The Grayte and Moste Lamentable Tragedie of Belle Gibson: The Part with the Renting of Garments and Gnashing of Teeth

So it’s the Belledammerüng: the entirely foreseen, slightly anti-climactic end to the saga that ended with all the senseless gore and antipathy for human life of Alien v Predator 2. And the reactions range from the shocked and appalled through to the shocked and appalled. People are really running a gamut of emotions here.

Surprisingly I am missing what I thought would come, which is the admissions of shame and embarrassment for having fallen for the laziest long-con in the history of Australian literary hoaxes. And I am not seeing any of that. Which is odd.

Let’s take a moment to recap: the story of Belle Gibson, in thirty words or fewer, is that a not-very-bright twenty-something year old woman lied badly about having cancer and curing it with salads and people were shocked to hear she lied. The truth came out primarily because charities she purportedly fundraised for received little to nothing from her.

I think this part bears repeating: at no point otherwise were people in the mainstream – other wellness bloggers, members of the public, journalists or people of medical authority – asking the basic question is it possible for someone to be alive five years after a glioblastoma diagnosis? Or the even more basic question can you even cure cancer with clean eating? These are basic questions which have answers that even the laziest year eight student can find on Wikipedia in under five minutes. A handful of critical sceptics were raising the question, but the general sentiment in society is that one is a bit of a tool for questioning a cancer diagnosis. Which, in normal circumstances is reasonable – but not when said patient claims to have cured themselves with a vegan diet or a surfeit of pineapples. There was indication in the bucketload that people needed to ask questions.

And nobody asked them.

Gibson is a crumb, no doubt. The cries for her mental stability are as insulting as they are misplaced: we did not fret for the mental health or wellbeing of Alan Bond or Christopher Skase after their scams were outed. The girl is a low-rent Helen Demidenko or Norma Khouri. The end. She isn’t mentally ill, she isn’t suffering any real affliction. If she were a uni student, she’d be one of those idiots who submits a plagiarised assignment with the hyperlink to www.hotcheatz.com in the footer. She’s a grifter, and a lazy grifter at that. It insults the genuinely mental ill to be associated with her, and it presumes that the root of her woes lies in her weakness of mind and relative lack of agency and excuse me for a minute while I digress here, but can people please assume more of women than to presume the core reason for Belle Gibson’s actions is because she is irrational or mentally unsound when such an allowance wouldn’t be made of conmen like Bond, or Skase, or even Mehmet Oz or Gary Null because of their gender.

And because she was such an intensely lazy, incompetent and sloppy grifter, it is galling to see the great outcries of heartbreak from the lazy journalists and fans in her wake. The publications who – without question – promoted her account and sold her on the basis of her shiny veneer of health and vitality deserve for their names and reputation to be destroyed. The university-credentialled journalists who interviewed her with no sense of scruple or fact-checking deserve to look for a new job. They and the wretched, seething rat-king of wellness scum – the nutritionists, the uncritical, the cock-eyed optimists and exemplars of the Dunning-Kruger Effect – deserve as much scorn, if not more, than Gibson herself.

I hold firm on the notion that those who are gravely ill deserve to be cut a break: the looming prospect of death, disfigurement or destitution justifies many terrible choices made in the name of hope. Decision making is often severely impaired when one experiences the real existential terror of a terminal prognosis. No sick person who followed Gibson’s example deserves to be even sicker or too far gone for effective treatment, and I hope with all my might that this number is as close to zero as possible, even though I sadly know it will not be.

But when one lacks this grave impetus – more so, when one is extremely healthy, already privileged in wealth, fitness and social status – then it is expected one acts in due diligence, remembering the consequences of one’s endorsement and associations.

Jesinta Campbell, model and philosopher laureate, was one of Gibson’s Instagram followers for several years: including, presumably, when she came out with her ridiculous second fake diagnosis, and also during such times as when Gibson posted one of her many anti-vaccine screeds. And she joins the chorus of shocked-and-appalled who could not fathom that what she was hearing was not 100% lily-white, sparkling clean truth:

‘I am so disappointed and shocked and on every level, this is so irresponsible on her behalf,’ Campbell said on the Today Show on Thursday morning.

‘I was actually at an awards ceremony – the Cosmopolitan Fun Fearless Female Awards – and she was awarded with one of the big awards there.

‘And she was on stage and she was giving this speech, and she was crying, and I was crying, and I just feel like she’s really let everyone down. It’s just so irresponsible. I followed her on her blog, on her app, it’s really disappointing.’

The tears and emotional outpourings seem to be a bit of a thing.  Belle was, after all, a soul sister to many: someone who radiated authenticity and realness. We could tell this because she used words like authenticity and realness lots in her blogging and in her social media accounts. (And if there is one thing that inspires confidence and doesn’t seem like a scam, it’s when someone says they’re not scamming you.)

I get it: pleasant, extremely optimistic promises are more palatable than the promise of a 13% chance at being alive after five years. I get that juice goes down a whole lot easier than Tamoxifen. But incredible claims require incredible evidence, for which nothing has been provided thus far.  The evidence against alternative cancer cures is staggering in how it overwhelms scientific discourse: it doesn’t work. It has never worked. Even studies undertaken by naturopaths – people who certainly have a barrow to push in terms of proving the veracity of alternative medicine – proved that juicing and vegetables and a ‘chemical free life’ cannot cure cancer. This evidence is in abundance and it can be found freely on the internet, or in a consultation with a GP.

When Belle Gibson made claims as extraordinary as having died on an operating table during heart surgery – despite no scar evident – or having contracted her glioblastoma of the brain from the Gardasil injection, nobody raised the alarm. She got likes and pins and beautifully composed messages of love from her supporters, but nothing to challenge her to justify her position.

Like Jess Ainscough, most other wellness bloggers and acolytes had little reason to disavow her, and indeed I have seen very few big name wellness bloggers repudiate Gerson therapy or unproven cancer treatment since either Ainscough’s death or Gibson’s outing.

For them, acknowledging this means acknowledging that the fundamental bedrock of the community – the false promises of hope, longevity and beauty in exchange for lucrative product endorsements, speaking engagements and the adulation of hundreds of thousands of followers – was rotten and crumbling to the core. It means confronting the very superficiality and shallowness of the brand of love and light that they stood for.

Nothing separates these people – the Gibsons, the Campbells, the wretched rat-king of bloggers – from businessmen who water down penicillin to sell to children’s hospitals for profit, other than the fact that they don’t believe that penicillin works and they may never be played by an actor as good as Orson Welles. No watercolour wallpapers of motivational sayings and morning affirmations challenge the fact that they are just as cynical and ruthless in their business of building a brand and making money as any industrialist or bastard magnate.

And the only thing separating Belle Gibson from the rest of them – the journalists, the bloggers, the cock-eyed, optimistic supermodels – is that she lied about having cancer.

The rest of it – the sleek packaging, the pseudoscience, the hypocritical avarice for money and material goods while badmouthing conventional medicine and doctors for making a profit, the uncritical thinking, the pasted-on facade of tolerance and good will atop a structure of fear and prejudice – is all there.

And we must keep calling them out.

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5 thoughts on “The Grayte and Moste Lamentable Tragedie of Belle Gibson: The Part with the Renting of Garments and Gnashing of Teeth

  1. Oh, poor old Jesinta^^ – she really has little option at this point but to join the rapidly-swelling ranks of the “shocked & appalled”, now, has she?

    On the other hand, I was actually shocked by some of the responses to Gibson’s long overdue “confession” as reported on in an article entitled “Healing cancer through diet: Patients urged to be wary of ‘wellness’ bloggers” over at SBS.com.au. These included an apparently widespread failure to grasp the crux of the article and the gravity of the situation at hand, replete with the conspiracy theories one would expect to be popular at, let’s face it, “lesser” publications. My favourites were variations on the old chestnuts: “Why can’t people choose which treatments they’d like!?”/”What’s so wrong with encouraging people to eat more healthy food?” and “But allopathic medicine provides such a ‘backwards’ view on nutrition – why can’t we combine BOTH?” and on it devolved until the almighty “Big Pharma” was, of course, invoked.

    I too am puzzled by the utter lack of admissions of embarrassment (or more importantly, culpability where applicable) from within the Australian media. I suppose it must be from the shame of having been rumbled by an alarmingly sloppy long-con. I can say this with assurance, because I never bought the woman’s ridiculous story. There’s an inordinate amount of pearl-clutching going on – as you point out, those who were taken in can only either call the woman “evil” or “mad” which is every bit as insulting to those actually suffering from mental illness as you point out. [Even if Gibson does seem to have a history of being incredibly somatically focused.] Now, as I’m sure you have read, her “childhood literally ended the first day I was sent to Primary School”. Why even a writer from the AWW took such an assertion from the woman at apparent face-value, I have absolutely no idea!

    ^^ /Snark…

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  2. I admit to feeling angry at myself for not paying greater attention to Gibson when first discovering her as an AVN supporter back in 2009, before the app was a thing. I suppose one can only have so many things on one’s plate, but, I did witness the initial claims of brain cancer and the later creation of the app. I just didn’t pay enough attention at the time.

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    • But there really is just so much of it. Probably every day I would get a message from a friend saying ‘you should check this blogger out’ – the reality is that there are just too many B School/Institute of Integrative Nutrition/naturopathic bloggers that you only have time to filter for the real crazies.

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