Australian wellness blogger Belle Gibson has been revealed as a fraud, and people are mad as hell. Over the last two years, the 23-year-old built a business on the back of claims that she had kept malignant brain cancer at bay for years through diet, positive thinking, and alternative therapies.
She garnered millions of social media followers, published a recipe book, and released an app (both called The Whole Pantry). Gibson had pledged to donate $300,000 of proceeds from the app to charity, however last month it emerged that the donations were never made. Then, further holes in her story began to surface.
Now Gibson has admitted to Women’s Weekly magazine that she completely fabricated her illness. When asked if she has, or has ever had cancer, she responded: “No. None of it’s true.” According to the magazine:
News.com.au has reported snippets of the interview, in which Gibson seems to admit that she lied but doesn’t quite offer a satisfactory explanation for why she did it. “I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality,” she said. “If I don’t have an answer, then I will sort of theorise it myself and come up with one. I think that’s an easy thing to often revert to if you don’t know what the answer is.”
Gibson is reportedly estranged from her mother, and talks about having a difficult childhood in the interview. Some media outlets have speculated that she may have a psychological condition called factitious disorder, which is when people fake illness in order to get attention. Gibson claims that while she doesn’t want forgiveness, she has struggled with the “horrible” public backlash.
The public fury is to be expected. Some have suggested that her bogus claims might have put cancer sufferers at risk by encouraging them to shun traditional treatments. And while her book and app have now been pulled, clearly she took financial advantage of a lot of people. Mentally ill or not, what she did was obviously unconscionable, despicable, and downright wrong.
Still, there’s a fine line between just punishment and humiliation that borders on cruelty. In February, The New York Times Magazine reminded us of how the world gleefully watched Justin Sacco’s career fall apart over a single tweet. And in March, Monica Lewinsky took to the TED stage to declare that “public shaming as a blood sport has to stop.”
In time we’ll see whether Gibson’s will be another case where the punishment was disproportionate to the crime.