Through a filter on Instagram, healthy living blogger Belle Gibson had a powerful story. As she told it, after being diagnosed with brain cancer six years ago, she learned she had only four months to live. Eschewing traditional chemotherapy, Gibson instead dedicated herself to a holistic, healthy lifestyle. She then created The Whole Pantry, a recipe app and community committed to helping other people do the same.
Fast forward to present day, and the Australian 26-year-old had seemingly defied the odds and amassed an Instagram following of nearly 200,000 people, written a cookbook, The Whole Pantry, set to debut in the U.S. this April, and her app was selected as one of a few to appear on the widely-promoted demo model of the Apple Watch.
But that’s when things started to fall apart. Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the 25 percent of the app’s proceeds—which Gibson had always claimed to give to charity—hadn’t actually been donated. While she’s sold over 300,000 apps at $3.79 a pop, the publication could only confirm $7,000 in donations (which clocks in at 2 percent, not 25 percent). On top of that, last year Gibson stated that she had donated $300,000 to charitable causes, but is now admitting that, due to “cash flow problems,” those contributions were never made.
The scrutiny then uncovered another weakness in Gibson’s story. Last year, she revealed that she was suffering from another kind of cancer—this time of the liver, uterus, spleen, and blood. But last week, she confessed it might have been a misdiagnosis. And while she’s standing by her original brain cancer diagnosis, various Australian papers and websites have been reaching out to doctors and friends of Gibson’s to try confirm that her empire was, in fact, built on her overcoming a devastating diagnosis.
Gibson’s answer to that inquiry has been an incredibly loud silence. Her online presence—which makes up much of her livelihood—has been wiped clean. Her Instagram is empty, her Facebook page has been taken down, and The Whole Pantry app that launched her into wellness fame has been pulled from Apple’s App Store. She reportedly fled her native Australia, and her U.S. book publisher, Simon & Schuster, is pulling her book because of “the failure of the author to provide clarification for numerous allegations concerning her biography and charitable endeavors,” they confirmed in an email to us.
No matter what the truth is, it seems that Gibson’s brand—and business—might not be able to bounce back after going completely dark in the face of this criticism. And it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve just experienced our very first wellness Catfish. —Molly Gallagher
Did you buy the app? What do you think about all of this? Tell us, in the Comments, below.
(Photos, from top: news.com.au; Simon & Schuster)