The Woman who fooled the world: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con

The Woman Who Fooled The World book review

What is this about?: This is the story of Belle Gibson’s, a wellness blogger in Australia who claimed that clean eating cured her brain cancer. She build a lucrative business on social media, long before being a social media influencer was actually a thing before journalists, now the authors of this book, uncovered her lies.

What else is this about?: The journalists/authors have included with Belle’s story, a story of the wellness industry — what it was intended to be, and what it has become instead. They have also includes experiences of cancer sufferers, detailing the harrowing treatment they go through in their bids to beat this disease….in contrast to Gibson, who was the picture of good health and lying all the while.

Stars: 4/5

Blurb: Belle Gibson convinced the world she had healed herself of terminal brain cancer by eating a healthy diet. She built a global business based on her story. There was just one problem: she never had cancer in the first place.

In 2015, journalists uncovered the truth behind Gibson’s lies. This hero of the wellness world, with over 200,000 followers, international book deals, and a best-selling mobile 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 who were inspired by her, including real cancer survivors.

Written by the two journalists who uncovered the details of Gibson’s deception, 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 explores the lure of alternative cancer treatments, exposes the darkness at the heart of the wellness and ‘clean eating’ movements, and reveals just how easy it is to manipulate people on social media.

With the idea of ‘clean eating’ now routinely debunked by dietary experts, and growing scepticism about the authenticity of what we read online, The Woman Who Fooled the World is a timely and important book that answers not just how, but why, Gibson was able to fool so many.

Why did I want to read this book? It’s definitely not my regular cup of tea as a reviewer, but having seen this story play out in the news here in Australia, it’s fascinating, in a trainwreck sort of way. Belle Gibson built a reputation on a lie that she had cancer, became a social media success by preying on people’s hopes and even got Apple and Penguin and magazines like Cosmo and Elle believing in her.

And nothing about her was true.

What would make a person do something like this? For Australians, Belle Gibson’s story is familiar, with a fine of $410,000 being handed to her in September this year for her claims, book and app that clean eating cured her of cancer she never actually had. The Woman Who Fooled the World is by the journalists who uncovered her lies and wrote the first articles exposing her non-existent donations to charities, and eventually got the all clear to investigate whether she had cancer, uncovering former supporters who were beginning to question her claims as well.

It’s a testament to these authors that they have created a compelling, intimate story out of something that is so big, that affected so many people who genuinely believed that Gibson beat cancer.

Social Media Wellness

As much as I would like to think I could sniff out fake news and fake social media posts, I don’t think I can absolutely say I can. Social media posts are coming at us every day, on different social channels and we consume them so much, it’s scary. We want to learn what to eat or drink or do in order to lose weight, get clearer skin and be our best selves. Now imagine you or someone you love is suffering from cancer and you see someone on instagram promising that they’re alive against all odds and doctors’ diagnoses? How much would you want to believe in that?

Throw in a healthy and convincing young blogger and you can get an idea of what Belle Gibson was about. 

The book details her beginning, how she build her empire and followers and became a social media success, followed by deals with Apple and Penguin.

Donelly and Toscano take readers into Belle’s life and her lies. I was riveted as they explained where and how wellness became a part of our lives,  and how Belle used that to build a successful reputation at beating cancer through her ‘clean eating’. Of interest, is her presence at the funeral of another wellness blogger, Jess Ainscough, who did pass away from cancer. Ainscough had been successful at the very thing that Gibson wanted — building a successful presence, followers and business as a wellness blogger before her death.

With that, Gibson had a tried and tested and successful template on which to base her own presence, and she did, tapping into a world of people who wanted to believe in her. And there’s the thing, if you are desperate for hope, when all else is failing, you can believe anything. 

We have the internet available now, and searching for information is the easiest thing in the world, but its as easy for people out there to craft a social media presence to take advantage of our desire for information. Wellness, this book reveals, was always about working in conjunction with conventional medicine, and not about replacing it.

The awfulness of what Belle did is contrasted as I mentioned earlier with the reality of those fighting cancer, and it’s horrifying to think of how she offered cancer sufferers hope, and how much time she could have taken away from those that believed in her.

Unmasking the real Belle Gibson

I’ve seen Gibson’s interview with 60 Minutes and knowing the further details in this book, she still scares me as much as she fascinates me  — how could someone lie about cancer like she did? But then, as the authors detail, Gibson has always been a liar, posting on forums about heart surgery for instance well before her time as a ‘wellness’ blogger.

The authors talked to her friends, family and her parents trying to build a picture of Gibson and how or why she could have done what she did. Her parents are an illuminating chapter, reminding me of Gibson’s own waffling and inconsistencies, which were her undoing.

Gibson’s lies highlight how willing we are to believe posts from social media posts that offer hope. It’s a dangerous thing isn’t it?

The Woman Who Fooled the World was released on Monday. 

Here’s an excerpt 

Here’s another excerpt about how she faked a seizure at her kid’s birthday party


  • Angela says:

    Ugh, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m so glad this women was exposed as a fraud – having known people with cancer, it’s disgusting to me that someone would fake it, and for what? To try to gain some success? Although this woman sounds like a habitual liar. And it’s just one more example of how we can’t believe everything we see and read.

    • Verushka says:

      I am torn between hating her and being utterly mystifed as to the reasons any one would do this. Would think this is remotely okay. And exactly, it is a prime example of not believeing everything we see and read on the internet.

  • I like reading about these evil fraudsters being caught…if she ever does get sick in the future you can bet nobody will believe her-or care.

    • Verushka says:

      Pretty much. I sometimes wonder how she can go on with her normal life after everything too, you know? Does she not feel guilty?

  • Nina says:

    Wow, sounds very interesting and very different from my normal reads. I haven’t heard of this story before, but it’s something that I want to know more of. Makes me angry, I mean, why would you lie?

  • Susannah says:

    The whole “wellness” “vegan” “paleo” wankery bullshit really frustrates me. Eliminating whole food groups as par for the course of food fashion is silly and “trendy”.
    I applaud people who genuinely embark on these wellness journeys and get real results- though everyone has a different constitution, metabolism and overall weight/height etc and therefore may need certain foods etc. I suspect a lot of people, particularly young women become vegan, or do these faddy diets as a means to remain interesting and to ultimately lose weight. Its everything in moderation really. Nothing wrong with enjoying a McMuffin once a month or a Mars Bars every now and then. People need to relax and enjoy life. We don’t know the implications of eliminating whole food groups on peoples diets. Humans are meant to eat meat and other proteins like eggs etc. Therefore, all these things considered Im not surprised at all that people fell for Gibson’s “witchcraft.” Lol. She was pretty, popular, had a tragic story and people crave that. All in all, she’s a smart manipulator who thought shed get away with it probably. At what point did she think the lie would continue? Until she died? At some point people would question why she was still alive I am sure. Its like when someone pretends to be pregnant- at some point theres either got to be a “miscarriage” or a baby. She really didn’t think it through properly.

  • Ugh, this is so infuriating. What kind of person would give so many people false hope about a cure for cancer? I’m so glad they exposed her for the fraud she is. I’m not sure I could actually read this book though.

    Great review!

  • Okay – I want to read this book.

    Not only am I so wary of social media and all the fun stories you hear on the Internet (because, if it’s found by Google it’s the truth!!!!) but I just am so taken by both your review and this story that I want to know more!

    Awesome review

  • Meg says:

    Oh, wow, I was vaguely aware of her story, what a crazy con.

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