I have been in the same room as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen approximately twice over the course of my lifetime. As someone whose parents used to employ the phrase “we’re going to take away your Mary-Kate and Ashley videos” as a staggeringly effective disciplinary tool, both of these encounters are indelibly scorched into my brain.
The first was when I was 16 and the Olsens were hovering on the precipice of 18, a moment creepy Internet countdown clocks had been heralding for years. My mom, recognizing that the threat of hurling the Olsens’ videos out an open window was waning in potency, dangled a new carrot before me: A visit to The Oprah Winfrey Show on the day the twins would be guests. I took more care selecting an outfit that morning than a neurosurgeon might take to prep before operating on the president; inexplicably, I landed on a bright red button-down and flared “nice pants,” an outfit a college freshman might wear for an interview to be an intern at McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
The Olsen twins, fledgling fashion moguls that they were, showed up on Oprah’s set wearing the kinds of designer ensembles that had been making me wish that I, too, had had the great fortune of being born part of a matching and highly lucrative set. Mary-Kate, the “free spirit,” was resplendent in a baggy boho dress; Ashley, the more “responsible” twin, sported a coiffed ponytail and a form-fitting but modest eggshell number that would have immediately edged me out of the running for the McDonald’s internship. But what I still remember most about that day isn’t Mary-Kate’s incredibly heavy-looking earrings, or Ashley’s perfectly and inexplicably immobile side-bang. I remember how genuinely uncomfortable they seemed. Both hardly moved during the episode taping, except for a nearly imperceptible shift every time Oprah asked them what I now recognize as strangely probing questions about how much money they had (“We don’t like to talk about it”), or whether or not they actually ate food (“[That speculation] comes with the territory”), or what size clothes they wore (“Size? Um, we’re not sure”).