Maintenance Phase

"Illness Influencer" Belle Gibson

February 01, 2022
Maintenance Phase
"Illness Influencer" Belle Gibson
Show Notes Transcript

Mike: What's your tagline, what do you have for us?

Aubrey: We're doing an influencer. Yeah?

Mike: Oh, it's a cancer influencer. Does that help? 

Aubrey: Jesus Christ. 

Mike: Do you have a cancer zinger ready?

Aubrey: [laughs] Not really.

Mike: [laughs] That you've been saving?

Aubrey: Oh, here we go. Hi, everybody, and welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that aims to be more benign than malignant.

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Does it work?

Mike: You did have one [laughs].

Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon. [laughs] 

Mike: I am Michael Hobbes.

Aubrey: If you would like to support the show, thank you so much. You can do that by visiting us at, where we have bonus episodes for you including a forthcoming bonus episode. That is a mailbag of all of the absolutely wacky emails we get from mostly people who don't listen to the show.

Mike: Yeah, we also get a lot of offers from products wanting to sponsor the show and set up influencers that want to be on the show. So, we will be reading those out loud and making fun of them. It's going to be fun. 

Aubrey: Set up influencers. [laughs] 

Mike: You know what I mean? You saw that mail.

Aubrey: I do. And today, we are talking about some kind of influencer?

Mike: Yes. We are talking about someone named Belle Gibson. Are you familiar with this person?

Aubrey: I am not like at all. You mentioned something about-- Is this person, Australian?

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: Actually, she is a very well-known Australian lifestyle influencer.

Aubrey: Would you put this person more in a YouTuber style camp and Instagram style camp, like an Amanda Chantal Bacon? What's the woo level here and what's the platform of choice? Those are the two things I would like to know.

Mike: I would say, six and Instagram.

Aubrey: Okay. 

Mike: I think Amanda Chantal Bacon is the level we're dealing with here. 

Aubrey: Excellent. 

Mike: One of the chapters of her book is called Own Your Magic.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: It's a lot of back kind of stuff. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Mike, I already love it. 

Mike: This is really a story of Instagram. Most of this takes place in 2013 and 2014, which is not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. But in Instagram/internet time, it's five generations ago.

Aubrey: Uh-huh. 

Mike: To give you a sense of who this person is and her general vibe, I am going to send you, I would say prototypical Instagram post from the peak of her fame.

Aubrey: Okay.,

Mike: Boop.

Aubrey: Okay. She looks like one of the Pretty Little Liars

Mike: Oh, she does. Yeah. 

Aubrey: The Instagram name is @healing_belle, B-E-L-L-E. 

Mike: Healing Belle.

Aubrey: It's a picture of a young conventionally attractive white woman wearing sunglasses. She looks like she's in her probably mid 20s is my guess. She is definitely wearing makeup, but it's the no-makeup makeup look. 

Mike: Oh, yeah. 

Mike: And the caption says, "on my way to my first official duties as an American author with the humidity high and rain coming down. Big Love to the TWPX USA community, who helped me out last night. You're all incredible. #Grateful."

Mike: This is very 2013, 2014 Instagram.

Aubrey: Yeah. #Blessed, #Friendship.

Mike: This is another one, also at the peak of her fan. I just wanted to give you a sense of the kind of influencering that she's doing on Instagram for most of her social media career.

Aubrey: Okay. This next one is a picture of a smoothie with either a green straw, or a lime wedge, or something in it. That smoothie looks good.

Mike: Yeah. It's bright, lovely purple.

Aubrey: Oh. The caption says, "You don't always have to supplement your diet but it's so easy. Why wouldn't you give your system extra support? This one is for my rash, thanks, liver cancer, inflammation, thanks flying, and for general immunity, raw mangosteen powder, wild strawberries, blueberries, hemp protein, bee pollen, maca, coconut milk. For brain function, metabolism, and hormone health, flaxseed oil, and golden turmeric. You can choose to add just one." 

Mike: I mean you see the Amanda Chantal Baconanity, right?

Aubrey: Yes. If there's a moon juice scale of zero to 10, I would put this at a 9, I would take one point off because that smoothie has zero mushrooms in it. [crosstalk] [unintelligible [00:04:42]

Mike: I know. That's the problem. She hasn't mentioned hydration in here. There's no antiaging. I'm livid.

Aubrey: I'm talking myself into giving it an 8 now. 

Mike: You're getting a sense of her overall vibe. She's a thin white lady, she's got health problems, and she's recommending these foods for health problems. 

Aubrey: Correct. 

Mike: But now, we're going to rewind to her upbringing. This is the story that she tells in her book. This is the story that she tells in a million interviews and a million talks over the years. These are the general chapters of her life as told by Belle Gibson. She's born in 1989. She grows up in social housing in Brisbane. Her father's out of the picture, her mom would later describe him as a sperm donor. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: Her mother has MS and her brother is autistic.

Aubrey: Oh, dang. 

Mike: From age 6, she says she's the mom of the household. She's making sandwiches, she's doing dishes. She talks about standing on a chair to reach the stovetop, so that she can cook macaroni and cheese for her and her brother. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: This is an excerpt from an Elle article that's published in 2014. It says, "Both she and her brother were severely overweight subsisting on frozen meals and cheap fruit juice."

Aubrey: Uh-ho. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: I don't like where this is going. 

Mike: I'm planting little red flags. 

Aubrey: I don't like just the phrase 'severely overweight is not a great'-- Uh.

Mike: She also says that she moved out at age 12. She bounced around, staying with friends, staying with friends of the family, she ends up dropping out of high school, she moves to Perth at age 16, which is as far from Brisbane as she can possibly get, and she starts working at a Health Insurance Call Center. When she's at this job, she starts to experience weird health stuff. She has trouble reading, she stumbles when she walks, she's having memory problems. I'm going to send you an excerpt from her book that ends up coming out in 2014 called The Whole Pantry.

Aubrey: All right. "I had known for a while that something didn't feel right. But when I saw the doctor, he told me to ignore what I was experiencing and to trial antidepressants. I tried them, but they made no difference. So, I went off them and went back to the doctor. All he said was, you work too hard, you're looking at a computer all day, and you're socially isolated. Let's get your eyes tested and start that medication I gave you again. At this point, I could have taken control of my own life and gotten a second opinion. But instead of listening to my body and trusting my intuition, I put my faith in one "professional." I felt I had hit a brick wall. Soon afterwards, I had a stroke at work. I will never forget sitting alone in the doctor's office three weeks later waiting for my test results. He called me in and said you have malignant brain cancer, Belle, you're dying. You have six weeks, four months tops."

Mike: What do you think? 

Aubrey: Whoa. This is very tough for a couple of reasons. One is if you talk to people who have chronic illnesses, this is not an uncommon story. They're just like people who don't get believed about their bodies and have their symptoms minimized. That is also an on-ramp to next level quackery. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Aubrey: It's both, like, what a horrifying, terrible experience to have. If this is how this happened, I know you, so maybe it isn't.


Mike: Fuck you for remembering the previous episodes of this show.



Aubrey: If this happened this way, so, ? jury is still out there. That's truly horrifying, and really, really awful, and given the influencer path that I know that we're on, it feels like this is going to a lead to some that's why you got to have sodium cluster salts in the form of celery juice every day kind of nonsense.

Mike: All of this is leading us to the purple smoothie, so yes.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: After she gets this diagnosis, she has six weeks to live, four months tops. She ends up moving to Melbourne because there are specialists there and she can get chemotherapy. She does two months of chemotherapy. She says after the first month or so, after the first round, it's so bad, she ends up puking and passing out on a bench in a little park across the street from the hospital. 

Aubrey: Oh, yikes. 

Mike: She's like, "I can't do this anymore." She starts reading online, she says, posts about the detoxifying properties of lemons. I'm going to a send you another quick excerpt from her book. 

Aubrey: Thank you. 

Mike: You're going to be the voice of Belle.

Aubrey: Oh, God. 

Mike: Channeling Belle for us. 

Aubrey: Listen, I made you be the voice of Karl Lagerfeld. So, there's nothing you can do to me that will compete with that.


Aubrey: Well, "Six weeks after my diagnosis, I changed my diet. Like most Australians, I found I was still eating too many sugars, red meat, and refined foods. I pulled myself out of chemo and radiotherapy." Jesus Christ. "My doctors freaked out but they couldn't stop me. I was empowering myself to save my own life through nutrition, patience, determination. and love, as well as salt, vitamins and ayurvedic treatments, craniosacral therapy, oxygen therapy, colonics, and a whole lot of other treatments."

Mike: She's already saying stuff that I don't know what it is.

Aubrey: Oh, boy, it's real fucking dark when people are like. "Against my doctor's advice, I pulled myself out of treatment for cancer."

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: There are a lot of things that make the medical system really, really difficult and also don't fuck around when it comes to cancer. Jesus.

Mike: Another phrase that stands out is, I was empowering myself to save my own life. 

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: The doctors aren't working for that, the doctors, they don't care if she lives or dies. I realized people have had very bad experiences with the medical system, not everybody's experience is really good. But the idea that you're empowering yourself by not undergoing proven remedies-- 

Aubrey: Yeah, it's not good. 

Mike: Yeah, it's not good. 

Aubrey: Not good. 

Mike: At this point, she switches to a vegetarian diet without any dairy, gluten, preservatives, GMO foods, or sugar. 

Aubrey: Sure. 

Mike: It's very limited what she can eat at this point. No alcohol, no caffeine. 

Aubrey: Uh-huh. 

Mike: The first, the internet starts hearing about Belle Gibson is on 2010 when she starts posting on pregnancy forums. 

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: She's pregnant with her son.

Aubrey: How old is she at this point? She's 21?

Mike: Yep, 21. 

Aubrey: Okay. 

Mike: There's a forum in Australia called What to Expect, and she starts posting on these message boards, a lot of it is about diet and lifestyle stuff, a lot of it is about undergoing cancer therapy, the previous stuff that she was doing. This is an excerpt from a biography that's been written about her by Beau Donnelly and Nick Toscano. She wrote about having cancer, detoxing, and chiropractic treatment. She said that half a Panadol tablet affected her severely and that she wouldn't get into a warm bath after learning about the chemicals you absorb from unfiltered water. 

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: The forum seemed to be less of a parenting resource than it was a place free lonely young woman to connect.

Aubrey: It feels some real significant foreshadowing that there is a biography of her with two authors. 

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: Okay, we're going places, understood. 

Mike: [laughs] I'm tipping my cards toward you slowly. I'm slowly revealing where this is going. 


Mike: She's working in retail, she's posting on this forum, she eventually moves over to Facebook as much of the internet did at that time. She sets up a Facebook group for something she calls the Whole Pantry. That's what she's calling her diet lifestyle program. She starts giving out more advice. Then in 2012, she moves over to Instagram. 

Aubrey: Gotcha. 

Mike: At this time, you will be shocked to learn there's also some weird red flags. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: She blames vaccines for her cancer because I guess she got a cervical cancer vaccine and then she's like, "That's when I got brain cancer." She starts doing nothing. She says that she only drinks non-fluoridated water, which is a fucking episode we're going to a have to do at some point. She says in a 2012 Facebook post, "I've been healing a severe and malignant brain cancer for the past few years with natural medicine, Gerson Therapy and foods. Are you familiar with Gerson Therapy?

Aubrey: I've never heard that word until right now. 

Mike: It's illegal to practice in the United States. 

Aubrey: Oh, cool. 

Mike: It's one of these things that dates back hundred years. Basically, this guy that said that you could cure cancer with an extremely regimented diet. This is from the National Cancer Institute, which is, "Do not do this. Everyone, don't do this." 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: The diet is strictly vegetarian for at least six weeks and consists of specific fruits and vegetables eaten either raw or stewed in their own juices. No animal protein is allowed, though some whole grains such as oatmeal are included. A glass of freshly prepared juice from vegetables and fruits must be consumed every hour for 13 hours throughout the day.

Aubrey: Good Lord.

Mike: It's a great plan and that basically, it's so specific and deranged that nobody can stick with it. 

Aubrey: Yeah, that sounds right. 

Mike: When you, a normal person cannot do this for any length of time and your cancer doesn't get cured. Well, guess what? It was your fault for not sticking to it.

Aubrey: This is the logic of every diet that claims to "fix something" about you. 

Mike: Yeah.

Aubrey: You're diabetic and you went vegan because someone told you that being vegan can reverse type 2 diabetes, and your type 2 diabetes didn't get reversed, well, that's on you. You weren't vegan enough and you probably, accidentally had some honey. The accountability flows one way, the responsibility flows one way, and it's all downhill back to the person who's doing the diet. 

Mike: Right. 

Aubrey: Not to the logic of the diet itself, or the science behind it itself, or any of that kind of stuff. It drives me bananas, Michael.

Mike: Well, bananas, you can't have those on this diet. 

Aubrey: Oh, no, Mike. I love a banana. [crosstalk] 

Mike: We are going to watch a brief clip. 

Aubrey: Whoo.

Mike: The next chapter of the story is the peak of her fame. 2014 is when everything is going extremely swimmingly.

Male Speaker: Belle Gibson is a mother, a businesswoman, and she's also living with brain cancer. But the 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not. She's created the world's first health, wellness, and lifestyle app, The Whole Pantry.

Female Speaker: And the response has been amazing with online community reaching followers around the world. 


Female Speaker: Belle Gibson is part of a new breed of entrepreneur. She is an ecopreneur.

Belle: It tastes like mango. 

Female Moderator 2: Belle launched the Whole Pantry app last year.

Belle: It's essentially a recipe collection full of whole foods and vegetarian recipes, which is the way that we encourage people to get back to the fundamentals of eating more fruits and vegetables.

Female Speaker: The Whole Pantry was born through Belle's own battle with brain cancer. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago. After trying the traditional treatment methods, she turned to whole foods to heal herself instead and she soon began to develop an app. 

Interviewer: You're quite inspirational. I wouldn't mind betting that that's a fair bit behind all of this as well. For a person living with brain cancer, might I add, you look incredibly healthy, tell us what are your top tips? Obviously, it's quite holistic your life at the moment I imaging, what are your top tips for health?

Belle: I think it's about getting back to the fundamentals of a healthy life. We talked about in the app, going back to basics and eating more of those fundamental foods, getting adequate water intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, it's really simple and people overthink it. 

Aubrey: People overthink it.

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: People overthink it when I tell them to fucking overthink it. Also, the chyron on this show for this particular story, absolutely fabulous.

Mike: [laughs] I know. I have it in my notes. 

Aubrey: Whoever wrote that chyron, I hope your career is soaring.

Mike: Do they get Pulitzers for chyrons? 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: I find that excruciating. What did you think of the content of that?

Aubrey: It just felt like an early version of, I healed myself using whole foods, people are really concerned with health and wellness. It's pretty simple. You have to eat more fruits and vegetables, which is why we made this weird Byzantine system to make you eat more fruits and vegetables rather than just saying that. It feels this is the playbook being written.

Mike: I'm speeding through this part because it's so generic, a lot of the stuff. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: The only not that interesting, but vaguely interesting part of this is that, she essentially jumps from Instagram to having an app. It was described here and it's described everywhere as the world's first wellness app. This is 2013.

Aubrey: I don't think that's true. 

Mike: No, it's not. People keep saying this as if it's true. But it's like, "No, we had apps about wellness." Somebody, I found one person that actually looked into this and said that there were literally 2,500 wellness apps [crosstalk] by- 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: -2009, not even 2013. I don't know why people keep saying this. If you look at the actual app, everyone says the app is fine. But the app, it's 50 recipes.

Aubrey: What?

Mike: It's not doing anything. 

Aubrey: It's a cookbook on your phone. 

Mike: Exactly. This was the number one app in Australia, the month that it launched. It costs $3.79.

Aubrey: Oh, it's a paid app.

Mike: Did we charge money for apps back then? I'm like, "Why would people do this?" But they did this apparently.

Aubrey: Well, we still charge money for some of them now.

Mike: I guess, I don't really download those kinds of apps. I only use Grindr and it's free. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: Due to the massive success of this app and I think because everybody keeps going at the first wellness app, Apple invites her to Silicon Valley. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: Yes, they are developing a suite of apps that are going to be standard on the Apple Watch. That happens when she was there for the launch in Silicon Valley. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: Also, in 2014, her book, The Whole Pantry is published with penguin, 80% of it is recipes, there's also a 3,000-word essay, where she tells her life story. These are the excerpts that we read earlier where she's talking about how the recipes inspired her, and her journey with cancer, and it's in remission, but it could come back, and I'm trying to live a clean life, blah, blah, blah. 

Aubrey: Gotcha. 

Mike: I was going to a do a whole thing on the book, but it's again, pretty standard, like, Whole Foods, hot salad bar type of recipes.

Aubrey: Wait, hot salad bar? 

Mike: Hot salad. That's the buffet at Whole Foods. 

Aubrey: Wait, what?

Mike: When you go in there and you're like, "Oh, I'm going to a have a slice of lasagna and some veggies," and it's $24?

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: What do you call it? It's hot salad bar.

Aubrey: You are going, "Hot salad is amazing."

Mike: I'm not going to a read a bunch of excerpts. It's just a bunch of vague platitudinous. At one point, she says, "Embrace food as a life source, not just fuel." Me and you could write a book like this, I feel like.

Aubrey: We should, totally. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Michael, now this is what I want. Oh, we could do the one-sentence-at-a-time writing exercise where the next person can only see the last sentence written.

Mike: The problem, Aubrey is that, it would sell well and then we have to lean into it. 

Aubrey: I just like the idea of you and I as soulless husks of ourselves showing up on some TV morning show being like, "If you eat spirulina every day, you'll become immortal."

Mike: Give every interview just wiping a purple smoothie from my chin. 

Aubrey: [laughs] Totally.

Mike: A couple other things that happened in 2014. She wins Cosmos Fun Fearless Female Award in the category of social media. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: Cosmo says, "She's fun and figureless because: she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer but instead of giving in became the impetus for her dedication to health and wellbeing."

Aubrey: Fun. 

Mike: Tired these people dying of cancer giving in. 

Aubrey: Just given up. 

Mike: Super chill, super chill wording. There's a glowing article in Elle. She does a bunch of events, she does a bunch of fundraisers. One of the main things with her app, she'll say like, "Oh, this week, if you download the app, all proceeds are going to go, too." There's this kid, who's named Joshua Schwartz, who has brain cancer. He's four years old. This becomes a really important story in Australia that year. She's like, "Okay, every download this week, the money is going to go to his parents." Or, she'll say, "Oh, we're helping to build schools in Sierra Leone. So, if you come to this fundraising event, we're going to donate all the proceeds." 

Aubrey: Ah, I don't like where this is going. 

Mike: Damn it.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: Damn it. I'm trying to keep you in the dark.

Aubrey: It feels we're going in a very Shaun King direction. 

Mike: [laughter]

Aubrey: Is that now what's happening? 

Mike: First Shaun King mention on the show. Wow. [laughs]

Aubrey: It just feels not right to me. 

Mike: There's going to a be a downfall chapter. You knew the downfall chapter was coming.

Aubrey: We wouldn't be talking about it [laughs] if it wasn’t a downfall chapter.

Mike: Yeah. We're an hour into this episode. It's not that interesting so far. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: Okay, last Instagram post. This is an Instagram post that becomes very famous later.

Aubrey: Okay. The Instagram image is a bunch of pink balloons in the shape of a heart.

Mike: Mm-hmm.

Aubrey: The caption says, "With frustration and ache in my heart, my beautiful game changing community, it hurts me to find space tonight to let you all know with love and strength that I've been diagnosed with a third and fourth cancer. One is secondary and the other is primary. I have cancer in my blood, spleen, brain, uterus, and liver. I am hurting."

Mike: What do you think? 

Aubrey: Well, that is really terrible.

Mike: This is July of 2014. The downfall, the whole crumbling house of cards comes down. There's three days. Day one, March 8th of 2015. There is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald with the headline: "Charity money promised by inspirational health app developer Belle Gibson not handed over."

Aubrey: Okay. I just want to go on record that I called this so hard-

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: -I'm weirdly so pleased with myself. 

Mike: I was doing Chekhov's charity donation. I'm like, "No, I just want to make sure I tell you this charity donation [crosstalk]."


Mike: The app has now been downloaded 300,000 times. It costs roughly four bucks Australian every time. That's a lot of money. These journalists do an extremely basic thing, where they just contact the charities like, "Okay, you're building schools in Sierra Leone. Okay, what's the name of the charity? Okay, we're going to contact them." They start contacting all these charities and the charities are like "Who? Belle, what?" A lot of these charities literally didn't know that she was doing fundraisers with their name.

Aubrey: They're the nonprofit equivalent of the Mariah Carey, "I don't know her" meme. 

Mike: Yeah, exactly. They're all putting on sunglasses. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Yeah, good lord.

Mike: None of the charitable donations have materialized in any way. What they also find is that, of course, as part of reporting the story as you do, you reach out to the person who the story is about. You're like, "Okay, we've heard that these charities don't know anything." They send her a list of 21 questions, very specific questions by email. They then hear back from one of the charities. They're like, "Oh, yeah, Belle Gibson did actually give us $1,000 yesterday."

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: After the journalists sent the email, they sent it at like 3 o'clock, and then the charity got a donation 3:45.

Aubrey: Oh, God. 

Mike: In an act of foreshadowing, Belle responds to this with a long Facebook post where she says, "Oh, it's all a big misunderstanding. We're still calculating our revenues, so we don't know how much revenue we had. So, it's impossible for us to give away a portion of our revenues because we're still figuring it out. It's with our accountants and we don't know." She also does some fake news media stuff, where she says like, "Oh, the journalist never even reached out to me, which is not true." She told the journalists that one of these big fundraisers, she's like, "Oh, we only earned 750 bucks from that anyway. So, instead of giving it to this charity, I actually just gave it to this refugee family that I know," and there's no record of this. Like, "I'm not going to a give you their names for privacy reasons, but I just gave it to these needy people in my life." They're like, "Okay that sounds pretty weird that you gave money away in the only way that leaves no paper trail and also that one of these high dollar important people fundraisers only produce 750 bucks?" 

Aubrey: Yeah, that's not good. 

Mike: Then in her Facebook post, she's like, "They didn't even mention the refugee family that I'm supporting." 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. 

Mike: Well, that's because it sounds real fake.

Aubrey: Oh, God. How old is she at this point? 

Mike: She is 24. 

Aubrey: I will say this, I don't think I would have become like a wellness grifter or anything, but I do think regularly about how happy I am to have become a public figure in my late 30s and [crosstalk] not a minute sooner.

Mike: Oh, my God, I know. Oh, my God. 

Aubrey: When I think about any media attention when I was 24, I'm like, "Honestly there but for the grace of God go I." 

Mike: My thoughts at that age, Aubrey. 

Aubrey: I was not a person you should have listened to. Whoo. 

Mike: All right, that was day one of downfall. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. I forgot that this is a three day- 

Mike: Three day.

Aubrey: -mega downfall is what it sounds like we're ramping up for.

Mike: Day two. We find out that she never had cancer.

Aubrey: What? Never, any of it?

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: No, none cancer, ever.

Mike: None cancer.

Aubrey: Oh, Jesus. Michael, this is dark.

Mike: The whole episode even like, "Why are we talking some boring influencer? There's nothing interesting here." 

Aubrey: Then you're like, "Fake cancer." I'm like, "Okay, got it."

Mike: Faked having cancer. 

Aubrey: Got it. 

Mike: The article is called Mega Blogger Belle Gibson casts doubt on her own cancer claims. 

Aubrey: She outed herself? 

Mike: This is a dark and winding tale that we will dissect at great length. I am sending you a little excerpt for you to read.

Aubrey: "An investigation by the Australian has uncovered a series of unusual and contradictory medical claims by Gibson dating from May 2009, when she claimed to have undergone multiple heart surgery operations, and momentarily died on an operating table. Gibson has also stated that in July that same year when she was 20, a doctor told her she had terminal brain cancer and would be dead in four months. But according to the birth date on her own corporate filings, she was 17 at the time." Oh, baby grifter."

Mike: I lied earlier. Belle Gibson was born in 1991. She is 21 years old when the app launches. She's not 24.

Aubrey: Okay. Think about all the shit I just said about not wanting to be famous when I was 24. 

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: Now, just multiply that by hundreds for not wanting to be famous when I was 17, that seems terrible.

Mike: The Australian, you can sense their frustration through the faux objective journalistic tone. They're talking about how they've asked her over and over again for any documentary evidence that she had cancer. A note from a doctor, an appointment, a scan result. 

Aubrey: After visit summary, any, any anything,

Mike: Nothing. She can't produce anything and she makes these winding claims. The journalist was interviewed for a BBC documentary on this case that came out this year, and he talks about how you can't interview her about anything because she rambles, she goes off into little corridors, she never directly answers a question, and it's impossible to get clear information from her. Even in the story, they're like, "Well, we don't really know because you can't really nail her down on anything to check it." 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: Her explanation for this is that she was misdiagnosed.

Aubrey: Oh, I'm so stressed out about this shit. [laughs] 

Mike: There you go. 

Aubrey: I'm soi stressed out, Michael. [laughs] 

Mike: In the article, it says, in an interview with the Australian, Gibson said she now believes she was misdiagnosed by a medical team using magnetic therapy from Germany. Asked to name the leader of the team, she declined and indicated she was not certain whether he was a medical doctor. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: She still insists that she had the old cancer. The first cancer is real, even though she can't provide any evidence of it. But then her new diagnosis, the 2014, it spread to my liver, it spread to my spleen. She's like, "I think I was misdiagnosed by these German doctors and it's my mistake."

Aubrey: Oh, my God. 

Mike: Day three of the downfall. 

Aubrey: God, oh, my God, we have another fucking day. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Aubrey: I keep forgetting and then it keeps coming back to me, and I'm like, "Jesus Christ, what could it be" 

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: Now, it's like she doesn't have a child, what is it?

Mike: [laughs] No.

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: This is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Nick and Beau, who are the guys who wrote a biography of her that is called The Woman Who Fooled The World. I couldn't tell you that earlier, because then you know what the twist was? 

Aubrey: No, of course, of course.

Mike: These are the guys that have been investigating her for months and this includes quotes from five members of her inner circle, who say that they have suspected that she didn't have cancer for months. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: There's a trail of people behind her, former business associates, people that were going to get into business with her, they were like, "Oh, she's fucking lying." 

Aubrey: Whoa. 

Mike: It says, "One former friend pulled out of a superfoods business with Miss Gibson last year because she questioned the app developers' character after Miss Gibson said she had many aliases. My accountant wanted some basic paperwork stuff, full name, date of birth address," and Belle said, "That might be an issue." She said, "I have several names that I go under. It's a long story." Another person who previously worked for Miss Gibson said she did not believe the cancer survival story. She would post on social media that she's been at a doctor's appointment all day, but she really was just going to the dentist. She got her veneers done. She would make it sound like it was for cancer-related illness. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Oh, my God, Michael. There are lots and lots of reasons that people change their names, trans people change their names, people who've been targeted by stalking or domestic violence change their names, there lots and lots of reasons for that. Do we have any sense that any of those things might be true about-- Has she said anything about--?

Mike: This is the next chapter of the story. 

Aubrey: Okay. 

Mike: Immediately after these three stories come out, she basically disappears. It's two months before anybody hears anything from Belle Gibson, essentially. During that two months we find out a lot of things. 

Aubrey: Okay. 

Mike: As we often find on the show, once somebody pushes the door, everybody else crowds through it. All of a sudden, all these journalists are sifting through her life. As with the thing with the aliases, the thing with her age, she lies to everybody in her life about everything. Her mom contacts journalists, her mom did not know that she was an influencer, or had an app, or had a bestselling book. They haven't spoken in years. Her mom is like, "Well, yes, I have MS but it's really not severe. So, that thing about her being the caretaker in the house when she was six is just not true. My MS doesn't actually disable me all that much." Her brother is not autistic. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: They contact the brother and he's like, "No, I'm a non-autistic person just living my life." The thing about her being fat wasn't true. People find photos of her as a child and a teen and she's very thin. This is from the biography.

Aubrey: Oh, yikes. Okay. Oh. "Those who knew her describe a melodramatic girl with a tendency to imitate others, who was prone to lying. Over the years, she told a number of people that she was in a witness protection program." 

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: One classmate recalls Gibson claiming she was a test tube baby. "We all felt none of her stories she told us were true," she says. Another classmate said, "Gibson's supposed health crises were part of an attempt to keep a boyfriend at the time." Jesus, God.

Mike: Yeah, the theory is that that's when she started doing the cancer shtick was when this boy wanted to break up with her. 

Aubrey: This is seven Law & Order: SVU episodes. 

Mike: [laughs]

Aubrey: Her story has changed multiple times over the years. She told it said Kelsey Gamble, who went to a neighboring school but attended drama classes with Gibson. "In our hometown, she was extremely well known for what basically amounts to compulsive lying. She was honestly a laughingstock half the time. People made fun of her." Kelsey was friends with Gibson on Facebook until 2014, when she wrote a public Facebook message accusing her of lying and was blocked. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Aubrey: This is so bad, and so grifty, and so disprovable, and also it definitely makes me wonder if there is some kind of trauma history, or mental health diagnosis, or something going on here. Because this is way a lot. Also, people can just be bad and say things that are not true- 

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: -and manipulate other people.

Mike: It's complicated. Yes.

Aubrey: I was going to a say, I didn't expect this episode to get really complex.

Mike: I know. Just wait. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: Another thing that we don't find out until this book comes out a couple years later is that, two of her closest friends, their names are Chanel and Jared had an intervention with her. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: This was months before the book comes out just after she had signed the papers and put in the text. Chanel, who's a fascinating person was someone who worked for Belle Gibson, and didn't really think anything was fishy, and then her friend's mom got cancer, and she saw two things. She saw first, what it is like to live with cancer? 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: It's not Belle Gibson's lifestyle on airplanes all the time, going off to Bali for a yoga retreat, jogging in the mornings.

Aubrey: Yeah, it's not a fucking Instagram post about a mangosteen smoothie.

Mike: Exactly. Just constant like this curated, perfect healthy life. But oops *I also have brain cancer. She's like, "This is not cancer." And also, her friend's mom ended up dying partly because she didn't undergo conventional cancer treatment.

Aubrey: Oh, mother fucker.

Mike: She's very clear. She's like, "I don't blame Belle Gibson. I'm not going to draw a straight line between Belle Gibson and my friend's mom." But it's part of a whole pond of bad information that she was swimming in. 

Aubrey: Right. 

Mike: She starts to have doubts. Her and this other inner circle person named Jared, go over to Belle's house and they're like, "Belle, your book is about to come out. You are about to explode into the public mainstream in a way you never have before. You need to show us some proof that you had cancer. We have questions, all of this stuff is really fishy." Nobody had ever asked her extremely basic questions about whether she actually had cancer or could describe it in any way. This is very important. So, I'm going to a send you an excerpt from the book of them confronting her about this.

Aubrey: Chanel can still recall the exchange that night word for word. She started by asking Gibson about the Instagram post, the one in which she announced that her cancer had spread to other vital organs. She asked her if she could tell them the name of the doctor who had given her the diagnosis. "Dr. Phil," she said, "Are you serious?" Chanel was incredulous. "Dr. Phil? He's now disappeared," she said. "His colleagues told me his practices were questionable." "Questionable?" said Chanel. "Doesn't that mean your diagnosis is questionable." Gibson said, "She supposed it could be." "Well, wouldn't the first thing you do be to go and find out what the real diagnosis is?" "I don't have time." 

Mike: It seems this is what it's like to have conversations with both Gibson. 

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: You're not worried about the fact that you might not have cancer. You're not going to a go investigate that at all? Also, Dr. Phil? [laughs] 

Aubrey: Does Dr. Phil air in Australia? 

Mike: Yes. 

Aubrey: It is astonishing to me that she would say that her cancer had metastasized- 

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: -and undercut her own fucking diet? It's just wild. 

Mike: I know. 

Aubrey: As this episode progresses, I'm just becoming like a series of just wails, just sounds of disgust and bad feelings.

Mike: My favorite detail of this is that, at one point, Belle Gibson says that she feels outnumbered and ganged up on. So, she calls a naturopath that she's been working with and asks him to come over to be her support for this long and difficult conversation. According to the naturopath, who they interview for the biography, he turns on her halfway through. 

Aubrey: Whoa.

Mike: He's like, "Yeah, Belle, it's really weird that you can't produce any evidence that you had cancer." 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: Even the woo-woo people are like, "Oh, it really seems you're lying." 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: Like, this is fucked up.

Aubrey: Just also, call in the reinforcements and then the reinforcements are with that other guy's making some good points.

Mike: Yeah. 


Mike: Basically, she walks out that night saying to Belle like, "You need to pull this book. You can just disappear at this point. You're just a person on Instagram and you need to take the gravity of this really seriously. You're about to do something really stupid that you can't take back." Belle just can't hear it and so, Chanel leaves, and she contacts reporters.

Aubrey: Wow. Honestly, good for Chanel. That's an incredibly difficult thing to do. But also, if that was my mom or a family friend, who was dear to me or something, I would be hard pressed to find any other course of action. 

Mike: Oh, yeah. I think Chanel is the only person with any moral compass in the stories of. 

Aubrey: Jesus [crosstalk] Christmas. 

Mike: This is wrong. She gave Belle Gibson the opportunity to quietly back down. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: But now, based on the app, the book coming out, this two-month period after these three stories come out and all this information, the interview with the mom, the interview with the brother, everything else, to this day, Belle Gibson is one of the most hated figures in Australia. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: Easily top five.

Aubrey: Whoo, this is a rough one, man. I'm surprised.

Mike: You thought it was going to a be easy and about smoothies being dumb, but it's actually about cancer being bad and how people shouldn't lie about that. 

Aubrey: I thought it was going to a be right in my wheelhouse of 'juice cleanses are nonsense, and whatever else.' 

Mike: I know. But then I got really mad reading all of the coverage from this period, because all of the stories are framed around. You won't believe how shameless this person was. She's lying to her friends, she's lying to her boyfriend, she's tricking the whole country. Look how shameless and how terrible this person is. But then also, if it was this fucking obvious, why are you putting her on TV? 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: Why were you giving her awards? Why were you not checking this stuff? The fact that Belle Gibson was so obvious of a liar, and so compulsive of a liar, and lying about everything, yeah, it makes Belle Gibson look bad, it makes the media look way worse. 

Aubrey: But Michael, Michael, she was fun and fearless.

Mike: [laughs] Fun, fearless female.

Aubrey: Cosmo said she was fun and fearless. What am I supposed to think that she's not fun and she's not fearless, because she has nothing to fear? Come on.

Mike: Do you want to hear about Cosmo? 

Aubrey: Oh, God. Tell me about Cosmo. 

Mike: I'm livid and I didn’t want to take you to livid town with me.

Aubrey: [laughs]

Mike: After Cosmo and Elle both published these glowing articles about Belle Gibson in 2014, they both receive the same letter and you are going to read it.

Aubrey: Okay. "It has come to my attention that you've published a story about a girl I have known my whole life. Her name is Belle Gibson, creator of The Whole Pantry app, and book and a so-called terminal cancer patient. Unfortunately, there are a few things you might need to know before you consider publishing more about this woman. For one, this girl isn't 26 years old. She was born in 1991 class of '08, Windham High School in Queensland. I've known Belle since her childhood, and I'm close with her mother, and she has always had a problem with fabricating stories from nothing on a regular basis. You must be aware of this before you publish stories about this woman. She is selling her fake sob story in order to profit from her app and book sales. She's a wolf in sheep's clothing, a master manipulator. Sincerely, sick of seeing her lies published." Okay, so this could have been [unintelligible [00:42:26] around the world. This could have been when the story broke. 

Mike: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: Cosmo and Elle do nothing with this. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: They get specific information, this is the year she graduated, they get a huge lead. It appears do some light googling and then give it up. I'm so livid about this because both Elle and Cosmo in this two-month period before Belle responds, they both publish mea culpas of like, "Whoops, we publish this lady, who doesn't have cancer. We told you they have cancer." Elle and Cosmo published this letter. They're like, "Well, we did receive the letter," and you're like right but you didn't do anything. She's claiming to cure cancer with a gluten free vegetarian diet. You actually have a huge responsibility to check those things before you just put them out in the world.

Aubrey: I feel similarly about Cosmo that you expressed feeling about Matthew Walker's book, which is, when you are writing for a popular audience, you are duty bound to get it right. The core argument here is, its popular media, so, what does it matter? No. What we need to be focusing on here is, it's going out on the biggest platform to the widest audience. 

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: It totally fucking matters that you fact check your shit.

Mike: Yes. Cosmo in their mea culpa does the most chickenshit thing. I'm going to a read this to you. They say, "We need to acknowledge that we not only promoted her work to our readers, but also may have unwittingly fed the situation if she has in fact lied." 

Aubrey: Oh, unwittingly.

Mike: This one, you're going to die. "To be fair, Belle wasn't honored for being a role model because she was honored for her app," which is still fantastic. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: [laughs] Fuck off. It's called the Fun Female award. Not the decent running app award. You're clearly lifting her up as someone to be emulated. Come the fuck on.

Aubrey: I've got to say, I like it when you get a little mad. 

Mike: I got so mad. It is so chicken shit. 

Aubrey: I like when you get a little tuned up. [laughs] Jesus Christ.

Mike: The thing that also drives me nuts is you can also tell that they didn't do the most basic fact checking of any of her actual claims because as soon as all this information comes out, people start contacting doctors, and doctors like, "Oh, yeah, that's not how brain cancer works." Belle was talking about having stage 2 brain cancer. There's no such thing. Brain tumors are measured in grades. It's grades in 1 and 2. A two-minute conversation with an oncologist, and they're like, "Oh, yeah, that's fake." 

Aubrey: Yeah, it feels this is also the level of skepticism we're willing to use when it comes to "wellness shit" is just like, she says she has cancer, and she says this cured it," so, here we are. It's just fucked, man. It's just fucked.

Mike: We also find out that her publisher knew. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: There are emails to her publisher five months before the book comes out. We don't know who these emails are from. One editor emails another editor and says that, a jealous friend is saying that Belle Gibson is lying. So, that it might have been Chanel, it might have been somebody else because there're so many other people who are like, "This lady's lying." But we know that they were tipped off. Honestly, from even a self-preservation standpoint, baffling thing was instead of putting the brakes on and being like, "Okay, well, let's make sure we have documentary evidence that she had cancer. Let's triple check this." What her publisher does is they go, "Oh, Belle, you're going to a get questions, so, we need to give you some media coaching." 

Aubrey: Ah, Michael.

Mike: They do a 90 minute, this is now gone online deposition style video, where they basically play the role of a tough grilling journalist, and they ask Belle, all the stuff about her cancer, and she does her Belle Gibson thing, where she's prevaricates, and she's really vague, and it's all twisty and turny, and they can't nail her down on anything, and they just keep going back to like, "Well, you're going to a have to have a better answer on that next time," because journalists are really going to a probe. 

Aubrey: Oh.

Mike: At no point that they consider the possibility that she's actually full of shit.

Aubrey: Yeah, it's so tough because the amount of work and investment it takes for an author and a publisher to release a book is humongous. This feels a little bit like a movie getting to postproduction and its trailer coming out, and then it never being released is essentially what we're proposing here, which is a lot to fucking answer for. I can understand the fears of how it would come off and all of that kind of stuff. But those have to be fucking outweighed by the fears of telling people, who have real cancer advice from someone who has made up cancer.

Mike: Do you want to guess what their defense of this is? Because of course, during this two-month period, before Belle speaks, they are called upon to be like, "Well, did you fact check this book, did you do anything?" Do you want to guess what their response was?

Aubrey: Oh, the industry standard is not to fact check nonfiction books.

Mike: Even worse. They say, "We didn't feel it was necessary because The Whole Pantry is a collection of recipes.

Aubrey: Cool. Cool, good. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: We live in Utopia. Everything's great.

Mike: First of all, you should test recipes. 

Aubrey: Yeah. Correct. 

Mike: Secondly, it also includes a 3,000-word essay, where Belle talks about having cancer and how she cured it with foods. The only reason anyone is buying this book is because of her personal story. People can get recipes anywhere. 

Aubrey: God damn it. 

Mike: The biography also notes that [crosstalk] people also call on Apple like, "What the hell? Did Apple check out this app at all?" Apple sticks by her. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: Apple is like, "Belle, we know there's lots of lies [laughs] floating around about you on the internet, but we believe you." [laughs] 

Aubrey: It feels hard for me to lose faith in Apple, but that is also what just happened.

Mike: 2015, the book is pulped.

Aubrey: Oh, wow. So, they did end up bagging it. 

Mike: Oh, it's toast. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: The app is quietly pulled from the App Store. A lot of information about her, old articles and stuff have been pulled off the internet. It's wild. Her old blog isn't even on I didn't even know people could do that. 

Aubrey: Whoa.

Mike: Okay. This was stage one of the backlash. Do you want to watch a clip of Belle returning to public life?

Aubrey: Oh, yikes. This is going to a be even darker somehow. 

Mike: It's hard. It's hard. I find this totally impossible to watch. 

Interviewer: You're 23, right? actually, how old are you?

Belle: I've always been raised as being currently a 26-year-old. 

Interviewer: How old are you? 

Belle: Well, I live knowing as I've always known that I would be 26.

Interviewer: Okay, Belle. This is as a really, really simple question. How old are you?

Belle: I believe that I'm 26. I have two birth certificates and I've had my name changed four times. The identity crisis there is big, but that was my normal when I was growing up, Tara, that--

Interviewer: What do you know that truth to be now? 

Belle: There's probably a question that we have to keep digging for.

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: Right.

Aubrey: While I was watching that, I was thinking about how uncomfortable you got seeing a clip of a musical when you were talking about [unintelligible [00:50:16]. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: If your threshold for discomfort is musical theater? 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: This shit is in the stratosphere. This shit is so far off the charts of discomfort world. 

Mike: I have my little hands over my little face. 

Aubrey: Also, I am 100% keeping this window open, because as soon as we finished recording, I'm going to go watch this entire fucking thing. That's the other thing that feels challenging about the media role here is that, we've seen her on TV, and we've seen her become this rising star with the help of major boosts from major media outlets like Sunrise and Cosmo, and now, they're going to be major boosts to major media outlets, who pick at the corpse of the story and do all of this downfall coverage as well.

Mike: Also, 60 minutes, paid her $75,000 for this interview.

Aubrey: Fuck off, Michael. Fuck off.

Mike: This gets to one of the other reasons why this interview is so uncomfortable is because they're clearly milking this. They're going to a make way more than $75,000 from this special. It's one of the most watched TV events of the year in Australia that year. The whole interview, they'll read her things that she wrote [unintelligible [00:51:31] read her Instagram posts, and they'll be like, "Were you diagnosed in a doctor's office or not in a doctor's office?" Then they just badger her back and forth. But there's no actual endeavor to figure out what happened. They don't interview anyone else, they don't do any investigation. It's just this "hard hitting interview," but at the end of it, you haven't learned anything. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: And it's also, I don't know if you pick this up from the clip that we've watched, but she doesn't seem to be capable of admitting that she was lying about anything.

Aubrey: Right. It just becomes, whatever, 34 minutes and 31 seconds, I'm looking at the timestamp of what's the truth, what's the truth, what's the truth and getting different versions of the same answer every time, and this weird, slippery thing, which is like, "Okay, I feel your point is made by the length of the clip that you just sent me."

Mike: I want to say that I feel sorry for Belle in this interview. But they're not really doing journalism here. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: I am against diagnosing anyone with something if you haven't met them, so, I don't know what her actual deal is and I don't want to speculate it. But the behavior that she is exhibiting is some compulsive or pathological lying. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: The definition of pathological lying is people, who lie for no personal gain. This is what it's so striking to me throughout the interview, but especially in this clip, that it's so unstrategic. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: Any cool calculated mastermind manipulator would just admit to the lying about the age thing. I was too young. Nobody would take me seriously if they thought I was three years younger. I said that I was 21 when I was 18. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: No one knows how old Mariah Carey is. Lying about your age is not the biggest deal in the world, but the fact that she can't just admit it and move on or even admit the fact that she's lying about cancer, she prevaricates like, "Well, I believe that at the time stuff, there's no strategy."

Aubrey: I worked as a kindergarten classroom assistant for a year. There was this one point at which I was out supervising recess, and I watched this one kid, look down, see a pine cone, pick it up, and whip it at another kid. I just watched the entire thing happen, and I barked his name at him, and he just wheeled around and didn't see even where the call out was coming from. But while he was wheeling around and his eyes were searching, he went, "I didn't do it." I was like, "All you heard was your name kid." It feels that's part of what's happening here. It's just someone who has freaked the hell out and is weirdly backed into a corner for sort of through a weird hell of their own making for no discernible reason.

Mike: Another thing that I think is really telling is in this interview with her mom, where her mom was like, "Belle was not doing housework, my MS isn't severe." This is the quote from her mom. "Belle never cared for me. Her brother is not autistic and she's barely done a minute's housework in her life. I've practically worked myself into an early grave to give that girl everything she wanted in life. Phone bills, clothes, beauty treatments, you name it, and this is how she repays me. She's just a girl, who's always had ideas above her station. She was never happy with what she had and was embarrassed by her family. Her tastes became more expensive, and she was living beyond her means, and she was addicted to her computer. She doesn't seem to be sorry. I've never seen her cry in her life. I'm not even sure she's capable of empathy."

Aubrey: Jesus, God. From your fucking mother in the media. 

Mike: I'm your mom, dude. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to hear parents talk about their kids like this. 

Aubrey: Every part of this is so uncomfortable. 

Mike: It is so uncomfortable. And then, the journalists, who write the biography talk about they interviewed the mom. She at some point also says that she's in witness relocation. She says that she moved because of the mafia. She has all these other health problems that she talks about and she's like, "Oh, it's terminal. I'm going to a die in a month." Then they'll talk to her the next day and she's like, "Oh, it's not that big of a deal. It barely affects my life at all." 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Mike: Her mom is lying, just like Belle is. They talk about how, after they interviewed the mom, the mom starts calling them every day and talking for hours, and it's totally inconsistent. She changes her story about Belle too. She says really nice things about Belle, and then she says really mean things about Belle. She, at one point says that she has six kids, but her own mom says that she only has five kids. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: I don't know. Did her mom at some point tell her that her brother was autistic and she believed it?

Aubrey: Yeah, I was going to a say this points in a direction that I did not anticipate which is possibly just straight up learned behavior.

Mike: This isn't even the most arranged twist. Do you want to hear the most bananas shit about this? 

Aubrey: Okay.

Mike: There's been 10 other podcasts and a bunch of documentaries about this. I have not seen this mentioned anywhere else and it's a really important detail. Are you ready?

Aubrey: I am because I must be. 

Mike: Dr. Phil was real.

Aubrey: What? [laughs] 

Mike: In 2014, there was a guy floating around Melbourne natural healing world named Phil Best.

Aubrey: Oh. 

Mike: The authors of the book track him down and it turns out, he did actually diagnose Belle Gibson with cancer.

Aubrey: He also had a TV show where he launched the career of bad babt.

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Fuck, man.

Mike: They've seen receipts that he was providing services to her. He was on a $600 monthly retainer. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: And she ended up paying him, I think $8,000. He denies it. "Oh, I never diagnosed her with cancer," but also, it's illegal in Australia for people who aren't doctors to give diagnoses I believe. So, I can't say that he's lying, but he has an incentive to lie if he did diagnose her with cancer.

Aubrey: Well, this is also just like, this entire episode is a whole world of fucking deeply unreliable narrator. At this point, I was like, "Sure, man. Everyone's telling the truth. Everyone's lying. Everything's garbage. I don't know."

Mike: We've talked so many times about how these simple media narratives of like, she's a terrible person, often obscure, more interesting stories. The interesting story here is that, it seems in 2014, she was seeing some quack dude, who told her she had four cancers or something. She then went into a hospital to get a real scan. They scanned her and said it was negative but she kept telling people that she had cancer. 

Aubrey: Oh.

Mike: It's not this weird binary thing of like, did she believe it or was it a lie? It's like, she believed a version of it. But she was also exaggerating even the version of it that she believed.

Aubrey: This is the white lady influencer version of, when a fucking white person commits a mass murder and we say, "Oh, that person had a mental illness." When someone who's not white does the same thing, we talk about them in terms of terrorism or in terms of crime. 

Mike: Super predator. 

Aubrey: Right. I can feel myself bending over backwards to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, and also, I know that that is part of a fucking pattern of doing that with white people in a way that we absolutely never do with anybody else. It feels so tricky to talk about this, but on the face of it, this is someone who lied to people who have cancer.

Mike: Well, to me, I already know the emails that we're going to a get that are like, "You're defending Belle Gibson." And like, "No." I don't think this exists on some binary thing of either she's bad or she's good. I think that if you believe that this woman is a huge piece of shit, I don't know that I'd disagree. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: But also, Belle Gibson is not the last piece of shit, who's going to use Instagram. Belle Gibson is not the last piece of shit, who's going to lie and try to sell people some cure for cancer. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: It's almost irrelevant. All of this personal stuff, and what led her to do this because the whole thing is, there are no systems in place to prevent this from happening again, and also It's now 2021, all of this happened in 2015, and it has happened 10 more times. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally, totally. 

Mike: It's interesting as a human story why somebody would do this. But the fact that she is now one of the most hated people in Australia, and Penguin Books and Cosmo are not. That to me is a much bigger problem that these institutions that have no controls in place are still essentially doing the same thing.

Aubrey: It's so tough because all of this shit, the people who have to deal with the fallout of this are certainly Belle and her mom, but there's a ton of blowback on a ton of people, who didn't [crosstalk] ask for it. People who actually have cancer and MS and people who are chronically ill and disabled, who already face untold levels of, "Is your disability real? Prove it to me."

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: How severe is it? "Ah, we're going to change your fucking income, your disability income based on how real it seems to us." 

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: I think the recklessness of all of this is like, "I don't know, man, blow up your own life if you want to, I guess." But dragging in people, who are genuinely dealing with all of this shit, it's so deeply fucked.

Mike: Do you want to hear the deeply fucked up thing that I was saving for later but I'll tell you now? 

Aubrey: Okay, tell me now. 

Mike: That little kid who actually had brain cancer and ended up dying of brain cancer at age five, because he was associated with Belle Gibson, they had done Instagram posts, she had done fundraisers for this kid. His parents spent the last couple months of his life getting hate mails from people saying, "Your son is faking cancer, too," and also they got no money from Belle's fundraiser because she was fucking lying about that.

Aubrey: Yeah. They're grieving the loss of their small child, and they're also dealing with threats on the basis of their association with someone who told them, she would help them. 

Mike: Exactly. 

Aubrey: Fuck, man.

Mike: The worst outcome of these kinds of cases is like, "Oh, we have to check everybody's cancer diagnosis now." Or, if somebody on the internet says like, "I have long COVID." It's like, "No, you don't." That's a terrible outcome from this. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Mike: [crosstalk] To get another reason we should be able to count on existing media institutions with existing resources to check these claims. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: I abide strictly by the Spider-Man principle. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: Where there is great power, there is great responsibility who has more power in this situation?

Aubrey: The people who have power here are less people and more like people in institutions. 

Mike: Yes. 

Aubrey: And those institutions are not exactly small and struggling. It's fucking Cosmo and 60 minutes. These are not small outlets. These are major, major machines of publishing and TV production.

Mike: Deliberately blind to how much power they have. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Mike: When you give somebody attention like this, when you legitimize somebody's claims, you can't then turn around and be like, "All we did was praise her app, her app works well." 

Aubrey: I also like your Cosmo voice.

Mike: Mm.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: [noise] This is what all the women's magazine sound like in my little brain.

Aubrey: Fucking women. They all sound like this.

Mike: [laughs] I want to end with a quote. Julia Watson was someone who actually had cancer, and she wrote about Belle in 2015, and then she died of her cancer in late 2016, because she had real cancer. She says, "It may be hard to believe that anyone could believe Belle Gibson but let me tell you there's nothing more compelling than a glimmer of hope offered by women with unlined hands and healthy nails, and seemingly the potential for long and healthy lives. Women who are once just like you, pregnant with deadly malignancies, cured with that one single bag of cytotoxic chemicals delivered into their bloodstream. I didn't seek an alternative path to cure my cancer opting for what has been a brutal but proven protocol to extend my life. Because chemotherapy has worked for me. 

I have had 15 months of precious time. Time has allowed me to experience, and enjoy, and watch my children grow, and the potential is still there for much more time. That alone is the reason I can't forgive Belle Gibson. She would like us to see her as a victim that a difficult childhood robbed her of her relationship with the truth. I like to think of myself as a compassionate person and I can feel a little bit for her. Yep, she fucked up all right, but not for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. Nope, for years, she raked it in by defrauding people and charities that didn't know she was collecting on their behalf, and they didn't see a cent. 

But the very worst thing that Belle did was to rob people of the months and maybe years of life they might have had if they took the conventional path and time offered by cancer treatments that while toxic are proven to work." 

Aubrey: Oh.

Mike: That was Belle did and that's what the people who amplified Belle did. 

Aubrey: I didn't expect that we would have an influencer episode, where now I just am left with this deep sense of dread and despair, but here we fucking are.

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: I think that I know what will take care of my deep sense of dread and despair and that is a mangosteen smoothie. 

Mike: [laughs] 

Aubrey: Gerson Therapy, I got to look into that

Mike: You've only had 12 cups of juice.

Aubrey: I'm going to a go call Dr. Phil and see what he recommends.