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When I imagine what my wedding dress would be like (and yes I know it’s a horrific cliché, but I do) I picture a long, flowing, whiter than white gown, maybe given to me by my good friend Mrs Westwood or perhaps by the lovely people at Valentino. It would be simple, yet elegant, and would hopefully make me look a few pounds lighter too.
What I don’t imagine myself walking up the aisle in on the happiest day of my life would be an electric light up dress complete with moving butterflies, nor would it be a dress resembling a toilet roll holder so heavy that I’m left with injuries by the end of the day. Yes it sounds completely insane, but if you were one of the 8.2 million viewers glued to the TV screen thanks to channel 4’s ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The show, according to its producers, aimed to avoid common stereotypes held about gypsies and travellers and maintain a balanced view, presenting the experiences of the traveller community from their point of view. However, it seems to me that the ridiculous gowns, the creepy Beyoncé dancing by 5 year olds, and the controversial grabbing ritual, has done nothing to clear the tarnished gypsy name.
Even more worryingly, I would argue that for some, myself included, the show has managed to transform what were previously liberal opinions about the community into something more sinister. Before watching the programme, I was fairly indifferent to the goings on of the traveller community. I’d heard my fair share of racist comments towards them but I always maintained the argument that they were an easy target – people always criticise what they don’t know enough about. However now that I’ve had more insight into their way of life, I’m more against the ideas and rituals of the community than I was before. Pulling girls out of school when they’re barely teenagers, getting married before you’re old enough to drink, and allowing men to practically force themselves onto women is something that I was shocked and frankly disgusted by. The gypsy community were presented to me as backward, old fashioned and totally unrelatable.
But you have to question, is that the point of it all? Under the cover of the soft voiced narrator are we being invited to point and laugh at the brides in all their tangoed skin and false haired beauty? Is the programme, like the Big Brothers of days gone by, just another modern day freak show? It concerns me that I had been so easily led into changing my viewpoint about other members of society.
And when you think about it, aren’t these people just taking their cue from the celebrities and pop stars of our ‘country people’ culture anyway? The programme focused on the continuing efforts by the community to protect their culture and heritage, but it seems to me that their culture, obsessed with vanity and parties, isn’t that much different to ours. After all, the Katie Price/Peter Andre wedding would have slotted into the show quite nicely.
In the end however, under all the confusion of huge dresses, spray tans, and protecting a diluted culture, this programme just made me sad. These young girls are not marrying their one true love, they are being forced to get hitched and become a slave for their rest of their lives. Yes the programme may well be harbouring some racist ideologies, but it gives an insight into the extraordinarily hard life gypsy women face as second-class citizens in their own community. So when it comes down to it, if on their last day of freedom all they want is a ridiculous day-glo dress and the biggest cake ever baked then they should have it, in fact, they deserve it.