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Gypsy-Rose Blanchard, whose bizarre tale of abuse ended in her mother’s murder, is the latest free woman at the eye of a media hurricane

Leave Gypsy alone!

A large man and a small woman walking hand in hand down a city street.
Gypsy-Rose Blanchard and Ryan Anderson on January 5 in New York City.
Raymond Hall/GC Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

When a prisoner leaves the carceral system, questions related to their stability and support are paramount: Can they find steady work? Can they secure adequate housing? Can they reintegrate themselves into a positive social environment?

How quickly and how well parolees and freed inmates can answer these questions plays a huge role in shaping their future. Yet very few former prisoners have ever had to face these challenges while also enduring the level of public scrutiny now affixed to Gypsy-Rose Anderson, née Blanchard. (Typically known as Gypsy Blanchard, she’s recently legally hyphenated her surname and updated the styling of “Gypsy-Rose.” )

The story of Blanchard-Anderson, her mother Dee Dee, and the disturbing events that ultimately culminated in Dee Dee’s murder in 2015, has been told and retold across the media landscape, most notably in a 2016 BuzzFeed article, a 2017 HBO docuseries, and a fictionalized 2019 Hulu drama, The Act. But Gypsy has received perhaps her biggest stage ever in the wake of her December 29 release. She has trended across social media, done high-profile interviews, and celebrated with her now-famous prison pen pal turned husband, Ryan Anderson. She’s also been promoting an upcoming Lifetime docuseries filmed while she was in prison. Throughout it all, she’s been upbeat, charming, and even inspiring.

However her recent media appearances might frame her, we shouldn’t assume that Blanchard-Anderson will naturally step into the role of public figure.

Anderson, now 32, was 24 when she was sentenced to 10 years for her part in the brutal murder of her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard. She ultimately served just eight years. Her light prison time was primarily due to a giant mitigating factor: the lifetime of horrific, bizarre abuse to which Dee Dee had subjected her. From Gypsy’s childhood, Dee Dee had insisted her daughter had muscular dystrophy as well as other debilitating ailments that required her to constantly use a wheelchair and a feeding tube, and undergo a series of dangerous, painful, and unnecessary surgeries. (Although Dee Dee Blanchard was never formally diagnosed with Münchausen syndrome by proxy, it’s widely understood she most likely had the disorder; this was the true crime case that brought the syndrome to the public’s attention.)

In order to further the fantasy and swindle supporters and benefit agencies out of funds, Dee Dee infantilized Gypsy, lying about her age and claiming she was developmentally disabled and had the mind of a small child. Gypsy received only a second-grade education and continued to perform the role of a very young girl well past puberty. Though her mother restricted her access to the outside world, Gypsy sought connections online, where she met 23-year-old Nicholas Godejohn, who became her secret boyfriend. Gypsy was then 22, but she spoke and acted like a girl in her early teens. Although she was legally an adult, her mother had gained power of attorney over her; she controlled nearly every aspect of Gypsy’s life and rarely allowed her to leave the house.

Compounding all of this, Gypsy has also alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather, who hasn’t explicitly denied it. He also allegedly sexually abused Dee Dee, which paints a picture of the role family dysfunction and generational trauma have played in this tragic case. It’s little wonder, then, that Gypsy looked for a way out. For her, this meant convincing Godejohn that murdering her mother was the only way she could ever truly be free. Godejohn is now serving a life sentence without parole for his role in the crime.

In many ways, it’s a relief to watch Blanchard-Anderson as she performs this press tour: She looks healthy, and her voice, long that of an eerie child’s, more closely matches her real age. She largely seems unscathed from her time in prison, and she certainly seems to have plenty of support.

Yet it’s also hard to know what to make of the public frenzy and the media circus surrounding her. She’s been compared to the wrongfully convicted true crime celebrity Amanda Knox, but Knox came from a stable middle-class family — she was never trying to flee her life. Some have compared her to George Santos, but unlike Santos, Blanchard-Anderson’s persona was never hers to control.

Of all the recent comparisons, the most apt may be that of Britney Spears and the fight to end her long conservatorship. While Britney’s story does not involve committing acts of violence, there are a striking number of parallels between the two women’s lives. Both struggled for years to break free of controlling parents and extremely dysfunctional families, as well as from a legal (and, in Gypsy’s case, medical) system that not only utterly failed to recognize the danger they were in, but actively contributed to their victimization. Both women found new fans among the public as their plights became known, and became causes célèbre in the road to their ultimate release.

Britney was a Disney child star; young Gypsy performed for her supporters, who donated to fundraisers for her fake medical bills. Each of them was manipulated into becoming an entertainer early in life. Both were robbed of their childhoods, left with little to no agency over their own lives and even their own personalities. Subsequently, where most adults would be settling into the middle phases of their lives, Britney and Gypsy have had to begin with the very basics of building their identities for themselves. And both women will now have to navigate that delicate path under the watchful eyes of millions.

There’s an inherent performativity as well to this post-prisoner life for both women: Britney has been tasked with setting the distorted, toxic record of her own life straight, while Gypsy has been tasked with communicating her own successful rehabilitation. At a basic level, this is because that’s what parolees need to do, but the public’s zeal for reclaiming her — even to the point of forgetting there was an actual murder involved — takes Gypsy’s mea culpa tour to new heights. Her followers have been eagerly awaiting her release since it was first announced in September 2023; anticipation is high for whatever she does next. A certain ominous glee mingles with that excitement, a type of salacious, prurient interest in watching her succeed or fail. Again, it’s impossible to not think of Britney and the nonstop public scrutiny that followed her at both the peak of her career and the end of her conservatorship.

It’s difficult to contemplate Blanchard-Anderson, the budding media personality, without remembering the traumatized girl who only gained the public’s attention after resorting to an unthinkable act in response to a lifetime of unthinkable abuse. We may be excited for Gypsy-Rose, but we shouldn’t assume we know who she is. Like Britney, who has had her share of ups and downs since her conservatorship finally ended, Gypsy has to fully reinvent herself. That’s a daunting prospect if she also has to frequently stop and give another interview to People magazine.

We shouldn’t assume, either, that her story fits into familiar tropes. As another inadvertent true crime celebrity, Vili Fualaau, recently told the Hollywood Reporter, these stories often aren’t as black and white as the media likes to paint them. Blanchard-Anderson was absolutely a victim, but arguably to some degree so was Godejohn; it’s much harder to valorize the person holding the murder weapon than the one who urged them to use it, but both, in the end, are culpable. There are parts of Blanchard-Anderson’s story that will never fit neatly into the kind of reality TV survival narrative that the media currently seems anxious to place her within.

It’s not clear, either, whether any of this publicity will be helpful to her at all, even if she’s besotted with fame. The answer may not be as simple as “Leave Gypsy alone,” but turning her into some kind of Chicago-esque celebrity murderess probably isn’t the way forward either.

So what if we get a Gypsy-Rose season of Dancing With the Stars? She might have fun — along with the audience, sure — but would that ultimately aid her recovery? There’s a trepidation in watching this redemption arc up close, especially when you’re not sure you’re supposed to be watching at all.

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