Belle Gibson was one of those internet superstars who wowed the world with her incredible journey. Only 23 years old, she founded a wellness empire called The Whole Pantry which included a successful app, book deals and an award from Cosmopolitan magazine. But what really made Belle special was the fact that she cured her cancer with nothing but healthy eating and positive thinking. And if Belle could do it, anyone could do it. Cancer patients looked up to her and followed every word she published believing that they’d soon have a miracle tale to tell as well.
Instead, those who followed Belle began to see inconsistencies in her story and then there were allegations of fraud in regard to monies collected on behalf of a charity. Then, the lowest blow of all – Belle herself admitted that her entire life was a lie. She never had cancer which meant her miracle cure wasn’t a miracle at all.
Belle admitted the truth during an interview with The Australian Woman’s Weekly magazine.
“I don’t want forgiveness,” she told The Weekly. “I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, ‘Okay, she’s human.'”
That kind of mea culpa might work for the CEO who drunk posted on Twitter but it’s not likely to fly with the cancer patients and families who saw her as a beacon of hope.
But this case is about more than a blow to a blogger’s reputation, it’s about the physical and emotional harm her lies may have caused. There’s nothing dangerous about the healthy lifestyle she recommended but how many cancer patients turned down a doctor’s help because they believed in Belle? Could she be legally liable if one of her followers doesn’t make it through?
Belle blamed her lies on a troubled childhood. Some experts say she might suffer from Munchausen syndrome; a disorder that causes a person to feign a serious illness in order to gain sympathy or attention. If Belle Gibson is mentally ill, does that change the situation? If I was one of the people she duped, I’d feel better knowing this wasn’t a malicious scam.
Now that Belle has admitted the truth, it’s time for the trickle down effect. The publisher of Belle’s cookbook is going to have to eat the costs of what is now an unsaleable book. They’re also under fire for not having thoroughly investigated her claims before signing the contract.
This story is also making other wellness bloggers nervous; as it should. Anyone can write a blog about how to lose weight, stop depression or cure cancer. There’s no medical background required and no governing agency that will shut a blogger down if he lies. Actually, “lies” is too harsh a word. A writer who passionately advocates an unconventional medical treatment may not be lying, but their words still could be doing more harm than good.
Belle Gibson is an extreme example of what can happen when we shine a spotlight on a fragile soul. But she’s not the first and she won’t be the last person who embellished their story in return for a reward. Job seekers do it all the time. Newsmen do it. Authors have done it. We’ve all done it. But our little white lies don’t usually put others in harm’s way. When that happens, there’s a lot more at stake than a person’s reputation.