Belle Gibson created an app, wrote a cookbook, and had a popular Instagram account chronicling her journey and detailing her healthy-living tips — until the truth came out. (Photo: Instagram)
Suspicions arose in March that popular Australian food and wellness blogger Belle Gibson faked a brain cancer diagnosis and cure by way of a veggie-based diet. Now, the 26-year-old The Whole Pantry author has admitted she fabricated her backstory entirely.
“No. None of it’s true,” Gibson told The Independent.
According to her original tale, Gibson turned down a conventional cancer treatment plan, opting for self-treatment with nutritional powerhouse foods aimed at healing the body. She documented her journey via Instagram (@healing_belle), her cookbook (The Whole Pantry), and her app (The Whole Pantry App). Gibson also claimed to donate roughly $227,000 to different charities. But there turned out to be no trace of these supposed donations.
“I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality,” she told The Australian Women’s Weekly. “I have lived it and I’m not really there yet. … I think my life has just got so many complexities around it and within it, that it’s just easier to assume [I’m lying].”
The single mother also said she tends to create stories in her mind. “If I don’t have an answer, then I will sort of theorize it myself and come up with one,” she told Australian Women’s Weekly. “I think that’s an easy thing to often revert to if you don’t know what the answer is.” Gibson’s full interview with the publication is set to hit newsstands tomorrow.
Gibson isn’t the first online presence to attract attention for phony claims. For instance, in 2001, suburban housewife Debbie Swenson invented the story of 19-year-old leukemia sufferer Kaycee Nicole Swenson, luring loads of loyal followers. In 2012, a 22-year-old woman’s decade-long charade, which involved posing online as a family of a cancer-stricken child, fell apart.
Why would someone like Gibson or any of the other Internet posers create such elaborate hoaxes? According to Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, we assume big lies are harder to pull off because there are more people involved. However, the whoppers may be easier to swallow than many little white lies.
“Orwell recognized that big lies often get less scrutiny than smaller ones,” Markman tells Yahoo Health. “In general, of course, people have to do a little trusting of others or no conversation would ever get off the ground. If someone tells you that they have cancer, it would be extraordinarily impolite to question whether they are telling the truth.”
While Markman doesn’t know Gibson personally — so he can’t confirm if this applies to her case — he says there is a combination of personality traits called “the dark triad” that are characteristic of people who end up committing significant public fraud.
“The dark triad is a combination of high levels of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism,” Markman says. “Narcissists derive their self-esteem from the accolades of other people. Psychopaths have little empathy for others and are not bound by the moral constraints that help to keep most people’s behavior in check. Machiavellians are manipulative and willing to lie to achieve their goals. People with this combination of traits are more likely to get wrapped up in extended lies in the public sphere than those who are not.”
The other factor at play for Gibson, in particular? An underdog story, which makes for a captivating drama. “Anytime someone beats a serious illness, we root for them and give them the benefit of the doubt for a long time,” Markman says. “Certainly, the public did that for Lance Armstrong, who — after surviving deadly cancer — maintained that he had not used performance-enhancing drugs while winning the Tour de France.”
“We assume that someone who has beaten a disease has some other virtue about them, and that affects how we evaluate other things they say,” he adds.
Unfortunately, after amassing legions of fans, little of what Gibson has said seems to be true.