Trying to make sense of Belle Gibson was tough.
At first, it seemed a simple story - a woman fakes cancer to gain attention, fame and money. She's exposed and it all comes crashing down. Yet after hours interviewing her last month, I was no clearer in understanding who she is - she often seemed muddled and vague. By her own admission, she dissociates when things get tricky.
Even after a second interview, big questions remained. Why did she never have a brain scan? Why sacrifice time with her son to build The Whole Pantry empire if she thought she was dying?
Under a media glare, many condemned her as a con artist or sociopath. Yes, Belle should be held accountable for her actions, which sent a potentially deadly message to cancer patients. Yet she is not a one-dimensional villian.
Life isn't black and white.
And after interviewing Belle's mother, Natalie, brother, Nick, and piecing the jigsaw together, it seems Belle did have an unsettled and confusing early life, and was unlikely shaped by her environment.
As a child, Belle didn't know who her father was. She had siblings whom she knew existed but never met. Her mother changed her name by deed poll.
She seemed insecure: her family describes how when all focus was on her brother's epileptic seizures, she'd suck on her thumb and want to sleep in her mother's bed.
And Belle did, as she told The Weekly, leave home at the age of 12.
She may have been rebellious, but she was also a child in an adult's world.
At 17, Belle moved interstate. A year later she was pregnant. Soon she'd built a fantasy world where she had terminal illnesses and conspiracies reigned.
It's easy to dismiss Belle as a fraud, but the truth is more complicated.
Read the full story in the June issue of The Australian Women's Weekly on sale today.