Running an Olsen Twins Fan Page Taught Me to Craft an Online Identity

From Electric Lit:

Before my online life orbited around Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, my imaginative play centered on being Mary-Kate and Ashley. The twins were girls like me, except cuter and blonde. A bit older. Certainly smaller, but still, larger than life. They were influencers before the advent of social media. Their empire was built upon their ability to successfully monetize the self. 

 “Do you want to be Mary-Kate or Ashley?” I’d ask my neighbor, Megan, as we waded through the creek by her house. Megan always wanted to be Mary-Kate. That’s why I’d given her a choice. 

Mary-Kate was marketed as sporty and adventurous. Ashley was stylish and demure. Who you chose aligned with the girl you hoped to be – and for me, that was the most feminine girl, the most perfect of girls, everything I’d been told a girl should be. 

We divvied up the twins and mimicked plot lines from their direct-to-video mystery and You’re Invited! series, pretending to solve crimes in our neighborhood cul-de-sac, planning occasion-less parties in the garden. Everything the twins marketed was rooted in a reality that could theoretically be replicated – a reality more exciting and beautiful than the mundane life of a rural West Virginia girl.

By the time the Olsens were in elementary school, their manager, Robert Thorne, began the work that would lead to their jaw dropping fortune. No longer just child actresses, they became a brand. Their faces appeared all over Walmart, one of the only places to shop in our small town. As my mom filled up her grocery cart, I strolled the dimly lit makeup aisles where I spotted the Mary-Kate and Ashley line: jelly lip glosses and creamy eye shadows in a variety of catching colors. Their makeup boasted no specific cosmetic improvement. Not longer lashes or brighter skin or stronger nails. The only brag was the association.

I walked to the middle of the store, to their girls’ clothing line targeted to tweens, those in-between childhood and adolescence. There, I picked out one of their tank tops to purchase with my allowance money, a flimsy piece of fabric in aquamarine, its back a maze of strings. 

“I don’t know,” my mom said as I held the shirt up in the freezer section of the grocery store, harsh lighting barely illuminating the small rhinestones sewn into the fabric for embellishment. “You wouldn’t be able to wear a bra with that.” 

“I don’t need a bra,” I argued, though my mother and I both knew that I certainly did. I could tell she was about to say this, though she stopped herself, perhaps for fear that my response to being punished for breasts would be continued attempts to starve them away. 

“You can only wear it around the house,” she said.

“In the neighborhood?” 

“I don’t know. Certainly not out.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

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