Why The Belle Gibson Scandal Matters To Me

Belle Gibson – you probably remember her; the app she created – and her very public fall from grace?

I thought you would.

Just in case you weren’t into social media back then, I’ll give you a whistle-stop tour.

Gibson made it big on the wellness scene.

In just one year she’d amassed around 200,000 Instagram followers.

‘Healing recipes’ were her thing, focused on the use of whole foods.

The enormous following (and subsequent fame) led to an award-winning app, and a book deal.

Gibson was an influencer before that was even a thing (and notably *way* before you could get a dairy-free almond milk Latte in Starbucks).

You might (quite reasonably) wonder why I’m writing about this? Well, it’s partly because I’ve just finished reading a book about Gibson, and also because the business she ran had an impact on my life.

The (new-ish) book was published in late 2017 and is written by the very journalists that began investigating Gibson’s businesses – and claims.

It’s fair to say that it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Wanting to be “skinny”

I was 25 when I began following Belle Gibson on social media and, the act of doing so would go on to play a part in my relationship with exercise and food.

I’d been living with my boyfriend for a few years; joyfully eating like a pair of well-off Tudors – and as a result, I had put on weight.

I’d always been skinny you see (I’m talking fitting-through-the-railings-at-school skinny).

I didn’t know what to do with my newly acquired chins.

So, I took out my first ever gym membership.

My goals? They were basic – get-fit-and-lose-a-bit-of-weight.

Within a few weeks of joining, a healthy eating plan ensued, and I was at the gym (and pool) at least six times a week.

The compliments rolled in as the weight dropped off, and I started to *really* look forward to sessions.

The wellness bloggers I was following were all enviably gorgeous – pictured exuding health from every pore across their vibrant (Instagram) feeds.

Their lifestyles were highly aspirational and yet, subversively implied that it was possible for us to be just as gorgeous, and just as healthy…

They were going to help us.

Too much of a good thing?

I lapped it up. Going all-in on the exercise and ‘clean’ eating front.

The majority of ‘wellness’ gurus were doing little more than sharing recipes, healthy eating advice, and yoga-on-the-beach shots – Gibson however, was different.

Belle Gibson claimed to have shunned conventional medicine; in favour of curing her aggressive brain cancer through diet and – she said it was working.

Soon enough, I was following the recipes – starting each morning with warm lemon water, and filling my shopping basket with expensive Acai Powder, Bee Pollen, and Goji Berries.

A shadow of my former self

The obsessive nature of my relationship with exercise and food crept up over time.

The compliments about my weight began to shift to concern. As you might expect – I was dismissive – telling myself they just didn’t understand.

Perhaps more importantly; it wasn’t confined to the numbers on the scales – my behaviour had changed too.

I worried about missing gym sessions and found myself turning down social invitations in favour of classes.

Chocolate and treats had to be earned – I was happier avoiding them because I feared I might put on weight.

Over time, this thing – whatever it was, had morphed into a strange superiority complex – I was judgemental of others; what they ate, and their perceived lack of self-control.

I sought information on ways to burn calories at every opportunity – “pace whilst waiting for the tram or bus” they said, so I did.

The irony was – with protruding bones, I found myself anxious that others would think I had an eating disorder.

Belle Gibson wasn’t healing

The reason Gibson had such radiant, clear skin, and remained able to globe-trot? She didn’t actually have any form of cancer.

I’ll say that again: there was no cancer.

Gibson had built a highly successful empire around a story that wasn’t true.

When I recently re-read the (now infamous) social media posts (which are all included in the book) it was easy to spot the blatant holes in her accounts of symptoms and treatment.

Tragically, it is also clear that some of her followers – who’d been so enamoured with her story – had ceased seeking conventional treatment for themselves.

I mean, how worrying is that?

Getting back on track

It was March 2015, when I saw the story about Belle Gibson trending.

Her claims were under-fire.

Sarah Gaffney-Lang wearing a navy blue floral dress and yellow tassel earrings.

Happier, healthier, heavier

I sat in utter shock as I read the news from a different desk to the one I’d previously sneak-peeked (read: stalked) the social media posts on.

I was living somewhere else too – and was now a much healthier weight.

These changes (the flat, and new job) had made a big difference in my life. I was happier.

There was no intervention – luckily, I was still just about teetering on the edge of something that might’ve got worse.

The bloggers weren’t to blame, but it’s fair to say that they didn’t help.

Why the Belle Gibson scandal still matters

It’s been three years since the news broke. And yet, I still feel personally invested in the scandal.

When the truth came out, all of her followers (including me) felt anger and disbelief.

After all, I had fawned over her idyllic – yet tragic life, as I cooked recipes from her (incredibly) lucrative app.

As chance would have it… in 2016, I would begin (conventional) treatment for a brain tumour myself.

I wonder now if we (and I include Apple and Penguin in this) were all terribly gullible to believe that it might-just-be-possible to cure (and I quote) “highly malignant brain cancer” with bloody wholegrains and green juice?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Was Gibson mentally ill? Or just an incredibly shrewd businesswoman? I don’t think we will ever know for sure.

Is it likely then, that the Healing_Belle/The Whole Pantry brand could have ruined lives? Absolutely.

I’ve thought about all of this, in the midst of working hard on a new mind-body relationship (you know, following all that proper treatment!!).

I’m older and (a bit) wiser. So, thankfully, it’s going pretty well.

Sar x

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4 Comments

  1. Barbara Renel
    May 18, 2018 / 6:51 am

    This is a great post. We’re all human. Love your straightforward honesty.

    • SarahGaffney
      May 19, 2018 / 12:32 pm

      Oh thank you, Barbara… not something I’ve ever talked about openly. X

  2. May 22, 2018 / 2:54 pm

    Such a refreshing post, and gets to the point about people get caught up in the social media wellness whirlwind. Sorry to hear about your tumour and I hope your health has improved.

    • SarahGaffney
      May 23, 2018 / 7:57 am

      Hi Seetal.

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading it. Thank you! I’m doing well, finished chemo at the end of March. Xx

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