CHANGEMAKERS // Reaching Boiling Point: Belle Gibson
CHANGEMAKERS is a weekly series where we explore the world of management and leadership. What is it that makes leaders succeed or fail, respected or hated? Our writers take a good look at the leaders who are making an impact today, whether it be good or bad.
Fake it ‘til you make it. That’s exactly what Belle Gibson did; and make it, she did.
By 22 years of age, Belle Gibson had forged her own social media empire, launched a wellness app, landed a cookbook deal with Penguin and featured on the launch of the Apple Watch.
This increasingly profitable empire came crumbling down in March this year following allegations of fundraising fraud.
The Whole Pantry lifestyle app was constructed as a manifestation of her wellness journey; an incredible story of triumph, naturally healing a cancerous brain tumour. For over 2 years Gibson convinced her followers, the Australian media, Apple and Penguin of her dormant illness. No one questioned the authenticity of the façade, with the amassing fame simultaneously strengthening her credibility in the community.
The wellness bubble burst, sending seismic reverberations rippling through the alternative medicine community; demoralised by recent controversies including Pete Evan’s paleo faux pas as well as the death of The Wellness Warrior Jess Ainscough.
Before the dawn of social media, alternative medicine was vastly overshadowed by conventional western practice. Nowadays these long-muffled critics of modern treatments have been able to migrate their ideas from the periphery to the mainstream conscience. The groundswell of the wellness movement can be attributed to the feeling of community disempowerment in the face of seemingly emotionally-reserved medical professionals, the omnipotence of big pharmas and increasingly pervasive illnesses, such as cancer.
Conversely, wellness movement personalities offer comfort and inspiration to the masses where conventional medicine may not. Despite intentions to foster ideals for a healthy lifestyle, social media platforms have enabled individuals, such as Belle Gibson, to manipulate the sensationalism of social trends, and leverage their opinions as fact.
Ironically, when asked the suspected reason behind her global popularity, Gibson answered; “Authenticity and integrity. It really is that simple… there is not enough honesty out there”. For whatever reason Gibson falsified such an elaborate story, her case shines the spotlight on the danger of misinformation and excessive power she had with her online reach.