TLC’s new show, “My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding” is breathtaking (as in, “your baby is breathtaking”). The other night I insisted my husband record the first two episodes, mostly because I didn’t know what a modern-day gypsy was, but also because they had British and Irish accents.
Last night, for the better part of each hour-long show, I sat there shaking my head with my mouth agape, unable to make sense of things. It was such a mish-mash of cultures that my head was spinning. If you take 1 part hippie, 1 part traveling circus and 1 part Catholicism, you might have something resembling a modern-day gypsy.
The show hones in on the young gypsy girls, whose lives revolve around two major milestones: at age 8, communion, and around age 16, marriage. They look forward to these two events the way I dream of retiring at 30, and their willingness -fervent desire, even- to wear dresses that are twice their size and weight for these occasions is seemingly sincere. A favorite gypsy dress designer (who referred to the gypsies as “travelers”) had the most inside scoop, and described the lifestyle with a mixture of skepticism and guarded fascination. The girls design their dream dresses from the time they can walk, she says, each one wanting the biggest.
I will never forget the image of an 8-year-old gypsy girl waddling into church for her communion, suffocating under 70 pounds of tulle, while ‘regular’ girls in simple white cotton dresses gawk and giggle. More memorable is the after-party, where young gypsy children dress in what can only be described as hoochie wear, dance provocatively, and use moves they say they learned from Beyonce.
After seeing that picture, you might be surprised to hear that single gypsy girls aren’t permitted to wander around alone, or if they do, risk being seen as unsavory. Sex before marriage is also off-limits, so the outfits the tweens and teens wear is all the more baffling.
Female gypsies describe the mating ritual as ‘grabbing,’ where the boys pull the girls and ask for a kiss. If the girls refuse, the boys twist their arms, literally, until they oblige. If the immaturity of this practice doesn’t prove that they’re not yet ready for marriage, watching a 16-year-old giggle through the entirety of her vows certainly will.
Married girls are expected to leave their families for the first time, to live in a mobile home with their husbands. The men go out and make the money while the girls gladly stay behind to cook and clean. The families help each other out, they say, and try to keep off the radar, something which is becoming increasingly difficult as they’re forced to take permanent homes which the government then later tears down, a sad reality with far too little explanation. (When asked why they were bulldozing his home, a young gypsy boy responded simply, “They don’t like gypsies.”)
Looks like I’ll have to keep watching.