Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Big Fat Gypsy Enlightenment

The obsession started when My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding came to America. This documentary from the UK about tribes of traveling gypsies proved quite fascinating, their culture completely foreign to us. It was shocking and mesmerizing, captivating our household with outrageously adorned teenage brides sporting tulled 80 lb. custom gowns overflowing with glitter and sequins and crystals. Some even lit up with flashing electric lights. The weddings themselves were just as fanciful, no expense spared. Hummer limousines and horse drawn carriages by the boatload, the poshest venues draped with extravagant cakes and decor, serving the finest food and libations. Little girls ages six and up gyrating on the dance floor in a wiggly clump, more skin showing than their neon spandex outfits could possibly cover, candy apple red lips and blue eyeshadow up to their eyebrows. It was a big fat portrait of ostentatious slutyness, my honest first impression.

But as we watched a few episodes it didn't take long to realize there was a lot more going on than meets the eye. Devoutly Roman Catholic, the family guards the virtue of their unmarried females like a knight guards a king. A girl's wedding is one of three days in her life that celebrate her, first communion and confirmation the other two. Other than that their life is pretty bleak, as viewed through my eyes, consisting of obsessive cleaning, child rearing and lots of gossiping about fellow travelers. Traditionally dropping out of school around twelve or thirteen, they spend their days scrubbing the family trailer with bleach and searching for a husband. Meeting their future mate only once or twice they quickly marry between ages fifteen and seventeen, fearful of reaching eighteen single and spending life as a dejected old maid. No unsupervised or unchaperoned encounters with the opposite sex occur, ever. It would ruin a girl's reputation because her virginity could be questioned, spoiling all chance of attracting a man and ostracizing her from the community. Parties and wedding receptions are relished because it is their only opportunity to gussy themselves up and show off their wares, hoping to lure a boy into matrimony with the seduction of their swiveling hips. But the skin! That makeup! Those dresses! Could it be this objectified manipulation of female wiles really does run only skin deep?

These customs rubbed me the wrong way at first, for clearly women's liberation and equal rights have not been embraced, and in all honesty the little girls look indecent. But as I got out of my own head and learned more about them I realized there was indeed something unique and non-exploitative about this culture. And not one of these young brides posed a flicker of objection at her future or fate. It's not for me, certainly, but I can see the method to their madness. As I grew to understand their social mores I thought of us Fibromyalgia patients, as we too struggle with an exterior that does not match our interior and are very misunderstood by society. "You don't look sick" is a tired statement many have heard too many times. It's very hard to get others to understand the concessions we make, battle we fight, resignation we struggle with just to get through everyday life. And oh so nice when we meet those who are not judgmental but actually want to learn about our reality, are supportive and open-minded. A few weeks back I told my husband I want to get our own trailer and infiltrate their ranks, spend a year living with them and observing this phenomena. He snickered at me. "What would they say about you?" he asked. It took little more than a second before I answered, in a very bad British accent, "She can't keep a proper trailer, and doesn't have any children, so what's the point of her then?" We howled and gripped our sides with laughter.

Thanks for joining,


  1. It is all too easy for each of us to jump to conclusions and pass judgement for what we observe, without taking the time to get to know more about the person, the culture, the situation, the disease... Thanks for a great perspective!

  2. I watched that show last season too (my girlfriend got me hooked on it, I couldn't believe I was watching it!) and I soon realized that they are simply human beings, just like we are, making their way in the world the best way they know how.