My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is known for its outrageous wedding dresses that seem to suggest that the bigger and more blingy, the better. It's also a show that portrays "gypsies" as individuals who love a good party, have clear gender roles, and don't really care about education. It seems that the documentary series may has been designed to surprise audiences with the introduction of episodes claiming, "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.”
And while this may make for great TV, and the documentary series was one of Channel 4’s highest-rated programmes, it’s also a show that has been slammed for not accurately representing the communities which it films.
There have also been claims that the show has resulted in further discrimination against the minority groups and exploited the girls from the Traveler and Romani communities. Furthermore, there are also reports that sometimes the weddings featured are nothing more than a producer-encouraged sham.
Below are 20 things about My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding that many fans may not have known, and in some cases, will serve as an eye-opener.
20 The Producers Have Been Accused Of Not Representing The Romani
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has been designed to shock people. This is evident by the introduction to each episode, which The New Republic reports goes like this: “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.” And if claims are to be believed, then the producers of the show only wanted to create a very specific narrative with the documentary series because they left out people like Oksana Marafioti, author of American Gypsy: A Memoir.
Marafioti penned an article for Slate, in which she discussed how she was originally interested in appearing on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. She writes she was “thrilled” about it because she had high hopes for the show and wanted to use it as a platform to “dispense with the silly outdated notions that we all live in trailers and marry off our tween daughters…” but unfortunately, she claims to have soon realized this was not going to happen after flying to meet one of the show’s producers in Los Angeles.
Speaking of this moment, she wrote, “But as we talked, he seemed to become increasingly disappointed with my profile. 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; everyone he had been interviewing resembled me far more than the tambourine-jangling caricature he had in mind. At this, warning bells went off. I suggested staying away from stereotypes if possible, but when he asked if I planned on attending any “old-fashioned gypsy weddings or birthday parties” in the future, I felt so dismayed I wanted to cry...”
19 It’s A Competition To Have The Most Lavish Dress...Or Is It?
The thing on the show that has probably attracted the most attention is the unique style that the women have, and their choice of wedding dress is far from the traditional white garments we are familiar with. Their dresses are bright, vibrant, oversized, and also incredibly glitzy. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding made it seem as though the bigger and more out-there a dress is, the better. BabyGaga also reports that women compete to have the most lavish wedding dress.
But is this really an accurate representation of what women from these communities wear on their wedding day? An Irish Traveler woman told The Guardian that although the people featured in the documentary series are able to spend thousands on their wedding dress, for most people that’s not the reality. She said, "I don't know anyone so rich that they can afford to splash out on wedding dresses like that. Mine was secondhand. They'll now be saying we are all criminals, or sponging off the state."
The journalist, Julie Bindel, who penned the article reports that she asked multiple women from the Traveler community about whether those featured on the show are representative of their communities, to which they revealed that the programme focused on a small group of individuals.
18 It’s Been Slammed For Exploiting The Traveler Community
An article on The Guardian called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding exploits our community for cheap laughs has slammed the documentary series (which aired on Channel 4 in the U.K.) for promoting stereotypes about the traveler children and their way of life. The article was penned by a woman who claims she is an Irish Traveler who has been living in London since she was a child, and when she watched the show she was left feeling disappointed.
Even worse is that when the new season came around, the show had started advertising for it, using billboard posters with the slogan, "Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier."
These posters also featured young looking girls wearing barely-there clothing, and it's this reason why the author used the website as a platform to share her thoughts.
She 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. Do they want people to laugh at the word 'Gypsier?' It is making out that our ethnic identity can be used against us and that can't be right.”
She also noted how troubling it was that it seems acceptable to use these words in a way to mock her community, but were it any other creeds, religions, or ethnic groups being mocked the reaction would not be the same.
17 The Participants Aren’t Paid To Be On The Show
You may think that the young women featured on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding get a nice big payday for their participation, which would certainly help in covering the costs of their lavish wedding celebrations, but according to InTouch Weekly, that’s not the case.
The publication revealed that My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding participant, Priscilla Kelly, who appeared in season one of the show, has since gone on to slam it for the way it portrays her community. She did this with a Facebook post back in 2014, presumably because she wanted to use her post as an opportunity to expel some myths about the Irish Traveler and Romani gypsy ways of life, as well as the treatment of the people who appear on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.
She said, "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." Of course, we cannot verify these claims, and it’s unclear as to whether the payment, or lack thereof, is only for the American adaptation of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, or the same can be said for the original, U.K. series, too.
16 It Started Out As A British Television Show
My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding features on TLC, but what you may not have known is that it actually started out as a British television show called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which aired on the Channel 4 network.
In 2011, The Guardian reported that this show was a great success for the network and audiences were growing each week, even making it “Channel 4's eighth highest-rating programme ever.” With this in mind then, it should come as no surprise that other markets wanted to tap into this, and according to a Discovery press release, TLC announced in April of 2011 that they were developing the American adaptation of the hit U.K. documentary series.
The network revealed that it had two projects lined up which would share “the culture and traditions of this highly secretive community” and would be exploring the lives of travelers and gypsies in America.
Amy Winter from the TLC said this at the time: "TLC prides itself on providing access to worlds that our viewers might not otherwise experience, revealing the relatable in the extraordinary. 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."
15 Most Of The Dresses In America Are Made By Sondra Celli
Most of the detailed (and massive) dresses featured on the show are made by Boston clothing designer Sondra Celli. Although she’s not the only designer out there creating garments for the participants of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, she is one of the most well-known. TLC even refers to her as “the No.1 gypsy dressmaker in America.”
There is certainly demand for her services, and Channel Guide Magazine reports that sometimes she finds herself working "17-hour days, six or seven days a week." The publication also interviewed her about her clientele, saying that she had been working with the communities for decades, asking whether it was surprising for her that she was now a reality TV star because of it. To which Celli responded: “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. And when you say something is for a gypsy, they’re kind of shocked. They don’t think they’re here. Yeah, they’re here…”
Apparently, these women are also fantastic to work with because when it comes to designing the garments, Celli claims they give her complete freedom. She says she knows their styles, she knows what they like, and she knows the difference between the communities and their style preferences.
14 There Has Been A Fight Amongst Rival Dress Makers
Most people who tune into My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding do so out of interest in the Traveler community. Well, that, and unique fashion and unusual choices for wedding garments. But it’s not always the participants on the show who create the headlines, as a report from 2017 about My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dress designers proved.
The Sun reports that Thelma Madine (who is featured on the U.K. version of the show) had a fallout with her former head designer, Leanne Phillips (who also featured on the show) and the two were embroiled in a legal battle over claims that Phillips copied Madine’s ideas for some of her giant wedding dresses.
The two women reportedly had a fall out in 2012, which resulted in Phillips leaving the shop and opening her own rival dress shop in Liverpool.
In a separate incident, she successfully brought her former boss to court for unfair dismissal. But their feud continued after Madine claimed that Phillips used her most famous designs to create her own dresses, also claiming her design was used to create the “Crystal Princess Figurine,” which The Sun notes is one of seven collectible porcelain figurines featuring girls in lavish dresses.
13 The Awful 'Grabbing' Ritual Doesn’t Exist
Anyone who ever watched My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding or the American version of the show may have felt unsettled by a grabbing ritual. But according to reports, this doesn’t actually exist.
The Guardian featured an article in 2011, titled The big fat truth about Gypsy life, in which they attempted to highlight the real-life struggles and problems that people within this community face, including discrimination.
They did this by interviewing Irish Travelers, including a 15-year-old named Mary who spoke on the topic of “grabbing” ritual that viewers watching the show were told happened at weddings and big events; it was a way for Traveler men to let women know they were interested in them and would like to kiss them.
This is something that Mary claims does not happen, and is really quite false.
She said, "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 shared, “Grabbing has never happened to my kids. I have honestly never heard of it. It's all make-believe."
12 One Of The Girl's Became A Professional Wrestler
Earlier on this list, we mentioned Priscilla Kelly, who featured on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and has since regretted her decision to do so, but she’s interesting for another reason, too: She became a professional wrestler.
She told Wrestle List how she first got into the sport, saying she initially bought her brother an Undertake DVD set one Christmas and after that, they started to watch wrestling and fell in love with it. Around a year later she started training. She continued, “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.”
This ties into another point, the one that suggests the women in the Traveler and Romani communities drop out of school and stay home with their children, which is not always the case.
The New Republic reports that a Traveler by the name of Jill Smith told News of the World, “The programme made out that all gypsy girls are forced to leave school at nine so they can stay at home cleaning until they marry. Yes, we’re expected to cook and clean, but we do have our own lives too. … Most girls have the opportunity to go to school, many of them have jobs.”
11 Some Of The Weddings Featured Were Reportedly Fake
Perhaps one of the most shocking things that season one participant of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, Priscilla Kelly, revealed was that not all of the weddings on the show were even real.
According to InTouch Weekly, she said, "Basically [producers] told me if I would just get married it didn't matter who it was it didn't have to be legal just so they had something to put on TV. Now isn't that pitiful I'm so ashamed that I even did the show."
Although reality TV is often a stretch from the truth, this is a particularly damning report for the show as it revolves around the storyline of those from the Traveler and Romani culture getting married, and how it differed from the traditional weddings often aired on TV. This is also something that the publication reports Kelly addressed back in 2014, when she took to her Facebook page to slam the producers of the show for encouraging fake weddings. She wrote, "[Producers are] offering people to get married but without even paperwork just to have something to put on the show basically fake marriages fake engagements. We were supposed to keep it hush hush [about] it being made up, but I could not take it anymore."
10 It Is Hard To Gain The Trust Of The People Who Are Filmed
When TLC announced that they would be focusing their attention on gypsies in America for their documentary series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, they claimed they would be looking into “the culture and traditions of this highly secretive community” and apparently it’s very hard to gain their trust.
Executive Producer David Herman spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about shooting the series for TLC, which he described as “the most extensive pre-production and production period I’ve been on.”
But he also answered a question relating to gaining the trust of the people that he filmed.
The publication notes that they primarily filmed Romanichals; American Gypsies whose roots lie with English Gypsies. He said, “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. And they weren’t living in New York or Miami and big cities. They were living in small towns across America. So, Sondra, she introduced us to people and through her we met almost everyone in the series.”
Herman also revealed that Celli was their way in, because not only did she introduce the crew to the people they wished to film, but she also vouched for them.
9 Some Participants Regret Appearing On The Show
Despite being watched by large audiences, My Big Fat Gypsy wedding has come under fire for not accurately portraying the Traveler or Romani way of life accurately, and there are reportedly a lot of inaccuracies in this documentary series. And for this reason, some participants—or rather one in particular—Priscilla Kelly, regrets ever being a part of the show and according to InTouch Weekly, she made this very clear in a 2014 Facebook post.
She made many claims in her post, including the accusations that producers faked weddings and engagements so that they had something to put on TV, which resulted in her stating: “I'm so ashamed that I even did the show."
Although Kelly has been the participant from the show who is most vocal about regretting her decision, there are many other women from the Irish Traveler and Romani communities who have shared their views with various publications about how inaccurate My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding's portrayal of women is.
The Guardian spoke to a Traveler woman named Helen, who said: "The way us women come across in the programme 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."
8 The Show Has Given The Public A Negative Image Of The Gypsy Communities
The New Republic has commented on how My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is misleading, stereotypical, judgmental, and according to the publication, a “shallow depiction of one of the world’s most misunderstood” minorities. When watching the show, it portrayed the people on it as uneducated, and lovers of parties, something which viewers remarked on, taking to Twitter to allegedly call the show “crazy” and “a trainwreck.”
InTouch Weekly also notes that Priscilla Kelly has been vocal about her time on the show, and how unhappy she was with the angle that producers chose, noting how it did nothing to educate viewers about the Traveler and Romani people.
Instead, she feels they were more concerned with the shock value the show could have, which would boost their ratings.
She wrote, "I've watched in amazement along with the rest of the world for the first time when our show aired they edit it so bad, and made things seemed the way they wanted it to look on TV just for ratings. 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."
7 Children Have Been Bullied As A Result Of The Show
When you portray a certain group of people in a certain way (a way that according to members of the community only feeds into stereotypes), and then televise it for the nation to see, complications and backlash are bound to arise. But it’s troubling to hear that according to an article in The Guardian, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has actually resulted in children from the community being bullied at school.
The article dates back to 2012, and the author writes, “During the screening of the last series I heard of many Gypsy and Traveler children getting bullied at school as a direct result.” She revealed that her daughter “eventually left school because of the way girls were portrayed in the series. Now the same thing is happening again.”
She continued, “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.”
In a separate article featured on The Guardian, a 15-year-old Irish Traveler spoke about the effects the show had on her, saying, "That programme didn't show the real way we go on. All my friends are asking if it's true what they show on telly, and I think they've gone different [towards me] since it was shown."
6 There Has Been Two Gay Gypsy Weddings
One of the biggest storylines on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is the weddings (obviously) and this is something that has attracted a lot of attention for not just the choice of outfit that the women wear, but also who they choose to marry.
InTouch Weekly notes that on season two of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, a woman named Ana was the first bride to have a gay wedding on the show when she married girlfriend, Linda.
The publication reports that her ceremony was featured in the same episode as Gipsy Sisters, and documented the obstacles that Ana faced.
The Sun reports that Ana said, “For the majority, I’m not a true Romany because of who I
love.” Many of her relatives declined to attend the wedding at the last minute, and Ana was even unsure if her mother would be there, telling cameras, “My mother doesn’t know if she is coming and normally that means she is not. It really hurts a lot. She makes me feel like she is really ashamed of me.”
According to Channel Guide Magazine, there was also a wedding between Romanichal gypsy Tommy and Roma gypsy Ivan, who wore suits made by designer Sondra Celli. And they had both reportedly left their communities after facing criticism for being gay.
5 But There Has Also Been A Wedding Between First Cousins
In a 2012 episode of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, the love of West Virginians Annie and Josh was on display. The couple were already living together, something which according to Fox News, their parents had expressed frustration over. The thing they didn’t have a problem with, is that these two are first cousins.
Their winter wonderland-themed wedding was featured on the show, and Annie spoke to Fox News telling them that although marrying first cousins is not something that many people will understand, she’s not trying to please them. She said, “If I was going to live a life based on what people say about me, I would just stay in the house.”
But apparently, this practice is not all that uncommon. According to a 2003 article by The Independent (which was published long before the documentary series even aired) in Ireland, up to 40% of all marriages—involving Travelers—are between first cousins, and they claimed that there was no intention to change that. As a report by the Traveller Consanguinity Working Group said, "It is unrealistic to try to radically change their marriage behaviour."
And a Traveler named Nora Lawrence shared with the 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."
4 Someone Wrote An Open Letter To The Show About It Upsetting Their Life
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is a show that people love to watch, but it's also a show that has apparently ruined someone’s life, this according to an open letter by a person who refers to themselves as Pip.
The letter was published in Sabotage Times and addresses Channel 4, the network which first aired the documentary series and it 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.”
Later in the letter, the writer goes on to discuss how the show had grouped Irish Travelers and Romani people into the same category, failing to take into account that there are “many differences” between the two cultures.
But the writer also touched on how their community already faced discrimination, without the documentary series magnifying this. Pip 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…”
3 The Reason Children Leave School Is Not Always Accurate
It seems that there are a lot of stereotypes that are featured on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and while producers of any show cannot always get this right, it seems like this documentary series in particular, has received a lot of backlash for the way that they have portrayed the Irish Traveler and Romani groups.
They have apparently also failed to explain why it is that some children leave school at a young age, and this topic was brought up in an open letter for Sabotage Times, in which the writer had this to say: “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 fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture, thus we have to contend with a curriculum that is totally irrelevant to our way of life. Moreover, both teachers and students seem ignorant of our cultures, thus we are labeled as troublemakers and bullied for being different. The myths that you have been spreading have not helped matters.”
The writer noted that the series failed to represent people still in education, like him or her, who are currently at college.
2 A Teen Was Apparently Outed By The Show
It seems that being gay is not something that is widely accepted in gypsy communities, and according to Daily Mail, there was a teenager who was featured on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding who was filmed kissing a Traveler named Mikey. Despite the Channel 4 network blurring out his face to protect his identity when they aired the clip, the teen claims that his family recognized him and his “worst nightmare” came true. This also took away his opportunity to tell his parents on his own terms.
The teen apparently begged the producers of the show to cut the clip, but they aired it anyway. He told Daily Star (via Daily Mail) that their decision has affected his life, saying,
“My parents saw it and recognized me. Now everyone knows I'm gay. I feel exploited.”
The cameras had been following Mikey (who is pictured above), something that the unnamed teenager was unaware of, and when he did realize he was being filmed, he claims to have pleaded with the program to not use the footage but the best they did was blur out his face.
He said, “My parents could easily tell that was me on telly. They're devastated. That silly attempt to blur my face wasn't going to stop people recognizing me.”
1 Reputation Means Everything To Some People
Although there has been a lot of backlash relating to the myths and inaccuracies shown on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, there has also been some interesting things that the stars of the show have revealed. Take Nettie, for example, who appeared on the show and spoke about the clear gender roles there are for men and women.
According to Fox News, she said that the “normal age for a girl to get married is between 16 and 18,” adding that female teenagers have a lot less freedom than males do, and there is a reason for this: their reputation means everything. She said, “It is just the way we were brought up. 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.”
This is something that another woman, Annie, touched on, too, and explained that her parents were very strict: “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.”