*Guest post by reader Ella.
Just twenty days ago, on this blog, Violet posed the question “does Belle Gibson actually have cancer?” On March 9, The Age broke the news that funds promised to charity by your company, The Whole Pantry, had not been turned over. Meanwhile, as your supporters rushed to your defense, The Australian uncovered the answer to Violet’s question. You do not have cancer.
Those five words are usually good news. This time it was a little bit more complicated. You tearfully admitted to Richard Guilliatt that you were “misdiagnosed by a medical team using ‘magnetic’ therapy from Germany,” and that you were “not certain whether he was a medical doctor.” This contrasts with your claim that you were initially diagnosed by a “conventional” team, whose treatment you rejected after passing out in a car park opposite the hospital where you supposedly underwent chemo. By March 14, after admitting the above, you were still claiming to be “scheduled to undergo surgery in a few weeks.” I think we all know none of that is true.
You reacted to the crisis impulsively, lashing out at your critics and promising The Daily Mail that you would “have a statement live this week.” That “live” statement appears to have died. You hastily attempted to wipe all trace of your cancer claims from the internet, in the same way my little brother would petulantly flip the Monopoly board as soon as he realized he had no chance of winning. To date, Penguin has “not received sufficient explanation” from you “in response to recent allegations,” and your book has been shredded. After some delay, Apple has also bowed to public pressure and pulled The Whole Pantry app.
You quickly discovered that an empire built on lies doesn’t stand up to much. It all collapsed remarkably quickly. The Amazon preview of your book, featuring glossy images of a radiant Belle Gibson beaming at bunches of beets, has vanished. A Google search for Belle Gibson turns up more data than it ever did, but not in a good way. And the central image of The Whole Life website – a rustic wooden table strewn with picturesque organic produce – is forever tainted.
You don’t have cancer, and I suggest that you knew that all along. You’ve had years to anticipate what would happen when the cat was finally out of the bag. You claim to be worried about being “bullied to your death.” You are not in imminent danger of death, and it’s time to abandon that myth and stop using it to win the public’s favour.
My question to you is this: as your book turns into so much mulch and your reputation lies in tatters, what should you do? Belle, you need to step up, and demonstrate some of the courage and fortitude that you’ve been boasting about for so long. You want to withdraw from the public eye, and you must do that. But do it honourably. Own up to your mistakes, and take the penalty on the chin.
You recently protested, “I know the work my company and it's [sic] contents did changed hundreds of thousands for the better." The good you may have done does not cancel out the bad. Financial issues aside, your company was founded on the image of a dying woman leading a fulfilling life for years longer than predicted, simply by ditching conventional treatments in favour of fantasy-based medicine.
This is a dangerous lie. The death of Jess Ainscough was a tragic reminder of the high cost of quackery. In the avalanche of misinformation perpetuated online, parents are failing to vaccinate their children, cancer patients are turning their backs on proven treatments, and healthy people are putting themselves at risk with extreme diets and dodgy therapies. This isn’t entirely your fault, obviously. But ironically, you are now uniquely placed to help put an end to this dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense. You actually have a chance to do some good.
You once said, “My community expects me to be authentic.” You were right. For years, you addressed your adoring “community” publicly, intimately and emotionally, inviting them into very private aspects of your life. You must now use the platform you created to address that community, issue a public and open apology for deceiving the public about your cancer, and as graciously as possible withdraw from the public eye.
You have some urgent legal and financial obligations, and you will no doubt be forced to meet them. But you also have a serious moral responsibility, and how you handle that will determine how the rest of your life plays out. You’re very young, you appear to be in excellent health, and you have decades of life ahead of you. It’s not too late to put things right. Don’t let this disaster be a monster from which you’re always running. Turn, face it squarely in the eye, and come clean.
Your “wellness,” and that of your family, doesn’t rest with the idle threats of a handful of sub-literate trolls on Facebook, but on your integrity as a woman. It is within your power to make amends, to heal, and to proceed with newfound authenticity and hope. I encourage you to do just that.