About a month ago, I read a story online regarding an Australian App developer and cookbook author who was being accused of failing to make some financial donations to various charities. Belle Gibson, of The Whole Pantry lifestyle/wellness app, cookbooks, and social media fame, had advertised her intention to donate a percentage of app sales, cookbooks sales, and a portion of some other fundraising ventures she had held, hosted, or just mentioned in posts. The article claimed said charities had failed to receive the donation, and some of the charities stated they had never even heard of Belle Gibson or The Whole Pantry. Neither had I. I only have one social media account, Twitter, and it's strictly for professional development. I don't "follow" any wellness "experts", and tend to be leery of alternative "medicine" because the entire industry lacks sound scientific research and oversight. Therefore, it isn't surprising that I knew nothing of the Belle.
After I read the story, I looked at a few of the accompanying photos of Belle. She was young, radiant, and looked to be a picture of health with long, thick hair and blindingly white teeth. I continued to read and discovered her claim to have "cured" herself of terminal brain cancer and years later five other cancers through diet and alternative therapies alone. She built a multimillion dollar wellness empire based upon curing herself of one of the most relentless cancers by eating a vegan diet and drinking "clean" water.
Wait. One. Minute.
I was still repulsed that Belle Gibson had failed to give money to the charities and causes she had used as free advertising to get people to buy her goods, but I felt sick by where my thoughts were taking me. What kind of human was I to question her pain? Her struggle? Her battle for life? I felt deeply ashamed for thinking it, but I did. I thought it. I thought "she doesn't have cancer, and she never did."
We live in a world of compassion when it comes to cancer. We all fear it. Most of us know someone who has had cancer. Too many people have lost a loved one to cancer. We all know cancer is cruel, savage, and unforgiving. Perhaps that's why nobody had said what I was thinking outloud. That must be the reason Belle was able to craft such a powerful story without ever having to prove that she was indeed a true survivor.
I kept my accusations to myself, but continued to google Belle's name. What happened over the next few weeks was awful. Belle went from being revered as the world's wellness guru to being a cancer charlatan. One minute she was working alongside some of social media's giants in Cupertino, California developing a version of her app so that it would be one of the apps that comes standard with the new Apple Watch, and the next minute her app was stripped from the US and Australian app stores. She had been named a Fun Fearless Female by Elle, but was now having statements redacted in major publications. Thousands of copies of her cookbook that were sitting in a warehouse awaiting publication date were being shredded. Belle, it seems, was nothing more than a con artist.
Belle Gibson had lied about her age, her childhood, her heart failure, her cancer, her donations, and her miraculous recovery. Although, a few weeks before, I had secretly suspected she was lying, I didn't get any satisfaction from discovering I had been correct. I felt so much disgust. How many true cancer sufferers had turned to her for hope and inspiration while battling cancer? How many had turned away from traditional therapies because she had told such an empowering story? Had people actually lost their lives because of her scam? What about those closest to her? Did they know? Were they complicit, or are they currently heart broken? What consequences will she suffer? Does she get to keep the millions she made? Will she face fraud charges?
The entire story is horrific. It says something about people. It tells us that there are people out there in the world who will lie to get what they want, even if it means hurting others. It also tells the story of people who are so quick to believe whatever they see online because they assume someone else has already vetted the person selling the story. You just cannot believe everything you see, hear, or read. Just because someone posts an amazing story on Facebook or Instagram doesn't mean the story isn't just that: a story. In the age of the internet and social media, we have to be so careful. The internet allows us to connect globally, but it also allows a con the opportunity to share the masterpiece from her art of deception to a much wider audience.