The Woman Who Fooled the World

Beau Donelly, Nick Toscano

The Woman Who Fooled the World
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The Woman Who Fooled the World

Beau Donelly, Nick Toscano

Belle Gibson convinced the world she had healed herself from terminal brain cancer with a healthy diet. She built a global business based upon her claims. There was just one problem: she’d never had cancer.

In 2015, journalists uncovered the truth: this hero of the wellness world, with over 200,000 followers, international book deals, and a best-selling smartphone app, was a fraud. She had lied about having cancer - to her family and friends, to her business partners and publishers, and to the hundreds of thousands of people, including genuine cancer survivors, who were inspired by her Instagram posts.

Written by the same multi-award-winning journalists who uncovered the details of Gibson’s lies, The Woman Who Fooled the World tracks the 23-year-old’s rise to fame and fall from grace. Told through interviews with the people who know her best, it unravels the mystery and motivation behind this deception and follows the public reaction to a scandal that made headlines around the world.

The Woman Who Fooled the World explores the lure of alternative cancer treatments, the cottage industry flourishing behind the wellness and ‘clean eating' movements, and the power of social media. It documents the devastating impact this con had on Gibson’s fans and on people suffering from cancer. Ultimately, it answers

Review

You don’t need to have heard about Belle Gibson, the Instafamous ‘wellness warrior’ who made a fortune and built an empire on her claim to have treated her brain cancer (which she didn’t have) with diet and lifestyle. Then again, most people have heard of her: she’s infamous as a hoaxer whose app, book and brand The Whole Pantry was backed by Apple and Penguin (neither of whom fact-checked her claims) and who raised copious funds for charities … that she never passed on.

What makes this book such a fascinating and necessary read is that it’s not simply an extensive takedown of Gibson the individual by the investigative journalists who uncovered her. It’s also a thoughtful, somewhat gossipy (though meticulously reported) systematic investigation into the multi-million-dollar ‘wellness’ industry, internet fame, and the mechanics of building and maintaining it. Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano take us behind the scenes at Apple, Penguin and with the developers who created Gibson’s bestselling app. They create an almost gleefully damning picture of the wellness milieu, skewering the mystically infused pseudoscience preached by its lifestyle philosophers to support their painstakingly accessorised worldview. It all contributes to a world of appealing, seductive surfaces, carefully constructed, with not enough care or attention paid to their underlying substance – or lack of it.

Gibson is a celebrity for our age; she fooled us because we wanted to believe, or didn’t care enough to look closely. This cautionary tale is directed at all of us … and it’s criminally enjoyable.


Jo Case is the editor of Readings Monthly and a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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