Wellness gurus’ documentation of their personal experiences generally lacks medical evidence and borrows a lot from anecdotes.
Beautiful Gibson. Image from the BBC 3.
If you were one of Belle Gibson’s 3,000,000 Instagram followers and she told you in 2013 that “eating healthy” would cure your cancer, you probably would have believed her advice too. Kylie, a personal trainer and cancer patient, did so when she stumbled upon Gibson’s profile, designed for those who are charmed by healthy living.
A new bbc three documentary, Bad influencer: the great insta Con, follows the rise and fall of Belle Gibson through her “teachings” and her influence on her followers, some young and struggling with chronic illnesses.
Belle Gibson, the “wellness guru” and her followers
Kylie had been on an intense chemotherapy routine for six months targeting her newly diagnosed lymphoma when she saw Gibson on Instagram. The Australian wellness blogger said she “cured” her inoperable brain cancer after learning she had four months to live just by eating healthy, loving and living. “I’m dying inside, getting worse and worse with each treatment. I look horrible. And she’s living her best life,” Kylie thought as Gibson posted snippets of her lifestyle. on social networks. Influenced by this, Kylie bought the wellness guru’s book and app, The whole pantry. She was tired of going on chemo and the alternative seemed to be working for Gibson, or so she claimed. Her brand was even backed by Apple and she made a book deal with Penguin.
In addition to Kylie, the documentary introduces us to Maxine, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 11. A college student when she began to consider natural treatment options for her health problems, Maxine was already off medication. “I was so angry that I had to put up with this disease and not become a normal teenager,” she adds in the documentary. Gibson’s Clean Eating App seemed like just what Maxine needed to feel normal again. The traditional medical route had not provided her with the long-term care she needed.
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The Instagram myth of holistic living
An influential part of the wellness industry, which is now valued at around £ 2.8 trillion worldwide, Gibson was making statements – some already known to the public and popularized by wellness influencers – that didn’t did not invite the media to the review until 2015. In that year, an Australian publication exposed Gibson, stating that she had falsely claimed to have donated part of her app and the proceeds from her book to charity . Soon reporters and the media sensed that there was something wrong with Gibson’s “too good to be true” approach to holistic living and avocado consumption: it was quickly reported. that she lied about cancer.
Over the years, social media has allowed the wellness craze to grow wildly. But experts say the idea of holistic living has been around since the ’60s. Nonetheless, the Instagram age has spawned many bloggers like Gibson who offer advice to those asking how to live “better.” Often, influencers without proper accreditation will operate behind well-crafted personalities. Their documentation of their own wellness experience generally lacks medical evidence and borrows a lot from anecdotes. To make their experience more authentic, many will add photos from their travels – a visual representation of a seemingly happier life. They rarely lean towards independent testing procedures and rely on vulnerability to be the only language spoken and heard between them and their followers. Likes and comments follow naturally since visual content is what drives Instagram, and most followers won’t question everything they read online.
This is also what Maxine tells us in the documentary: not to believe everything you read on the internet.
Belle Gibson’s Fall
It wasn’t until 2015, after Gibson’s lie became known, that Australian authorities began to prosecute her. A reporter by the name of Richard Guilliatt, whose wife had battled cancer, found Gibson intriguing and decided to dig deeper. He was surprised to find that all traces of her existence since 2012, when she burst onto the Instagram wellness scene, had been erased from the internet. Worse yet, she used to pretend to be sick. The empire Gibson built fell apart once Guilliatt opened an investigation into funds the blogger was supposed to donate to several charities. The organizations in question had not received a dime, due to “bad projections” for The Whole Pantry app and the book.
In 2017, she was fined £ 240,000 for misleading her audience about a donation to charity. She was subsequently found guilty of five consumer law offenses. After failing to repay any of the fines, authorities began to seize Belle’s assets. She can now be found on social networks, her book contract has disappeared, as has Apple’s approval. People sometimes only see her when entering and leaving court.
Why we blindly trust lifestyle gurus
Experts believe that our willingness to trust gurus and wellness influences is a reflection of our lack of confidence in institutional and professional solutions. This is because we’ve come to combine expertise with review to such a degree that the only “real” experiences we’re interested in are those of Instagram bloggers who are not part of this system at all. Maybe that’s why we trust Kourtney Kardashian’s Healthy Living Blog poop more than our neighborhood nutritionist.
Even though information is now more freely disseminated due to the prevalence of blogging, both textual and visual, there is a dark side to this democratization: this is where questions of credibility and trust collide and impact the way we seek and process advice. Even though Gibson’s brushstroke with the law revealed the ugly side of Instagram capitalism, it’s also a red flag for those looking for the perfect holistic lifestyle, sometimes more gramworthy than sustainable.