A few years ago, when I worked at Cosmopolitan magazine, I met a girl called Belle Gibson.
I was in one of the company’s photographic studios, sitting at a bench getting my hair and makeup done as I was being photographed for something. I don’t remember what for now, but I do remember that I was being squeezed in around another shoot that was happening that same day – one for a girl we were profiling in the magazine.
The ‘wellness’ space was gaining momentum and a young, stunningly beautiful girl in her early 20s seemed to be at the heart of it. She had turned a rough upbringing, a brain cancer diagnosis and the struggles of being a single mum into a life that was nothing short of inspiring, becoming a social media entrepreneur and creating an awesome app, The Whole Pantry, released in 2013. (Later, even Apple would give her and the app the tick of approval by including it as a default app for its new iWatches. Incredible!)
When she walked into the studio, I took notice of this girl because it was clear she was a force to be reckoned with. There was no stopping Belle Gibson.
Well at least that’s what we thought… But now, if you’ve seen any of the news headlines, you’ll know her story has come to a screeching halt.
Allegations have been made that Belle raised money for charity but never handing it over and that her whole ‘cancer story’ is a load of baloney.
Last night, even though I have run out of data on my phone, I stayed up until 12.30am Googling all the stories I could find, reading the comments on The Whole Pantry Facebook page and going back over her Instagram feed.
Even today, I am still OBSESSED with this story… I am FLABBERGASTED by this story.
On the one hand, what she has done, if it turns out to be true, is absolutely, unequivocally one of the most fucked up scams I’ve ever heard of.
Remember years ago when Kate Waterhouse’s dad was involved in the Fine Cotton scandal? Yeah, that was bad, but the fallout from that mainly hit those directly involved and the hip pocket of horse racing fans.
This scam is far worse in my eyes because the people most affected by it (aside from the charities, but that’s another, just as important story) are those with cancer and those related to or friends with someone who has cancer and were given hope by her story.
Sure if you just wanted some delicious, healthy recipes and downloaded and paid under $4 for the app, you might be feeling cheated, ripped off and pissed off right now, and rightly so.
But it’s the thousands of people who bought into her story who I really feel for. Who believed that by living a life like Belle did, and eating her recipes, they too might be ‘cured’ of cancer. How must they be feeling knowing that someone they looked up to has potentially been pedaling bullshit all along?
But then, as paradoxical as it sounds, I’m also sad for Belle. To be driven to create an entire life, business and social movement from a bunch of lies (if that is the case here, it’s still not proven and she hasn’t released a statement) you just can’t be right in the head.
Is she a pathological liar? Is she delusional? I don’t know. But I do know that her world must be coming down around her and I worry that she might not cope with the fallout of her actions.
I’m not sure what ‘retribution’ she should face. Obviously to begin with, I hope she tells the truth to her followers – they deserve that much at least – and pay the charities. But beyond that? I don’t know. Jail? Potentially.
To those who say she brought this on herself and deserves what she gets, the same could be said of the Bali 9 and still I don’t think they deserve to be executed. Although in some ways it’s like she’s already been executed online as I don’t see how her life can come back from this.
So what were my impressions of Belle? Did I ‘smell a rat’?