As many of you will already know, we recently announced that we were the official UK charity partner for The DUFF movie which is currently playing at major cinemas across the UK. As part of the partnership, we were given an opportunity to interview Kody Keplinger; the author of the original ‘The DUFF’ book. We talk writing, The DUFF, bullying and appearances – along with everything else in between.
Hope you enjoy!
Jess x

The Interview

Ditch the Label: When and why did you become a writer?
Kody Keplinger: In a way, I guess you could say I’ve always been a writer. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at my mother’s typewriter in her office. There was no paper in the typewriter. But I was clicking buttons anyway, telling her the story I thought I was writing. As I got older, that turned into actual writing. I was always coming up with new story ideas and writing them down. This has been my dream job since I was very young. I can’t imagine not writing.
Ditch the Label: Where did the inspiration for The Duff come from?
Kody Keplinger: I was in my high school cafeteria one morning when I overheard a girl at my table talking about her weekend and how a guy had referred to a friend of hers as a “DUFF.” It was the first time I’d heard the word, but as soon as I learned what it meant – the designated, ugly, fat friend – I was sure it was me. That I’d be the DUFF of the group. But after talking to my friends about it, all of them thought they were the Duff. Every single one of us was sure it was us. When I realized this, I jokingly said I’d write a book called The DUFF one day. I never thought I’d actually do it, but later that semester inspiration struck and that joke became a reality.
Ditch the Label: Did you have any involvement with the film making process?
Kody Keplinger: No. I wasn’t involved with the film making process; however, I did get to visit the set and meet the cast, which was such an honor. It was especially exciting to meet Mae Whitman — because, funny story, I’ve wanted her to play Bianca since I wrote the book in 2009.
Ditch the Label: What do you think of the finished film adaption – is it as you imagined it when you were writing?
Kody Keplinger: I love the movie! I’ve seen it several times now, and it delights me every time. With that being said, the book and the film are a bit different, as most book-to-film adaptations are. But the themes of friendship and self-acceptance are still there – and Mae Whitman’s take on Bianca is spot on!

Ditch the Label: In The Duff, there is a strong message of self-acceptance for Bianca, which will resonate with a lot of young women. Do you think this can just as easily be applied to teen guys?
Kody Keplinger: Oh, it most definitely can. In fact, I know that it has. I’ve gotten several emails from male readers who have read the book (usually because a female friend made them) who have written to me after because they related to Bianca. One of my close male friends read it and told me it inspired him to be more open and less ashamed about his struggles with mental illness, proving the self-acceptance goes far beyond body image. I’ve also heard from boys who saw the movie and had similar reactions. Guys deal with some of this stuff, too, and I definitely think the message can – and does – resonate with them.
Ditch the Label: Have you ever personally experienced bullying or prejudice? If so, how did you deal with it?
Kody Keplinger: I was an overweight, blind teenager – it would have been a miracle if I hadn’t dealt with at least some bullying. I was lucky, though. It wasn’t as bad as you might have expected. The majority of the bullying I dealt with actually came from a close friend, someone I trusted who would manipulate me, put me down, and randomly ignore me, leaving me on constant eggshells for reasons I never understood. I think that sort of quiet bullying happens a lot. At the time, I had no idea how to deal with it. I just let it happen until graduation. If I had to do it over again, I would have stepped away from that friendship early on, trusting that I’d find other friends who would like me. Teenage Kody didn’t have that kind of confidence, though.
Ditch the Label: You are the co founder of ‘Disability in Kidlit’ – can you tell us about that?
Kody Keplinger: Disability in KidLit is a website devoted to all things disability and how they relate to young adult and middle grade fiction. Our goal is to provide both a space for disabled readers and writers to discuss their experience as well as to be a resource for able-bodied authors and readers who want to know more. We’ve reviewed books, had discussion posts about specific issues, tackled problematic tropes, and even had disabled people write about their middle or high school experiences.
Ditch the Label: How important do you think diverse and positive role models are to young people?
Kody Keplinger: It’s insanely important. I think it’s easy to get discouraged – especially when you’re younger – when you don’t see anyone like you being successful or doing the things you aspire to. As a teen (and still now to a degree) I was always incredibly excited when I heard about a blind or legally blind person who had become successful. Because that meant I could be successful, too. I’d imagine a lot of young people feel that way, whether their disabled, part of the LGBT community, a PoC, grew up poor, etc. We look for role models we can relate to.
Ditch the Label: We know that bullied teens as young as 13 are considering invasive surgery. What message would you give to young people who may feel pressured to change themselves in order to fit in?
Kody Keplinger: God, it’s hard. I try to think if there’s anything anyone could have said to me at that age, when I was feeling awful about my body. I guess the first thing I’d do is remind them that, right now, their bodies are still growing and developing, and changing them at this stage just isn’t a good idea. And then I’d tell them that high school ends, but whatever they change about their appearance lasts forever. So if you do it for other people – and not for yourself – you’re just going to be unhappy in the long run. Instead of focusing on the things you dislike about yourself, focus on the things you do like. Maybe that’s your hair or the way your legs are shaped or your sense of style, etc.
Ditch the Label: In addition to supporting those who have been bullied, we strongly advocate education and support for perpetrators. We know that many are dealing with their own complex issues that may not be immediately obvious. Do you think this is an effective approach to tackling the issue of bullying and prejudice?
Kody Keplinger: I think it might be the most effective approach, personally. Because, yes, in my experience, those who bully are often taking their own pain out on others. I know there were times in elementary school where some girls were picking on me, making me feel like the ugliest, stupidest girl in class. So when I found a girl who seemed like she could be lower on the totem pole than me, I picked on her. It made me feel like I wasn’t the worst. I regret that now. But I think that’s a common practice. So it just makes sense that the best way to stop bullying from occurring is to find the perpetrators and find out why. There is always a why.
bella thorne

We were absolutely chuffed when we were invited by our friends over at Entertainment One films to meet up with the wonderful Bella Thorne to talk about Ditch the Label, bullying and the new hit movie, ‘The Duff’. At the end of the interview, she even told me she loved my outfit – she was so lovely to talk to. Enjoy!

Jess x

We had the pleasure of interviewing one of our favourite faces of the UK medial industry and one of the stars of the Channel 4 hit series ‘Embarrassing Bodies’. Yep, you guessed it – Doctor Christian Jessen! We spoke to Christian about Ditch the Label, his sexuality, being in the public eye, Twitter and prejudice towards patients in our first of many celebrity interviews.

Ditch the Label: Hi Christian, thanks so much for your time. Are you familiar with Ditch the Label?
Dr Christian Jessen: Hi guys, not a problem. Yes I am and I think that it’s great. It is important for teens to have somewhere to go when they need advice and support.

Ditch the Label: Thank you! Now your sexuality has often been the topic of various articles and comments within the media but how did you find growing up with it? Was your childhood affected in anyway?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I was very fortunate because my school was very open minded. It didn’t really matter what your interests were and sexuality was always seen as a non-issue. However, I do remember growing up feeling very alone – it was difficult and I remember wishing that my sexuality wasn’t the way it was turning out. I knew that it was okay to be different but I didn’t have anybody to talk to. My friends were out getting girlfriends and I felt left out and alone. I like Ditch the Label because it gives people a place to find likeminded people to talk to. Bullying isn’t always as dramatic and I think that sometimes people just need somebody to talk to and some advice.

Ditch the Label: How did you deal with feeling like you were alone?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I put a lot of effort into my work; not necessarily my academic work, I was very interested in music and theatre and didn’t really understand relationships. I buried it all in other activities and it sorted itself out in due course.

Ditch the Label: We all know you as one of the main Doctors from Embarrassing Bodies and many of us are following you on Twitter for your health Q&A sessions but have you ever been treated differently because of your sexuality whilst being a doctor?
Dr Christian Jessen: There is a massive prejudice around being a gay doctor. It was different for me as I have never been ‘obviously’ gay and so people are often surprised when they find out. I have been exposed to off-the-cuff homophobic comments from other doctors, especially when being trained in sexual health. Prejudice towards patients and sexual health do exist. I never hid my sexuality but never wove a flag either; I don’t see it as being relevant. I am a doctor and not a ‘gay doctor’. I have also had comments from other doctors calling me an embarrassment to the profession but the Guardian recently noted me as the friendly face of the medical profession so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Ditch the Label: Aside from others in the profession, have you ever experienced prejudice from the public?
Dr Christian Jessen: Yes. I get quite a few hateful comments through Twitter. For instance, Alan Carr recently interviewed me on Channel 4 and spoke about my sexuality; within minutes I had lost 500 followers on Twitter, which was really sad. It’s sad to discover that some people still see it as being an issue. Twitter can be really grounding for that reason! The media also like to bring up my sexuality a lot, probably because they see it as being a revelation as it isn’t something that everybody knows about me.

Ditch the Label: How do you deal with the negative comments on Twitter?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well the best thing is to just leave and ignore them. If something is especially foul I will ReTweet it with comments and have often received apologies.

Ditch the Label: Does prejudice towards patients ever exist?
Dr Christian Jessen: It isn’t a good thing but we are all guilty of stereotyping but prejudice and health is a dangerous thing. I have always been vocal about religious doctors and am anti-religious because of the prejudice that is sometimes tied to it. There is treatment prejudice in the profession, which seems to be more towards the elderly.

Ditch the Label: Do you have any advice for people going through a situation that is similar to your own experiences?
Dr Christian Jessen: Don’t go it alone. Always tell someone but choose whom you tell carefully. If for example you are being discriminated against at work and don’t say anything until something has happened it isn’t easy to backtrack. You should always make your problems known and speak to somebody at every step of the way; either at Ditch the Label, a teacher, friend or family member; not only does it build support but it also develops evidence.

Ditch the Label: Thank you for your time! Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I think that Ditch the Label is a really positive project and I’m happy to be part of it. I like the idea of an online support network and I could have definitely benefited growing up.

We would like to thank Christian for his time and continued support for our cause and look forward to reading your comments.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Jodie Harsh, one of the UK’s biggest and most successful DJs, socialites and all round entertainers. We spoke to Jodie about her thoughts on bullying, growing up and she gives her advice on finding and accepting yourself for who you are.

Ditch the Label: Hi Jodie, thank you for taking the time out to talk to us!
Jodie Harsh: Not a problem, I think what you guys are doing is great and it’s an honour to be able to contribute my story towards the campaign.

Ditch the Label: It’s great to have you involved! So could you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?
Jodie Harsh: Ultimately I’m a DJ and produce music, throw parties and run my own club nights in London and around the world. I fell into my career and originally wanted to be an actor or a dancer after studying Fashion at LCF. I’m kind of making it up as I go along but I love it!

Ditch the Label: What was growing up like for you? Did you ever experience bullying yourself?
Jodie Harsh: I was incredibly fortunate to never experience bullying; I had the occasional teasing when I was young but I have always been quite lucky and managed to escape it. I made myself funny and I always made sure that I got on with all the kind of “laddy type” people, even though half of the time I actually fancied them! I always hung around with the “cool” crowd and I have always been so blatantly gay. It was shining out of me from 6 years of age so I never really had to hide anything.


Ditch the Label: So when you say that you hung around with the “cool” people at school, was that a conscious decision on your part?
Jodie Harsh: Yes I guess it was kind of conscious. I was always quite clever and worked really hard but I think that if I hung around with the “nerdy” crowd, it would have made me even more vulnerable to bullying. I always just made sure that I wasn’t an easy target.

I was at a normal grammar school until I was 14 and then I moved to London to go to a Stage School so I think that when I was at normal secondary school, I played it all down a bit and then when I went to stage school I really came out of my shell and even came out to people on my first day.

I mean even now, I’m sure that there is a lot of negative stuff written about me online but I never even look at it. I have always made sure that I stay away from anything negative.

Ditch the Label: Did you ever experience any internal bullying within your group of friends? Did they ever look down upon those who were seen as being less “cool”?
Jodie Harsh: Not really. The bullying policies and culture at my grammar school were really good and so bullying wasn’t really a frequent thing. I think later on in life in work and politics, I have experienced a degree of bullying but never when I was a child.

Ditch the Label: Do you think that sexuality and difference is embraced more at stage school than at state school?
Jodie Harsh: Oh yeah, definitely. At the time, it was never a problem at stage school. All the teachers knew, I told them all! I’ve always had a real f*ck you attitude as well. I’ve never taken any sh*t! It’s made me the person I am today.


Ditch the Label: So when you were at stage school, did you ever experience bullying outside of the confines of the classroom?
Jodie Harsh: No but I know a lot of others did, quite a few were beaten up but I was always incredibly lucky. It certainly was luck of the draw. Now I’m a boy that dresses like a girl in the middle of the big bad city and I have never had any abuse.

Ditch the Label: Have you ever felt vulnerable to being targeted?
Jodie Harsh: I protect myself from it all. I don’t put myself in a position where I could face it. I live in a very gay friendly part of East London and would never walk through Brixton dressed like this, for example. I never put my name into Google either. I consciously stay away from any negative influences that could be abusive.

Ditch the Label: As an adult do you ever get negative comments for being in drag, for being openly gay or for anything else?
Jodie Harsh: God, yeah but I’m really happy with the person that I am and I love what I do. I have put myself out there as something that is completely different; I am in makeup, high heels and a wig. I’ve put myself out there as something so different to society in general. I’ve always felt different and like a complete alien; I’ve always been open about it and embraced it. The people around me like and appreciate me for being different and for who I am. I’ve never had to hide anything, which is amazing! So many of my friends were bullied and had to hide who they were until they became an adult, through fear of being bullied for it.


Ditch the Label: Do you think that your outspoken and loud personality through Jodie is a protection mechanism?
Jodie Harsh: Yes, it probably is. I’ve always made sure that nobody can be horrible to me, that has been my coping mechanism in life. In my case, being so loud and outspoken has protected me, as opposed to me being shy but that is just me. Perhaps if I had have gone to a different school or lived in a different area, I would have had to hide part of who I am a bit. I think that I am only so confident with who I am now because I never had it beaten out of me when I was a kid.

Ditch the Label: In the gay community, there seems to be an internalization of homophobia and transphobia. Have you ever experienced it?
Jodie Harsh: Yeah it goes on so much, it’s around us everywhere. There’s also a lot of racism within ethnic minorities – there is never much sense of community, which is sad. In London the gay community have it so good and we forget how good we have it. It all boils down to individual insecurities, which is where a lot of the bullying comes from.

I have always been pretty sorted and happy with whom I am so I have never been insecure in anyway.


Ditch the Label: Do you think that there is a difference between you in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: Not really, just a ton of hairspray and a f*ck load of make up!
It’s really not a thing for me. Being in drag is like putting on my work suit and Jodie is just a name that I call myself when I’m working. I never put myself out there, out of drag, I like the mystery and illusion around it. I put out this sort of character.

Ditch the Label: Do you have the same friendship circles when in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: I have always known that having a really close-knit circle of friends is one of the most important things in life. I have around 7 best friends: we never Instagram or Tweet each other, they never come to my club nights and they are my real friends. If I’m out doing a gig or a party then there are thousands of people that I know but I would never sit down and have lunch with them or tell them about bad things going on.

Ditch the Label: Have you always been so confident or is it something you have built up over time?
Jodie Harsh: Yes. I don’t think I’m overly confident – we all have our insecurities, right?


Ditch the Label: So when you first started out in drag and left the house wearing heels, how did you feel?
Jodie Harsh: A tiny bit vulnerable and actually, that never goes away. You do put yourself out there and drag is like having a suit of armor. One half feels untouchable and the other half is like “oh my god, I’m in a wig!”. With drag in general, there is a sort of vulnerability thing that goes on with drag. I work really, really hard but I get nervous about things still. Like a new work thing or a gig, it can be really nerve-racking but that’s natural.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to anybody reading this who is having difficulty with bullying or finding it hard to accept themselves for who they are?
Jodie Harsh: You should be yourself, however sometimes you have to hide elements of it for safety. It really does get better, however cliché as it may sound. You are always good enough.

Make sure you follow Jodie on Twitter and Facebook. Whilst you’re at it, have you got your anti-bullying wristband yet? Check them out here!

We have the absolute pleasure of announcing that Charlie King, from the ITV2 hit series ‘The Only Way is Essex’ is the latest Ditch the Label ambassador. Charlie will now be working closely with us, helping us to spread our message and cause across the UK.

We thought there’d be no better way of starting our relationship than with an official Ditch the Label interview. We spoke with Charlie about our charity, being bullied as a child, growing up, homophobia, mental health and life under the media spotlight. Charlie also gives his top tips to anybody who is currently being bullied or going through a difficult time.

Ditch the Label: Hi Charlie, thanks for coming today, it’s great to finally meet you!
Charlie King: Not at all. I think that it’s absolutely great what Ditch the Label is doing and what you stand for. I think Ditch the Label is a crucial organisation for people who are still trying to figure out who they are or to those who are bullied because of attitudes towards their differences.

Ditch the Label: Thanks Charlie, it’s great to have you involved. So growing up, were you ever bullied?
Charlie King: Yeah I was. It was mainly verbal and emotional bullying but I occasionally experienced physical bullying. I have always been very much an individual and as a kid, I tended to keep myself to myself, which in a way made me an easy target. I was quite vulnerable and found that once one bully had bullied me, word would spread and it just continued from that really. My best friend at school was also gay and it was almost like I became “guilty by association” and I did experience homophobia at the time. I stood by my friend no matter what and in fact, he’s still a great friend now.

Ditch the Label: So how did you deal with the bullying when it was going on?
Charlie King: Well I have always just embraced myself as being an individual. I always knew I was different and I stayed true to who I was. I reported the bullying and had a lot of involvement from my parents and school.

Ditch the Label: As an adult, do you ever experience bullying or prejudice?
Charlie King: Well part of being on TV means that I’m out there for public opinions and it becomes very easy to be judged.  Social media can be quite cruel as people can say the most profound things without any real consequences. You learn quickly to become thick skinned to it and to remember it’s just a keyboard warrior. My attitude in life is ‘ I have affected your life, I won’t let you affect mine.’ It’s always important to report anything that you find upsetting and to talk about it with somebody you trust.

Ditch the Label: From watching a lot of the regional reality TV programs, we’ve often found that people on the shows tend to usually exhibit very similar characteristics. How do you feel about that and how do you feel Essex is portrayed in the media?
Charlie King: What people have to remember is that reality shows are all about entertainment, homing in on a small group of people within a huge diverse community. Remember not to take it too seriously! I think the reputation of Essex is quite glam and sometimes a little vacuous. In actual fact, Essex is one of the wealthiest counties in the UK and actually is known for being home to some of our most successful businessmen and women, musicians and sport stars. Like everywhere; it takes all sorts of characters to make a community.

Ditch the Label: Have you ever felt pressured into trying to fit into that stereotype? Or into changing part of who you are?
Charlie King: Well from the show, people followed me on a journey. Part of it was about putting myself into different situations to see if I liked it or not. There were bits I liked and bits I disliked. I do think it’s important to be proud of who you are and where you come from. If you’re from a council estate and getting the micky taken out of it, it really isn’t important. Life can change at any time. Circumstances change; I know rich people who now live in small houses with no money… that stuff just isn’t important. It’s more important to focus on yourself and what YOU want out of life. Sure others can influence us and that’s important in growth. But focus on you and I believe you can achieve whatever it is you want.

Ditch the Label: There has always been speculation about your sexuality with the media trying to put you into a definitive box; how have you felt about that?
Charlie King: Well I can understand that some people feel the need to label someone but as far as I’m concerned, I’m just a soul really. A free spirit. Love is love and people can box me if they want to, it really doesn’t matter; I just get on with it. We’re all here for different reasons and on different journeys. It fascinates me how many people need to know if you are one way or the other or even both. I have to say though, the majority of people like my view on life and understand this is my own personal take on things. I’m just open to life.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to any young people who are currently trying to figure out their sexuality and who are feeling pressured into labelling it?
Charlie King: Well I’m a great believer in not putting yourself under any sort of pressure, growing up is hard enough without any added pressure. If you are in touch with your emotions and feelings the best thing to do is embrace the person you are and let nature take its course. If you’re feeling confused, talk to somebody about it. There are so many places, like Ditch the Label, who you can get advice from. You may just be curious!

Ditch the Label: At times you have received criticism for having interests that are not particularly mainstream – have you ever felt pressured into trying to change those interests? How did you overcome it?
Charlie King: It takes strength to stay true to who you are and what you like. Individuality is really important. Only you know what makes you happy then it’s up to you to set that free. I do believe in always pushing yourself to try things, even if you end up not liking something; you tried it and you can take from that what you will. This life is all about trial and error, learning and experiencing as much as you can.

Ditch the Label: What advice would you give to anyone out there with different interests, who are being bullied or treated unfairly because of attitudes towards them?
Charlie King: In life, you will not please everyone, not everyone will like you or even understand you. I truly believe there are many like-minded people out there who do share similar interests. The best thing to do is not be influenced by the negativity of others. Just be proud if who you are, your likes and interests. If these people are worth having in your life then they will accept that.

Ditch the Label: 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue at some point during their lives and we know that you have had experiences with depression. Do you feel that there is a stigma attached to mental health issues?
Charlie King: People don’t always know the facts and so people can judge without actually knowing the full details. People shouldn’t get frightened or be made to feel like they are odd because of it. To anybody who is currently experiencing a mental health issue and unsure as to what to do – speak up about it. I’m a firm believer that a problem shared is a problem halved. Find somebody who is equipped to help; it could be Ditch the Label, The Samaritans or another organisation. Ultimately, millions of other people are going through exactly what you are going through. You are not alone and once spoken about, things JUST GET BETTER.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to somebody who is currently being bullied?
Charlie King: It’s so important to be vocal about bullying and to not bottle it up. Don’t ever internalize it, tell somebody – a friend, family member, teacher, Ditch the Label, whoever. Help is out there, you just need to make the right steps. It does take a lot to embrace who you are and at times, I have reached out to seek help; there’s nothing wrong with doing that. It is also important to remember that often, bullies themselves are usually the most unhappy, insecure individuals and are crying out for attention. If anything, bullies need a lot of help too. Remember that YOU are strong and YOU are special.

Today we have had the absolute pleasure of interviewing TV’s most recognised Liverpudlian dressmaker, Thelma Madine. Best known for her star-role in Channel Four’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding as well as her own series Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, Thelma is a successful mumtrepreneur who is so driven and passionate for her job that she even has her own bed in her factory! Here Thelma talks to us about the trials and tribulations of the travelling way of life, as well as an insight to her personal battles and her views on bullying and discrimination.

Ditch the Label: Hi Thelma, thank you so much for taking the time for an interview with us! What do you think about Ditch the Label?
Thelma Madine: It’s an absolute pleasure! I think it’s absolutely brilliant what you are trying to do and achieve and I support it completely.

Ditch the Label: Excellent! Moving straight onto your new-found-fame in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, did you realise how successful the series would be when the programmes first started?
Thelma Madine: I’m not being funny but to be honest I think I did. I’ve always been able to ‘dine out’ on it as the travelling culture is very interesting. So I knew that people would love it and want to know more about it and understand their way of life, I think the programme has opened doors for them.

Ditch the Label: Obviously, your clients are renowned for being discriminated against and have been pigeonholed into a niche category; do you feel that both programmes project them in an honest and realistic light?
Thelma Madine: I think it does to a degree – a lot of programmes have been made about the travelling community. It shows the bad parts as well of course, but that’s what you get in every culture. The travelling community like to tell you a story, everyone knows of a traveller that has ‘done them wrong’ in the third person, and before the programme people ignored them. Whereas since both programmes have been aired, people come and shake their hand, and they receive tweets and facebook messages saying that people are glad they’ve got to know them and see them in a different light. This is important as I think parent’s and other influences effect your view towards these people, even my own parents told me to ‘never to look a gypsy in the eye as they will curse you’.

Ditch the Label: Do you think it is important that gypsys are given equal opportunities and are treated the same as everybody else? Or do you think it is important that they are recognised in their own right as a minority group?
Thelma Madine: Oh most definitely I think that they should be given equal opportunities. In Thelma’s Gypsy Girls I have trained some lovely kids who have a different kind of patience, and they should be given the opportunity to learn such skills just like everybody else. I think it is important that they are recognised in their own right in terms of that they should not be made to conform to what is expected of them, i.e. the Government want to put them all in houses but it is not what they are about and I don’t think we should try and get rid of their culture, it’s their way of life. It would be boring if we were all exactly the same.

Ditch the Label: We’ve established from both Channel Four series’ that the feeling of a community environment is essential to the gypsy way of life, do you feel part of this community through your work, or still an outsider?
Thelma Madine: Erm, I don’t think I’d ever be fully accepted as I’m not a born traveller, but I do feel they welcome me into their community, like they trust me and things like that – if they want things done by a none-traveller then they’ll come through me which makes me feel really honoured.

Ditch the Label: Thelma’s Gypsy Girls marked a shift away from old ways of gypsy life, especially towards the change in the role of the female within the gypsy community. You experienced a lot of back lash… Do you think that the travelling community are ready to break away from their stereotypes and dated ways of organising society?

Thelma Madine: I think that some of them are ready to break away, the younger ones definitely are, and a lot of them want to be educated and stay on at School. They get a really bad time at School and are seriously bullied and I think most of them want to break away. I learnt so much when the girls came (discussing the girls featured in Thelma’s Gypsy Girls) and they broke my heart and I cried, some of them couldn’t even tell the time. It needs to be changed. I don’t think their community should be destroyed but I do feel it needs to be brought up to the twenty-first century.

Ditch the Label: Moving on to your life as a successful businesswoman, recent statistics indicate that of all self-employed people, only 27% are female. This figure is much higher than ever before, but have you ever experienced prejudice in your own working life? Are there barriers to entry for women in business still?
Thelma Madine: I don’t think it is as bad as it used to be, but women are always looked at as second class citizens when it comes to business as people think women are incapable of running a business successfully. I’m lucky in the respect that in my line of business it isn’t dominated by men and my employees are female, so I’m pretty lucky.

Ditch the Label: Thelma, what drives you to be successful? Do you think it is important to surround yourself by a close-knit community of people?
Thelma Madine: Yes. I don’t think anyone can do it alone. Who you surround yourself by is so important, the people I work with are as passionate as I am about my business, and you need that for a business to be successful.

Ditch the Label: On a personal level, in your autobiography Tales of the Gypsy Dressmaker, we learn about your imprisonment for over ten thousand pounds worth of benefit fraud back in 2001. Have you been disadvantaged or pigeonholed because of your past? What about the stereotypes associated with it?
Thelma Madine: I feel that if that had not happened to me then I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today, and if I hadn’t been through it then I definitely wouldn’t have gotten a book deal! It has helped me be where I am today and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it (minus the first week in prison as I was scared!). But consequently it has made me a better person. I met some lovely people – even a woman who was a murderer. I learnt the biggest lesson of my life and that is not to judge anyone, get to know them first before you judge them. You have to look at yourself and think what you would have done in their situation. Being in prison opened my eyes, and taught me a great deal.

Ditch the Label: If there was any message you could give to people reading this who have been bullied or discriminated for being different, what advice would you give?
Thelma Madine: Just be proud of who you are and where you’ve come from. We are all different, god made us different, so you should stand up for who you are. As for being bullied, we should feel sorry for those who do the bullying as it is their issue, not ours. In prison I was in a team of women who went round talking to people who were being bullied, and I think it is so important not to keep it to yourself, tell people you are being bullied and talk to people about it, you are not alone.

Ditch the Label: What advice would you give to a reader who is part of a minority community with strict rules and customs and is feeling like they have to conform?
Thelma Madine: I would say fight not to conform, definitely. We’ve lost so much in our society now, and when I watch travellers and the way their communities are so close, like they can walk out of their trailer and they’ve got children to play with and a community of people – you never see a traveller with post-natal depression as they’ve got so many people around them. In our society we don’t do that anymore, everyone used to know their neighbours and be sociable but unfortunately it isn’t like that anymore. People should keep hold of the things that make them different and celebrate them.
In the travelling community, even though you can tell straight away that some of the young lads are gay, they are not allowed to ‘come out’. It’s a taboo. It is so sad that the gypsy suicide rate regarding this matter is triple the national average. I once met two lovely young twelve year old boys who have both killed themselves since. I would encourage people to read a book by Mikey Walsh called Gypsy Boy, it’s an amazing read. Just believe in yourself and stand up for what you believe in.

Ditch the Label: Thank you so much for talking to us this afternoon, it’s been a joy talking to someone so down to earth.
Thelma Madine: It’s my absolute pleasure, I’m sure you’ll keep up the great work at Ditch the Label. I have a lot of work to do so I’m just going to crack on and do it, I’ll be staying in my bed here in the factory tonight!

You can only imagine how excited we were about interviewing one of the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 – Latrice ‘mother f*cking’ Royale!

We spoke to Latrice about Ditch the Label, her childhood, RuPaul’s Drag Race and ways in which she has been discriminated against for in the past. Along with how she has grown and developed enough self-confidence and self-acceptance to make the haters ‘eat it’.

Ditch the Label: Hey Latrice, great to finally chat with you! So you have already been on our new website… what do you think of it?
Latrice Royale:  Kudos! I think the site is fantastic. What you are doing is amazing. I wish I had something like Ditch the Label when I was growing up. I just love what you are doing and I’m definitely going to spread the word.

Ditch the Label: Thank you, it really means a lot! So we all know you as being one of the biggest and most fabulous drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and wondered how you first became interested in drag?
Latrice Royale: Interested is an interesting word as I never had an interest until my friends dared me to do it for Halloween – I did it, it was horrible, flunked the first contest, did it again and won! So I thought, you know what, I think I can get used to this – so that’s how it all started.

Ditch the Label: Did you ever receive any negativity when you first started out though?
Latrice Royale: Of course. I got a lot of negativity from people who are small minded and don’t understand the artistic side of it. There’s so much discrimination in the gay culture and it’s unfortunate. There was always something to be said and comments were always made about my size… they’d say “Oh, a big old man in a dress” and were very derogatory. When I was on stage they had to eat it because I’m a pretty good entertainer. It’s unfortunate but it happens.

Ditch the Label: That must have been discouraging… how did you deal with the negativity?
Latrice Royale: I’m not one to wear my heart on my sleeve, I have always been confident in who I am as a person. Growing up I had to be strong because I grew up in Compton and you have to develop a thick skin. I never let people really get to me that way because I was always confident as a person. We don’t always have a lot of people who are that strong and that’s where Ditch the Label comes in – it’s that support system that they need.

Ditch the Label: Got to agree. But have you always been so confident? Were you ever bullied as a child?
Latrice Royale: Well you know, when you think about it – I can say yes but to me I didn’t feel like I was. I was always a big guy and I was teased and made fun of and I know that’s part of bullying so yes I was. I would get comments quite often and it happened daily. My childhood was very traumatic growing up. I had things happening that should never happen to a child. When I write a book I’ll tell it all.

Ditch the Label: That must have been difficult. How did you deal with that? What kind of support network did you have access to?
Latrice Royale: It’s interesting because my mother was my biggest support – she always just knew what to say and knew how to make me feel better. She had a way of making me feel comforted and loved and she always called me her special child. I mean mums know, I always think they know. I was not the average boy kid growing up and she was always there for me.

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Ditch the Label: When you were on RuPaul’s Drag Race you were often taunted for your weight. Most of us will probably remember the argument that you had with Willam. Have you always been so confident about it or has it taken time to build it up?
Latrice Royale: Well you know, I have been thin but it was miserable during that point of my life because I was trying to fit a mould that was deemed more socially accepted. I was in a dance organisation, when I stopped dancing I was still doing drag – I just grew into this entertainer that was high energy. I still have the same moves that I had when I was small and people are impressed by that. I will never let my weight ever, ever stop me – it’s never an excuse. You have to love yourself completely and love everything that’s good and not so good about you. Once you accept that and are in charge of it and know it and own it no-one can come for you. There’s nothing they can’t say that you don’t already know. What you’re going to call me fat? And what?

Ditch the Label: That’s a truly inspirational way of looking at things. How was your experience of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Since you became part of the public domain, have you received any more negativity?
Latrice Royale: *Laughs* The whole experience was absolutely amazing. The most outrageous and best thing I’ve ever done. In the beginning when they released the castings and ‘Meet the Queens’ – the blogs blew up with negativity. They talked about my teeth, my size, my makeup… everything that they all love about me now. I read it only once, it was enough for me in the beginning. Even though I have thick skin it hurts your feelings. I thought, bitch no please – let them eat it. Sure enough the response I’ve gotten from even the haters has been like ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t believe in you and I thought you were this and that and you’re not – you’re everything, an inspiration.” They changed their tune. They judged me before they knew who I was and what I was about.

Ditch the Label: You also mentioned on the show that you have previously been in prison. Do you find that people often change their perception of you when you disclose that information? Is it fair to judge somebody for something that has happened in the past?
Latrice Royale: People respect the fact that I’m forthcoming with my prison background and the fact that I’ve overcome it and changed my life – now i’m a positive role model for people. A lot of people identify with it. Everyone has a past and everyone makes mistakes; It’s about how you deal with it and overcome it is all that matters. Even though here in the USA we are meant to repay our debt to society but that debt never gets paid off. You can’t get a job, you can’t vote.. you can’t do a lot of things because of your past and it’s unfortunate. It’s completely unfair, people are capable of changing – I’m living proof of that. It happens. If we’re punished for something we’ve done in our past then the rest of our lives never get a fair shake. So me, I’m so thankful for Logo for allowing me to come and share my story and to let people know that it’s okay – you can get past it and become a good person.

Ditch the Label: We are sure that everybody will agree with us when we say this, but wow – you’ve been through a lot. We’re in total awe! Do you have any advice for anybody reading this that may be going through something similar to yourself or are feeling unhappy?
Latrice Royale: The best advice I can give is to really, really love yourself. Understand your self worth and value and don’t ever stop dreaming. Go for your dreams, find your passion and go for it. Nothing is impossible – you just got to work a little harder to go where you wanna go.

We would like to applaud Latrice for her immense level of positivity and great attitude towards negativity and would like to thank her for taking the time to speak with us and for her continued support and advocacy of the Ditch the Label campaign.