which the publisher discloses that she arrived “deliberately late” for the March cover’s photo session (Yinka Jegede-Ekpe was being photographed; the need to avoid prolonged contact, may explain the “deliberate” lateness). We are told Irabor ate “boli and epa” – perhaps to show that she is a simple, down-to-earth person. Sadly, what follows only demonstrates how out of touch with everyday reality she is.
Irabor asked the make-up artist to work her brows, though she is at pains to point out that they were not overgrown. The assistant handed a razor to her “madam” – the make-up artist. Soon after, Irabor convinced herself that they used the same razor for her and Jegede-Ekpe – and caused a scene. This, despite the make-up duo’s assurances that they used a fresh razor. In Irabor’s own words, both these people were “bewildered” by her display. People get sued for workplace harassment in
And where is all this leading? Irabor refused to believe that she had not been infected with HIV and even paraded her ignorance by confiding that she was going for an immediate AIDS test (note: HIV can only be detected three months after exposure to the virus). Then, having disclosed Jegede-Ekpe’s HIV status to her listeners (not that the activist was hiding the fact), Irabor continued to hyperventilate. Hear her: “Suddenly, images of my life as one of those ‘AIDS PEOPLE’ flashed before me. Oh God. No! How could I have been so careless… especially after all the education I got from interviewing Yinka Jegede-Ekpe a few weeks earlier?”
One would laugh at this point, if it were not so offensive. What exactly did Irabor mean by those AIDS PEOPLE? The capitals are hers. What did she mean? Are people living with HIV Untouchables? Are they Aliens? After reading this supreme folly of an editorial, I looked through two recent issues of Genevieve. Page after page, pictures and profiles of socialites trying their hardest to be acknowledged as trend setters. People with money; some with class and frankly, some without. Some with debauched, questionable lifestyles – and some whose sense of style leaves much to be desired. All held up on a pedestal. And Betty Irabor is their doyenne because she gives them visibility. But wait, I necessarily reminded myself: any one of these glamorous people could be HIV-Positive. So why should Irabor think that she can only be infected by those who, like Jegede-Ekpe, have the courage to reveal their status?
I didn’t laugh, but I did shake my head when I read about the “education” she supposedly got from her March cover-girl. No doubt there was education, but clearly, Irabor imbibed little of it. Yinka Jegede-Ekpe is truly an inspirational person. Diagnosed at the age of 19, she went against the norm and ‘came out’ about her status. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to raise AIDS awareness in
The Genevieve cover is a tiny honour in the face of all that this young lady has achieved. If they put her on the cover of TIME Magazine or Vogue, it would not be asking too much. The idea that this fighter, this survivor – could be treated like a leper, stigmatised all over again by the publisher of a fashion magazine – is deeply offensive.
There’s more from the photo session. Betty Irabor stopped by the room where Jegede-Ekpe was being made up and managed to raise the subject of eyebrows yet again. Finally, reassured that the activist had shaped her brows from home, Irabor flashed a “saccharin sweet” smile – one of her “most disarming” – at Jegede-Ekpe. To put it plainly, Irabor was fake and superficial. And with an astonishing lack of self-awareness, she nailed herself in writing!
She ends the piece, titled “C’est la vie!” with “There goes I (sic), but for His grace!” Now one may ask, what was the point of Irabor’s editorial? There was no social import to speak of; no self-awareness as previously noted; no irony; no lesson imparted; no reflection. The pointlessness of it. Through the writing, editing and eventual publication, no one alerted the “madam” (note Irabor’s insistence on class distinctions, with the repeated use of words like “madam”) to the potential offence.
Worst of all, she displayed an appalling insensitivity to the feelings of the woman ‘honoured’ on the cover of her March issue. “If only she knew what had gone down,” Irabor wrote of Jegede-Ekpe. Well, she knows now. The activist fought the stigma of Nigerian society for years and triumphed, only to be stigmatised all over again on the pages of Genevieve. When Irabor screamed her horror at the prospect of becoming one of “those AIDS PEOPLE”, who did she assume her readers to be? Did it occur to her that some of those readers might be living with HIV? How then were they supposed to feel?
We are discussing this now, only because Irabor’s huge faux pas led to a furore on the Internet. And this controversy is a testament to the power of internet blogs as a new, unfettered voice in society. The Genevieve AIDS offence was first highlighted on Jeremy Weate’s popular “Naijablog” where reader after reader showed better sense – and better AIDS awareness – than the “enlightened” and “civilised” Betty Irabor. By the time this writer heard of the matter, it had spread to other blogs. The controversy rolled on to a Nigerian website eventually, where it generated pages of angry reactions. All the while, traditional Nigerian media was either silent or unaware. Irabor had a public relations disaster on her hands, thanks to the blogs, and had no choice but to mount a damage limitation exercise.
The Genevieve founder’s half-hearted apologies and explanations fall short, and show that she does not really appreciate the gravity of the offence caused. Her first ‘apology’ included this flippant line: “But like the title says, C’est la vie. That’s life.” There is almost no need to say more. When the outrage refused to quieten, Genevieve released a statement, in which Betty Irabor blamed her editorial on a “production mix-up”. She added: “I wrote the article to illuminate this issue and it ended up having the opposite effect because of an editorial slip.”
But the Genevieve editorial illuminated nothing. And it is insulting to pass the buck in this manner. It simply doesn’t wash. As Jeremy Weate noted, the statement “throws more darkness than light on the whole saga. There is a world of difference between a ‘production mix-up and an ‘editorial slip.” Irabor has not claimed that she did not write the editorial, neither does she blame it on sabotage. They were her words. She stood by them proudly, until readers voiced their objections.
Irabor says she has apologised to Yinka Jegede-Ekpe and the latter accepted. However, this does not prevent readers, patrons and advertisers reprimanding Genevieve in the strongest terms, to make the important point that we will not stand for this kind of thing. If this were Europe or
Betty Irabor (pix: TY Bello)
Betty Irabor is lucky that
And let our elites take note, about the new power of blogs to critique society. As the proverb goes: “If the king of the world does not catch you; the one in heaven is watching.” If you behave in an unacceptable manner, the blogs do not care who you are or who you party with; they will come for you.
The heroine of this saga is Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, and one can only imagine what she is going through right now; but hopefully the outpouring of public support will go some way to ease any hurt she might feel.
There is nothing worse in the fashion industry than to be outdated, and there’s nothing more so than AIDS ignorance in these times, by educated people who should know better. In fashion-speak, the Genevieve editorial was not only passé, it was ‘so last century’.