My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is a degrading representation of Romani and Irish Travelers. It portrays the Gypsies as individuals who force their kids to drop out of school, who care about nothing more than big, lavish wedding dresses, and who enjoy partying and creating havoc for no apparent reason.
And while this narrative might make for great TV, it’s a complete misrepresentation of the gypsy community. The show has resulted in further discrimination towards a minority that is already bullied a lot as it is.
Let’s dive into all the big, fat lies.
It’s All About the Ratings
Being as it is a show on TLC, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has been directed (and scripted) in a way that’s meant to shock its viewers. No surprise there, right? Ratings, ratings, ratings. A review report on the show described it as the following:
“From the makeup to the miniskirts, from the heels to the hair, it’s the outrageous, it’s the unbelievable, it’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” It looks like the producers want nothing more than to show a very specific narrative regarding the Gypsies.
A Complete Misrepresentation of the Romanis
Oksana Marafioti, author of American Gypsy: A Memoir, spoke up about how she was originally interested in appearing on the show. She wrote that she was “thrilled” and had “high hopes” about the docu-series and was eager to use the platform to refute silly and outdated beliefs about her people.
But, alas, after meeting the show’s producers, she was heavily, heavily disappointed. “As we talked, he seemed to become increasingly disappointed with my profile,” Oksana wrote. “As a college graduate, a classically trained pianist, and member of the film industry, I did not fit the bill of the ‘real gypsies’ he was interested in meeting.”
Who Were the “Real Gypsies” the Producer Wanted to Meet?
Most of the people arriving at the show’s auditions resembled Oksana. They weren’t, according to Oksana, the “tambourine-jangling caricature he had in mind.” Seeing the unnerved look on the producer’s face, she realized the show was after something else, something trashy.
When the show’s producer asked Oksana if she planned to attend any old-fashioned Gypsy weddings or birthday parties, she felt “so dismayed [she] wanted to cry.” TLC had no intention of portraying the community as it really is.
A Competition for the Most Lavish Dress
One thing that attracts people to the show is probably the colorful and unique style the women have. Their choice of wedding dress is light years away from our traditional white garments. They’re bright, vibrant, and glitzy.
The show has also made it seem like the bigger the dress is, the better. It’s all about taking up space and standing out in the crowd. The show makes it seem like women within the community compete for the title of having the most lavish wedding dress.
But Is This an Accurate Representation?
Is this really what women care about and wear on their wedding day? An Irish nomad told The Guardian that although the series features people who spend thousands on their dresses, that’s not the case for most people.
“I don’t know anyone so rich that they can afford to splash out on wedding dresses like that. Mine was second-hand. They’ll now be saying we are all criminals or sponging off the state,” she worriedly told the magazine.
The Show Focuses on a Very Small Group of Individuals
Journalist Julie Bindel reported that she interviewed multiple women from the Traveler community about their financial capabilities and the things they normally spend their money on. When asked whether they felt that the show represented their communities, all of them said no.
They told Bindel that My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding focuses on a very small group of individuals who are likely given scripts and are asked to behave in an overly dramatic fashion and cause havoc for no good reason other than getting viewers to keep on watching.
It Completely Exploits the Traveler Community
The Guardian released an article called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Exploits Our Community for Cheap Laughs,” where they absolutely slammed the docu-series for solidifying false stereotypes and promoting negative thoughts surrounding Travelers’ kids and their way of life.
What’s worse is when the show’s new season launched, TLC’s people began advertising, putting up billboard posters with the cringe-worthy slogan: “Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier.” The posters had semi-naked, young girls posing awkwardly in front of the camera.
They Turned Them Into a Joke
The woman behind The Guardian’s article (the Irish nomad mentioned from before) wrote: “Channel 4 seems to be using who we are against us in a way that feels very hard to take. My family was brought up to be sure of who we are and what we stand for. But these posters are making a joke of that.”
Channel 4 turned the word Gypsy into an absolute joke. They tarnished their already stereotypical reputation by making them into a big, fat, loud crowd that cares only about glammed-up dresses and uncalled-for drama.
The Participants Aren’t Paid to Be on the Show
With such misrepresentation and mockery, you would assume that the women on the show at least get paid for their participation, right? Wrong. There’s no big fat check rolling into these women’s bank accounts.
Their costly wedding celebrations are financed from money that comes out straight out of their own pockets. TLC basically uses them to cash in hefty sums but gives the girls nothing in return. Only recognition. But who wants to be recognized in such a ridiculous way?
Why Do It in the First Place?
Season One’s participant, Priscilla Kelly, has since gone on to bash the show for the way it portrays her community. Back in 2014, she took to Facebook to dispel some myths and assumptions surrounding the Romani.
“For the record, they do not pay us anything to do the show. So, we are gaining nothing but disrespect from other people who don’t understand our culture,” she wrote. We wonder what prompted her to go along with it in the first place.
It First Appeared as a British Show
My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding is broadcast on TLC, but you might not know it actually started out as a British show called by the same name – My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – which aired on Channel 4.
The show was a great success, and audiences kept growing with each passing week. The docu-series became the network’s “eighth highest rating program ever.” With that in mind, TLC quickly rushed to develop an American version of it.
Lies, Lies, and More Lies
TLC announced that they would be releasing a project that would share “the culture and traditions of this highly secretive community” and that it would be exploring the rich and vibrant lifestyle of Gypsies all across America.
One of TLC’s workers, Amy Winter, proudly stated: “TLC prides itself on providing access to worlds that our viewers might not otherwise experience…Having the opportunity to explore the hidden and often misunderstood Gypsy and Traveler culture continues the network’s commitment to compelling storytelling and surprising real-life characters.”
Come on. This statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Most Of the Dresses in America Are Made by Sondra Celli
Designer Sondra Celli makes most of the massive dresses featured on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Even though she’s now the show’s only designer, she’s their most well-known one. TLC even marked her as “the number one Gypsy dressmaker in America.”
There’s a lot of demand for Sondra’s services, and she often finds herself working 17-hour shifts, six or seven days a week. When asked about the community, Sondra told Channel Guide Magazine, “I think people are just intrigued in general of Gypsy life. I don’t think people believe it’s here. People come into my office all the time and are intrigued by what they see.”
Gypsies Give Sondra Complete Freedom
Sondra dished that she loves working with Gypsies because they give her complete freedom. When it comes to their garments, they don’t mind the colors, patterns, and outrageous combinations. The louder, the better.
Sondra Celli knows their styles, and after so many years of working with them, she knows what they like and the difference between the Gypsy communities and each one’s style preferences.
Drama Between the Dressmakers
Most people who watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding do so because they’re intrigued by the Traveler community. Well, that, and the unusual wedding dresses. And also, the endless drama. Surprisingly, though, it’s not always the people on the show who create the headlines.
A 2017 report showed that My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dress designers had a massive fallout. Thelma Madine (a designer from the U.K. version) fought with Leanne Phillips to the point where they had to head to court. Madine accused Phillips of copying some of her ideas.
They Went Their Separate Ways
The two designers reportedly clashed back in 2012, and their fight resulted in Phillips storming out of the shop and opening her own rival store in Liverpool. Despite going their separate ways, the girls kept clawing at each other’s throats.
Madine blamed Phillips for using her most famous designs and making them her own. She said her design was ripped off to create the “Crystal Princess Figurine,” which is noted as one of seven collectible porcelain figurines of girls in large dresses which they marketed around Europe.
The “Grabbing” Ritual Doesn’t Exist
Anyone who has ever watched either the U.K. or the American version of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has likely found themselves shifting uncomfortably in their chairs after watching the unsettling grabbing ritual.
However, according to reports, this ritual doesn’t really exist. The Guardian interviewed a 15-year-old Irish traveler named Mary, who discussed the grabbing scenes on the show that were explained as a way for Traveler men to let women know they were interested.
Just One Nasty Boy
Mary told The Guardian that she had never in her life encountered such behavior. “Grabbing has never happened to me or any of my friends, and the first time I ever saw it was on the telly. I wouldn’t put up with it, and I don’t know why they made out we all do it. It’s just one nasty boy they showed.”
Another woman interviewed by the magazine agreed. She shared that “grabbing had never happened to any of [her] kids.” She said she honestly never heard of it. “It’s all make-believe,” she concluded.
One Became a Professional Wrestler
Priscilla Kelly, whom we brought up earlier on this list, has very much regretted being on the show. She’s opened up to the public about her thoughts and feelings and has shared that she’s gone on to do completely different things since then.
She’s become a professional wrestler. Kelly got into the sport after buying her brother a DVD set one Christmas morning. After that, she started watching the sport regularly and gradually fell in love with it.
Gigi Dolin, the Gypsy Queen
Priscilla Kelly told Wrestle List magazine: “It was one of those things where I didn’t have a single passion or a plan for what I wanted to do with my life, and then wrestling came along, and I fell in love with it. It’s all I have wanted ever since.”
Her stage name is Gigi Dolin, although many still reference her Gypsy background and call her “Gypsy Princess” or “Gypsy Queen.” Nowadays, she’s embraced a more Gothic persona. And a much more provocative look fitting a WWE wrestler.
What About Education?
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has also been accused of making it seem like all Travelers and Romanis are forced to drop out of school and stay at home to raise their kids. But that’s not always the case at all.
A Traveler called Jill Smith relayed that while the show “made out that all Gypsy girls are forced to leave school and stay at home to clean until they marry… [they] do have [their] own lives too.” Smith said that most girls are given the opportunity to go to school.
Some of the Weddings Featured Weren’t Even Real
One of the most startling things that Season One’s Priscilla Kelly revealed was that not all the weddings on the series were even real. InTouch Weekly reported that she said: “Basically [producers] told me if I would just get married, it didn’t matter who it was, and it didn’t have to be legal.”
In other words, TLC just needed something to put on TV. Even though we all know that reality shows are often a stretch from the truth, hearing that the show completely faked the main event that’s meant to be the whole gist of the show (the wedding!) is utterly disappointing.
They Were Told to Keep “Hush Hush” About It
Traveler and Romani weddings often differ greatly from what is shown on the show. Kelly’s Facebook post read: “Producers are offering people to get married without paperwork just to have something to put on the show.”
She added that they were supposed to keep “hush hush” about it being made up but said that she “could not take it anymore” and simply had to speak the truth. We’re glad she decided to do so. Seriously, these kinds of shows should be taken off the air for good.
It Was Hard to Gain Their Trust
When TLC released that they would be filming Gypsies in America for their docu-series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, they said they would be exploring “the culture and traditions of this highly secretive community” and that apparently, it’s really hard to gain their trust.
Executive Producer David Herman told The Hollywood Reporter that shooting the series for TLC was “the most extensive pre-production and production period [he’d] been on.” He said that gaining the gypsies’ trust took eight months.
Sondra Helped the Network Out
Herman stated that: “It was incredibly difficult. It took eight months. In the end, the key was the dressmaker, Sondra Celli. Before that, it was hard to meet people. They just didn’t trust us. They didn’t know who we were.”
The Gypsies the show found weren’t living in New York or Miami, or other big cities. They were living in small towns across the States. Luckily, Sondra managed to introduce the network to people with the help of her vast contacts and trustworthiness.
Some Participants Regret Being on the Show
Despite doing well with ratings, My Big Fat Gypsy wedding has been criticized time and again for not accurately portraying the Traveler or Romani lifestyle. There are numerous inaccuracies in this documentary series that many find unfair.
As a result, a few of the participants—or rather one named Priscilla Kelly—regret ever starring on it. In her 2014 Facebook post where she opened up about the experience, she wrote: “I’m so ashamed that I even did the show.”
The Show Portrays the Women as Slaves
Kelly has been the show’s most vocal participant to speak up about regretting her appearance. However, there are several other women from the Irish Traveler and Romani communities. They have publicly shared their views with several publications about how inaccurate the show’s portrayal of women is.
The Guardian, for example, talked to a Traveler woman named Helen, who explained: “The way us women come across in the program is a disgrace. It shows us as nothing but slaves to the men, only good for cooking and cleaning and always being available to open our legs to them. We don’t want that for our daughters.”
A Negative Image of Gypsies
Many publications have commented on how My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is a misleading show. According to The New Republic, it’s stereotypical, judgmental, and a “shallow depiction of one of the world’s most misunderstood” minorities.
The TLC series portrays the people as uneducated, wild hooligans – something which many viewers remarked on by Tweeting and posting on several social media outlets that the show was “crazy” and a “trainwreck.”
The Show Didn’t Want to Educate People
Priscilla Kelly dished that the producers didn’t actually want to educate viewers about the Traveler and Romani community. They wanted to shock people. They wanted to get people engaged. They wanted – ratings and money.
Kelly told the media: “They had no consideration for any of us or our race [or] our culture or how it would affect any of us to do the show. They don’t care about anything except for the ratings. Shame on TLC.”
Kids Have Been Bullied Because of the Show
When you portray a group of people in a certain way that feeds into stereotypes and then parade it on TV for the nation to see, troubling repercussions are bound to happen as a result. According to The Guardian, the show resulted in bullying.
Kids from the community began being bullied at school. A reporter from The Guardian wrote: “During the screening of the last series, I heard of many Gypsy and Traveler children getting bullied at school as a direct result.”
One Woman’s Daughter Left School as a Result
One woman from the community told The Guardian that her daughter “eventually left school because of the way the community was being portrayed in the series.” Apparently, it became a nightmare to sit around kids that kept picking on her.
She then added: “Channel 4 must realize the effect it has had and is still having on the lives of Traveler children. Television plays a big part in people’s lives, and Channel 4 is misusing its power.” Both Channel 4 and TLC need to think hard about the shows they’re airing.
There Have Been Two Gay Gypsy Weddings
The main focus of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is, of course, the weddings, which have garnered the attention of many, not just for the choice of outfit that the brides wear, but also for who they choose to wed.
In Season Two of the series, a woman named Anna was the first woman to have a gay wedding on the show when she married her girlfriend, Linda. Anna was reported saying, “For the majority, I’m not a true Romany because of who I love.”
Feelings of Shame and Guilt
Many of Anna’s relatives declined to attend the wedding at the last minute, and it wasn’t even clear whether Anna’s mom would be there. She told the cameras: “My mother doesn’t know if she is coming, and normally that means she is not.”
“It really hurts a lot,” Anna added. “She makes me feel like she is really ashamed of me.” Sadly, Anna suffered a ton of backlash from her community for doing nothing but simply loving a human being of the same sex.
Tommy and Ivan, Two Brave Gypsies
Anna wasn’t the only gay member on the show. There was also the wedding between Romanichal Gypsy Tommy and Roma Gypsy Ivan, who both wore suits designed by Sondra Celli. After their marriage, they left their communities for good.
Like Anna, Tommy and Ivan were faced with a lot of criticism for being gay. While not all people from the Gypsy community hold anti-gay beliefs, a lot of them do. I have a feeling many remain closeted out of fear of being persecuted.
One Married Their Cousin
In one of the show’s episodes from 2012, viewers got to see Annie and Josh, cousins from West Virginia who were very much in love and living together. According to several media outlets, their parents were frustrated over that. Not over the fact that they were cousins, but over the fact that they were living together before marriage.
Annie told Fox News that even though marrying first cousins isn’t something that many people will understand, she’s not trying to live according to their beliefs. Annie said, “If I was going to live a life based on what people say about me, I would just stay in the house.”
Odd Marriage Behavior
As it turns out, this practice isn’t that uncommon. According to a study published by The Independent, in Ireland, up to 40% of all marriages involving Travelers are between first cousins. They also claimed that they had no intention of changing that.
One reporter stated: “It’s unrealistic to try to change their marriage behavior radically.” A Traveler named Nora Lawrence shared in that same publication: “We’ve never seen anything wrong with it. The settled people have a lot of myths about it, but it wasn’t an issue for us. We’ve always had cousins marrying.”
Someone Wrote an Open Letter to the Show About How It Ruined Their Life
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is a docu-series that people worldwide love to watch, but it’s also one that has reportedly ruined someone’s life. After an open letter by a person who refers to themselves as Pip surfaced, this became known to the public.
Pip’s letter was published in Sabotage Times and reads: “I am writing to you with the hope that you will stop ruining my life. While your obsession with my ethnicity is flattering, it has become somewhat apparent to me that you might have gotten the wrong end of the stick. This is sort of awkward for me because I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but your documentary, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, is, unfortunately, a work of fiction.”
Romani and Irish Travelers Aren’t One and the Same
Further on in the letter, Pip goes on to write about how the show had grouped Irish Travelers and Romani Gypsies into the same category, failing to consider that there are “many differences” between the cultures.
The writer also touched on how their community was already facing discrimination without the show magnifying this. They wrote: “We suffer from discrimination on a daily basis, and our human rights have historically been violated, yet you deem it acceptable to broadcast a misleading ‘documentary’ that has been made not to raise awareness of our plight but for entertainment.”
The Reason Kids Leave School Isn’t Accurate
It seems that there are many stereotypes featured on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, leading to a backlash by the community for the way that they have portrayed the Irish Traveler and Romani groups.
The show has also failed to explain why some kids leave school at a young age. The topic was touched upon in Pip’s letter. They wrote: “You correctly identified that many Gypsy and Traveler children leave school at a young age; however, you failed to mention that this is not because we are all born to terrible parents, but because our communities suffer from great social exclusion.”
State Education Doesn’t Appreciate Those Who Are Different
Pips explained that “state education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture,” leaving them to contend with a curriculum that is completely irrelevant to their lifestyle and habits. Moreover, other students and nearly all teachers are totally ignorant of their culture.
They tag them as troublemakers, and they are normally bullied for standing out. Surely, the myths that this show has been spreading have not helped their situation one bit.
A Complete Misrepresentation
Pips also added that My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding failed to represent people like them, who are still in education and currently in college. TLC hasn’t responded in return. From the looks of it, they couldn’t care less.
The network has only one thing on their minds – getting people to watch the show. And who wants to watch a show about successful gypsies? Apparently, not a lot of people. On the flip side, who wants to watch a group of Gypsies flunks school? Many do.
One Teen Was Outed by the Show
It looks like being gay isn’t something that is very accepted in Gypsy communities, and according to The Daily Mail, one teenager suffered a lot from being on the show. As it turns out, there was one kid who was filmed kissing a Traveler named Mikey.
While the kids’ face was blurred to protect his identity, the boy said that his family still recognized him and that his “worst nightmare” came to life. The show took away the opportunity for the boy to tell his parents on his own terms.
He Begged Them Not to Show It
Apparently, the teenage boy begged the show’s producers to cut out the clip from the episode, but they went ahead and aired it anyway. The boy told The Daily Star that their decision to do so had changed his life:
“My parents saw it and recognized me. Now everyone knows I’m gay. I feel exploited,” he explained. The cameramen had been following Mikey, something that the anonymous teenager hadn’t been aware of. When he realized he was being filmed, he begged them to throw away the footage.
Reputation Means Everything to Some People
Although there has been plenty of backlash relating to the myths and inaccuracies shown in the series, there have also been a few interesting things that the participants of the show have revealed. One participant, Nettie, appeared on the show and shed light on the clear gender roles there are for men and women.
According to Fox News, Nettie said that the normal age for a girl to get married is between 16 and 18. She said that female teenagers have a lot less freedom than their male peers. There’s a reason for this too: their reputation is everything.
It’s Just the Way They Were Brought Up
“It’s just the way we were brought up,” she said, “A girl has more at risk with her reputation than a boy does. A girl has to go a little further than a guy to protect her reputation. A girl is to be looked at as a decent young girl, where a boy can do whatever and nobody is going to look at him in a bad way.”
If we’re honest, this is true in mainstream society too. Still, we can only imagine how rigid and constraining gender rules among Gypsies must be. We can only hope that this changes in the years to come, allowing for more freedom for the women of the group.
Harsh Rules for Girls
Another Gypsy named Annie added to the gender role conversation by telling the media that her parents were unbelievably strict with her when she was growing up. She wasn’t allowed to do things that kids her age normally do.
Annie opened up to the news and shared: “Growing up, I was not allowed to stay at friends’ houses even when I was 15 or 16 years old. I was not allowed to go to parties or have a boyfriend or do anything. I just cleaned the house.”
Some of Them Aren’t Even Gypsies
Arguably one of the most annoying things about this show is that some of the people on it aren’t even from the Romani or Irish Traveler community. Many people of the show are, in fact, “Gorjas” or outsiders.
Former participant Priscilla posted on Facebook: “Well, the first season, yes, I can say there were a few real Gypsy. Second season, I would say 90%, and then it just went downhill from there.” She clarified that there’s nothing wrong with Gorjas but that hiring them takes away from the show’s authenticity.
A Bunch of Paid Actors
Priscilla shocked the show’s viewers by admitting: “The sad part is that they basically told my mom on the phone tonight that this year is a bunch of paid actors… They should be ashamed of their selves.”
One commenter on Facebook wrote to Priscilla and her readers: “TLC’s producers messaged me on Facebook asking me to do the show. I was like, I’m not even a Gypsy! I’m Italian.” This is unbelievably pathetic…
Not All of Them Live in Trailers
Even though the people featured on the show live in trailers and caravans, the majority of nomadic ethnic groups actually live in houses. In Priscilla’s episode during Season One, she is shown standing in front of a camper which she refers to as her “Gypsy home,” however, she later admitted that the network made her say that.
“That was a camper we had for sale at a campground. My real house was seven miles from there,” she explained in her Facebook post. “My house is beautiful; it’s a two-story brick home on 5 acres of property with horses, but no, you didn’t see any of that, did you.”