Belle Gibson: The influencer who lied about having cancer

Author : jaguarlong
Publish Date : 2021-07-01 02:19:43
Belle Gibson: The influencer who lied about having cancer

Belle Gibson: The influencer who lied about having cancer

 Kylie was six months into her intensive and gruelling chemotherapy treatment for her recently-diagnosed lymphoma, when someone first asked her the question: “Have you heard about this girl Belle Gibson?”

A quick internet search led her to the perfectly-curated Instagram profile of an Australian wellness blogger, with more than 300,000 followers. Each post was flooded with adoring comments from followers around the world.

Kylie, who is also from Australia, was in awe of what she found: “[Belle] was beautiful, she was successful, she was inspiring to so many people.”

“She was the ultimate goal,” she added.

Belle Gibson’s online presence told the story of how, after being told she only had four months to live, she “cured” her inoperable brain cancer through healthy eating.

Kylie couldn’t help but make a comparison. Whilst she was undergoing daily chemo, losing all her hair, and about to have her 18th lumbar puncture — a painful procedure where a large needle is inserted into the spinal cord — Belle was selling the recipe to the miraculous cancer-free lifestyle she dreamed of.

“[I thought] maybe she’s got the right idea, maybe I’m doing it all wrong,” Kylie recalls.

“I’m dying on the inside, getting worse with every single treatment. I look horrendous. And she’s out there living her best life.”

Around her the wellness industry, which is now worth £2.8 trillion worldwide, was booming. The general public now knew that avocados were “superfoods”, many people were trying to emulate the shiny epitome of health that bloggers were posting and there was little to no scrutiny of the claims being made.

A line from Belle’s book read: “I was empowering myself to save my own life through nutrition, patience, determination and love.”

Enchanted by the idea of taking control of her own treatment, Kylie bought Belle’s cookbook and app The Whole Pantry. The brand was backed by one of the biggest publishers, Penguin and technology giant Apple.

Desperate to get better, Kylie woke up one day to go to the hospital and decided she was fed up with all the “poking and prodding”. She was done.

“Chemo wasn’t working for me. [I said] I should come off and try clean eating.”

“[Belle] was saying what she was doing was curing her cancer, it was making it better.

“I had her there to look at [as proof], I had her on my phone, she was in magazines, she was on the news, so I trusted her.”

But Belle wasn’t getting better…

In March 2015, an Australian publication exposed that Belle had been falsely claiming to followers that she was donating a portion of her book and app sales to charity.

Soon, journalists began to question and look into whether Belle was also deceiving people about her health.

“If only we had done that before we gave her the platform to be the person that she was,” says Kylie.

After a narrative of deceit quickly unravelled, it was reported that Belle had lied about having cancer.

In September 2017, Belle was fined £240,000 by the Australian government for misleading readers about donating money to charity, after she was found guilty of five breaches of consumer law.

A judge at the time said Belle may have “genuinely” believed what she was saying, and might have suffered from “delusions” about her health.

In March 2015, an Australian publication exposed that Belle had been falsely claiming to followers that she was donating a portion of her book and app sales to charity.

Soon, journalists began to question and look into whether Belle was also deceiving people about her health.

“If only we had done that before we gave her the platform to be the person that she was,” says Kylie.

After a narrative of deceit quickly unravelled, it was reported that Belle had lied about having cancer.

In September 2017, Belle was fined £240,000 by the Australian government for misleading readers about donating money to charity, after she was found guilty of five breaches of consumer law.

A judge at the time said Belle may have “genuinely” believed what she was saying, and might have suffered from “delusions” about her health.

Maxine, who lives in the UK, was at university when she started following Belle. Already infatuated with wellness culture on Instagram, she was drawn in by the stories of people ditching traditional medical treatments to heal their conditions naturally.

“[Belle] was the queen bee of wellness,” she reflects.

Since the age of 11, Maxine had struggled with her own illness, ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the large intestine. The most common symptoms are diarrhoea, loss of blood, abdominal pain and fatigue. The condition is lifelong and often controlled through medication.

“I had a bad time getting a diagnosis,” she says.

“I was about 12, so a lot of doctors were like, ‘oh, it’s your hormones or it’s just period pains.’

“It caused this negative attitude toward medical professionals and their approach to chronic illness, because I didn’t feel like I had that long-term support.”

After missing considerable periods of school, due to being so unwell, Maxine says all she wanted was to be like everyone else at university.

“I was so angry at having to put up with this disease and not getting to be a normal teenager,” she added.

She was also frustrated with the weight gain that she experienced while being on and off high doses of steroids, to treat her condition — she says this had a negative effect on her body image growing up.

So, already off her medication, Maxine latched onto Belle’s “clean-eating” app The Whole Pantry.

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