The Gypsy Rose Phenomenon

Dressed in a prison jumpsuit, alongside a team of makeup artists and hairstylists, Gypsy Rose Blanchard recounts her most painful surgery — having her salivary glands removed — in an People Magazine interview promoting her documentary series: The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Gypsy, then still serving time, recalls the impermeable memory of the globs of Orajel her mother pressed into her gums to convince doctors she drooled too much. 

“To this day, it has left me with the side effects of having to clear my throat all the time,” Gypsy said in the interview. “And it annoys people to no end.” 

This exclusive People interview marked the end of eight years in prison for Gypsy. She emerged from a Missouri prison in December 2023, entering adulthood without the one thing she has ever truly known: her mother. 

Blanchard has been covered by the media since 2015, after the investigation into her mother’s murder and Blanchard’s peculiar involvement was picked up by the public. As a figure, she raises questions about topics from awareness of medical diagnoses to the fad of celebrity idolization. 

Gypsy’s Story — a troubled childhood

Blanchard had a troubled beginning, as documented in The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Rod Blanchard, her father, was 17 years old, and her mother, Clauddine — Dee Dee — Blanchard, was 24 when Gypsy was conceived — and the two split before her birth in 1991. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed Gypsy’s childhood home in Louisiana, Dee Dee and Gypsy-Rose rented a home in Aurora, Missouri. As a single mother, Dee Dee took full custody of Gypsy, and within the first three months of her life, Dee Dee had begun to exhibit signs of the abuse she would continue to inflict  throughout the rest of Gypsy’s childhood: abuse motivated by Dee Dee’s Munchausen by Proxy, a diagnosis now widely agreed upon by experts.

Dee Dee had Gypsy tested at multiple hospitals for sleep apnea, all of which proved no abnormalities. Persistent in her control over Gypsy, Dee Dee never relented her suspicions, believing her daughter had a chromosomal defect. 

Dee Dee desperately clung to any possible illness she could fabricate. Eventually, Gypsy was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, severe allergies and asthma — all of which Dee Dee claimed came from Gypsy’s apparent birth defect. Her mother ultimately put Gypsy in a wheelchair, removed her from school in second grade and gave her almost all her nutrition from a feeding tube. 

Despite physical symptoms and pain brought on by unnecessary medications and an abundance of complex medical treatments, Gypsy had no true illnesses, as investigations and court trials revealed.

She was presumably a  victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare psychological disorder that involves a caregiver deceiving others of physical or psychological symptoms of the person that is being cared for, in order to gain attention or external validation according to the NIH.

Though her mother was never formally diagnosed with the syndrome while she was alive, many experts suspect she had it. And attached to her hip, Gypsy had no semblance of a normal life — she knew no world outside of the one her mother had curated. 

Dee Dee’s claims of Gypsy’s medical ailments reached new heights after Hurricane Katrina hit their Louisiana home and Dee Dee claimed Gypsy’s medical records and birth certificate were destroyed. Hence, Dee Dee fabricated Gypsy’s age to dozens of doctors. On Gypsy’s 18th birthday, her father sent her a birthday card, but Dee Dee kept it from her, as Gypsy believed she was only 14 at the time. 

Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization, gifted the two a home after the hurricane, largely due to Gypsy’s many supposed illnesses and concurring costs. Because of Gypsy’s assumed condition, Dee Dee did not have a job; instead, she received thousands in food stamps, social security checks and disability subsidies. The Make-a-Wish Foundation even donated free trips to Disney World.

After enduring years of her mother’s medical abuse, Blanchard was pushed to take action. She had made what is presumed to be an escape attempt at a 2011 science fiction and fantasy convention. After her mother found her in a hotel room with a man she had met online, Dee Dee smashed Gypsy’s computer and kept her leashed and handcuffed to her bed for two weeks. Gypsy again unsuccessfully tried to escape after being freed from the bed. 

The Murder —  retaliation or revenge?

In 2012, Gypsy made contact with a man from Wisconsin named Nicholas Godejon through a Christian dating website. The two developed a relationship online in the following years. In 2015, they began formulating their plan to kill Dee Dee. 

In June of that year, Godejon entered the Blanchard’s house when Dee Dee was sleeping — at which point Godejon stabbed Dee Dee 17 times in the back while Gypsy hid in the bathroom.

Soon after, Gypsy appeared in court, pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 2016, and was sentenced to ten years in prison. However, her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejon, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, after pleading not guilty.

Having experienced little contact with people that had not been heavily vetted by Dee Dee, Gypsy says she finally felt free when she went to prison, calling it the best memory of her entire life in the People interview.

The Condition — the stake of mental health 

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, Munchausen by proxy is characterized by “a persistent and repetitive drive to place the victim in the sick role in order to satisfy a psychological need of the abuser, such as attention or to appear as a caring and competent parent.” 

At its center too is the trauma a victim carries from living under such a syndrome. Blanchard was forced to use a wheelchair and a feeding tube, have her salivary glands removed and take medication that made her persistently ill. 

As Gypsy’s story gained an audience, many took her actions as a reflection of the need for medical awareness, especially pertaining to mental disorders. If it were possible for Dee Dee to have been diagnosed with Munchausen by Proxy early on, much of the abuse Gypsy faced and the outcome could have been avoided. 

The Fame — an unlikely sensation

Gypsy was released on parole after serving eight years of her ten-year sentence. 

Soon after her release from prison, the media was quick to push Gypsy’s story; viral edits, posts, comments and interviews have filled feeds and topped charts for over a month. Gypsy’s name was turned into a hashtag with over two billion views on TikTok and she has amassed more than 18 million followers across her social media accounts.

Gypsy’s immediate “fame” raises many questions about the validity and ethics of glorifying a deeply-troubled victim of abuse. 

Gypsy has rapidly been forced into the role of something like an influencer. The world treats her like a celebrity, not a victim. This has left her with no time to process, cope or live in a world that is not her mother’s or the media’s. 

Gypsy, however, does not seem to be rejecting her newfound fame and attention.

She not only agrees to a multitude of interviews, but she also presents herself as a celebrity, not a criminal. She commonly states in interviews that she is “not at all a murderer,” as she attempts to distance herself from her guilty plea in 2016.

Not all viewers have bought into this image. Multiple online users have even compared her to her mother, equating her on-screen persona to a manipulating abuser. 

This initial phase of “cancellation” raises yet another aspect of social media: cancel culture. Some of the public have gone from admiring her to despising her in a week – an online effect Gypsy is unlikely to know, seeing as she’s been in custody for nearly a decade. Especially given how rapidly she rose to his influencer-style fame — she was released in late December 2023 — her case is a clear example of how quick the internet is to idolize, then tarnish, then discard. 

There is no telling where Gypsy’s current status will take her. There’s no predicting which way public opinion will shift. But, as she sits in a Missouri prison, alongside a team of makeup artists and hairstylists, there’s one thing for certain about the Gypsy in The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. This Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a hopeful woman dressed in a prison jumpsuit, is a figure who will always challenge audiences, someone who will always prompt the question: “When is someone truly free?”

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