Former Playmate Speaks on HIV/AIDS

Isaak Kifle

On Monday, November 8, former Playboy Playmate and bodybuilder Rebekka Armstrong came to the Alumni Lounge to speak to students about a very sensitive issue. In 1986, Armstrong was named Playmate of the Month for Playboy Magazine’s September 1986 issue, appearing on the centerfold of the edition. However, about three years later, in 1989, she tested positive for HIV. She announced this publicly in 1994 and soon after became a speaker and activist for HIV and AIDS-related causes.

Armstrong began the night with a short film summarizing her experience of being a model for Playboy, as well as her reaction upon discovering she was HIV positive. After the film, she told the audience her story of what her life had been like before and after learning this. Particularly, she shared her experiences with several drugs prescribed to her over the years after contracting HIV. She’s experienced side effects ranging from weakness, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, nerve damage, and skin lesions. This was because many of these drugs were still in experimental phases as HIV and AIDS were still relatively unknown in the early 90s.

Using her own life as an example, Armstrong showed what can happen to someone who isn’t careful regarding sex. In the past, she has watched many of her closest friends die from AIDS. And now, she sees young people today making the same mistakes she made in forgoing safety. She still remembers taking the long routes to the back doors of hospitals to avoid embarrassment, despite the crippling pain she experienced. She managed to keep her diagnosis largely a secret for five years, even going so far as to tell people she had leukemia or another hereditary disease to receive rides to the hospital.

This shame and stigma, though in less degree today due to the increasing prominence of HIV and AIDS, still exists. It is important to remember, notes Armstrong, that it does kill you. Even if you survive for many years, as she has, your quality of life decreases dramatically. With a weakened immune system, sickness, and death come so much easier.

Armstrong ended her presentation by reminding the audience of the ways to take precaution and protect themselves from going through the things she went through, such as using condoms and limiting your use of alcohol for its ability to cloud judgment. HIV and AIDS do ruin lives, and it’s important to take steps to ensure that yours isn’t one of them.