Former wellness blogger and con artist Belle Gibson has been handed down a $410,000 fine for profiting off false claims that she had and was able to cure her brain cancer through natural remedies and nutrition. The decision made in the Federal Court will see The Whole Pantry founder donate this money to the charities and families that Gibson falsely claimed she donated money to from the sales of her app and cookbook.
Gibson targeted vulnerable cancer patients by providing them hope that they could be cured using alternative therapies and nutrition. In particular, the family of nine year old Joshua Schwartz, whom tragically passed away early this year, were drawn into Gibson’s web of lies when she stated that she had the same kind of brain tumour as the young boy, providing false hope to the family and the public that her treatment methods could help cure his illness. The Schwartz family will now receive $150,000 of Gibson’s fine, which sadly could never compensate them for the loss of their little boy.
Gibson’s rise to fame began in 2013 when she launched her blog claiming that she had just four months to live when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Gibson’s point of difference to readers was rejecting conventional treatments and opting for natural remedies, resulting in being “cleared” of her illness. Gibson promoted Ayurvedic medicine, oxygen therapy and a gluten and refined sugar-free diet as her treatment remedies, and established her cookbook and app title The Whole Pantry in 2014, which was promoted by the likes of Oprah and Apple.
But the truth started to come to the surface when the blogger failed to produce medical records, nor hand over promised donations totalling up to $300,000.
In 2015, Gibson was interviewed for an article in the Australian Women’s Weekly, where she admitted her wellness journey was all lies. Gibson has blamed a difficult upbringing and series of misfortunate events as the reasoning behind her lies. She has admitted to previous lies regarding heart surgery, where she acknowledged that she did not have such procedures, which in the past she has told people she went into cardiac arrest and died on the operating table. Still, in her interview with 60 minutes reporter Tara Brown, her reality of her rise to fame is that she was “under the impression” she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and seeking alternative therapists from a doctor whom on investigation, does not exist.
Last year, Gibson was banned through the courts from giving wellbeing advice with regards to her health. She has not once attended any court hearings since her exposure.
It is tragic that up to 200,000 followers of the blog were deceived into believing that the wellness advice of an amateur was going to benefit their health, especially for those in vulnerable and terminal states. It’s sadly the perfect example of why we as online users should not be endorsing the health advice of wannabe bloggers who have no qualifications – whether they are “fitspiration gurus” or “whole food advocates”. Many online “celebs”, including Kayla Itsines, Ashy Bines and the Merrymaker sisters do not have formal qualifications. Itsines has been the face behind her brand, with the mastermind of the empire being her partner. Bines has faced backlash over stealing other people’s wholefoods recipes, which she has bundles into her eating plan, at a cost of USD$75. And the Merrymaker sisters have done a 180 on the paleo diet that they have promoted and lived by for years as part of their empire.
It’s important to understand that no two people fit the same mould when it comes to our health. What one person may tolerate or experience when it comes to health may vary for another person with the exact same condition. It’s important to seek medical advice when treating any health concerns rather than searching through google for answers. Anyone can publish content online, meaning the credibility of sources continues to be watered down as more and more people publish their experiences. So it’s best to keep it simple, get yourself a good GP who knows your history and can refer you to specialists when needed. Most importantly, whilst sharing your stories can help open the doors to others regarding their health, it’s important not to give unqualified advice to those around you. The best way to go by is saying “you should see your doctor about that”.