Health Blogger Belle Gibson Admits She Faked The Brain Cancer That Her Entire Wellness Empire Is Founded Upon
Last week, she was a wildly popular Australian wellness guru with hundreds of thousands of followers. This week, health blogger Belle Gibson admitted she faked the brain cancer her entire empire was founded upon, and although she's receiving more attention than ever, it's probably not the kind she hoped for. Gibson rose to prominence in the blogging world back in 2013, when she claimed she was diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer in 2009. Although doctors supposedly gave her only a few months to live, Gibson survived for years, until her cancer was miraculously "cured," the Telegraph reports. Her secret? Quitting chemotherapy in favor of "holistic medicine" and healthy eating. It sounds like a pop-up ad from 2005 — "Local Woman Cures BRAIN CANCER With Tiny Lifestyle Change!!" — but Gibson's claims sparked a meteoric rise to prominence after she posted about her extraordinary recovery on social media. There were numerous holes in her story: according to the Washington Post, she was pregnant during the time that she claimed to be receiving chemotherapy, although the likelihood of a doctor treating a pregnant woman with radiation is extremely low, and she once claimed to have died on an operating table. Any attempt to question her narrative, however, was met with evasions and dismissal. "She’d always just change the topic and wouldn't let you broach the topic," a source close to Gibson told the Telegraph.
Despite suspicions, the blogger remained popular, even developing a successful "health, wellness, and lifestyle" app. It wasn't until the accompanying book, The Whole Pantry, was published that things began to go wrong for Gibson. Although she stated that a quarter of the proceeds would go to various cancer charities, they never received any donations, the Telegraph reports. In March, local newspaper The Australian began looking into her story, and her empire began to crumble. Finally, in an interview with the Australian Women's Weekly, she admitted the entire story was fake.
"No. None of it's true," she told the Weekly. "I don't want forgiveness... I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do."Unfortunately for Gibson, the public has been largely unsympathetic.
Most of the criticism is directed at her widespread influence, rightfully pointing out that she may have endangered thousands of lives by convincing actual cancer patients to ignore real medical treatment in favor of hoping vegetables will cure their disease. It has to be said, however, that some of the blame lies in the culture that allowed Gibson's unfounded teachings to speak to such a wide audience. Clean eating is is so idolized in the modern day that as soon as someone starts throwing around terms like "natural" and "holistic," logic seems to fly out the window. Claims that should sound preposterous, like, say, curing brain cancer through healthy eating, seem much more significant on the Internet, where anyone can sound like an expert if they use enough pseudoscientific terminology.
This obsession with healthy eating has grown so common that psychologists have even noticed a new trend in eating disorders, which they have coined orthorexia. Although it isn't recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual yet, the disorder is so common that many psychologists are hoping to see it added to the next edition, Healthline reports. Rather than weight loss, orthorexia is characterized by an obsession with "wholesome" foods. As you can imagine, people with orthorexia are exactly the type of audience that wellness gurus like Gibson benefit from. It doesn't take an obsession to fall prey to the Gibsons of the world, however. They can make unfounded claims, and because we want to believe that carrots will cure what modern medicine can't, it's easy not to look any deeper into the subject.
Does this mean we need to fact-check everything we read on the internet? No. But I've found that a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether it sounds too good to be true. If the answer is yes, then it probably is.
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