If you'll allow us, dear reader, we'd like to self-indulge for a moment. Today one Ashley Olsen and one Mary-Kate Olsen turn 30. And while that may not be a monumental occasion for all, it put us on a path of serious self-reflection.
The 30th birthday of the Olsen Twins is akin to the 30th birthday of oneself, emotionally speaking—if oneself is a millennial woman who grew up as a diehard Full House fan. That's because for a certain generation, nobody mirrored our lives or was simply as present for as much of it like the Olsens. There are plenty of child stars that we connected with—the Tia and Tameras, the Mae Whitmans, the Jonathan Taylor Thomases—but none that stayed in the public eye for so long.
We literally grew up with Mary-Kate and Ashley. We ran home from school every day to watch them on TV. We begged our parents to buy us every video. We, for some godforsaken reason, spent our allowance money on membership fees to their fan club. So much of our collective youth is ingrained in our memories of them—make mention of any Olsen movie or milestone and we can bet there are thousands of women who can recite exactly what that moment meant to them.
To Grandmother's House We Go? We watched that every Christmas. It Takes Two? We waited hours for the very first showing, and discovered our love for Butterfinger BB's in the meantime. Two of a Kind? It's responsible for our years-long and ill-advised (in hindsight) love affair with butterfly clips.
Even as of late, in their "retirement," from acting if you will, they've remained a source of inspiration and a symbol of idolization for fans. They've garnered a whole new audience; women and girls who flock to their fashion lines or their Met Gala attendances or their very very rare appearances on Ellen. But to truly understand what it meant to grow up Olsen, you have to go back to the beginning.
For most Olsen fans, Full House was the first piece of entertainment we really connected to—and no, we're not counting Sesame Street. The value of the sitcom, amidst all its cheesiness and bad jokes and those god-awful hugs, is a subject of its own separate essay, but for now we'll just say that Michelle Tanner was a Movement in elementary school. And TGIF programming was our bible.
It's not like we gleaned any actually valuable lessons from the probably-hundreds of hours of viewing (ironically, as heavy as the morality hand was on Full House, much of it was lost on youth, its thunder stolen by those adorable catchphrases and the proliferation of neon biker shorts), but Michelle helped form our identity. When she learned to feel comfortable with her giant feet, we learned to feel comfortable with our giant feet; when she was kicked out of her secret club, we were kicked out of our secret club; when she hid in the boat because she was too sad about Papouli's death to go to school, we...well, we hid in our proverbial boat. And that's to say nothing of her fashion influences, of which there too many, both time-tested and frightening, to mention.
When the show came to an end, we turned to their feature films. Or, rather, their feature "films" because, let's be honest, it's not like this was award-winning content. But no matter! Our collective 12-year-old selves weren't concerned with scripts or camera work or proper narrative arc. Passport to Paris, Billboard Dad, Our Lips Are Sealed, When In Rome. Nobody said they were good, but nobody said they needed to be, either. They were pure escapist fun for tweens that provided the perfect comfort.
Onscreen, Mary-Kate and Ashley were going through the same emotional problems that everyone their age was, but on a much grander, fit-for-home-video scale. If a fan was, say, an only child of divorced parents feeling a little lonely, why wouldn't they want to lose themselves in a movie world in which the Olsen Twins went on fabulous school trips to Rome and Paris and rode around ancient cities on the backs of scooters accompanied by boys named Michel and Paolo?
Off screen, they were far from the nerve-wracking train wrecks that we, sadly, often see our favorite child stars morph into. That said, they weren't immune from the troubles of growing up, either. They both went through their share of problems, but they did so as gracefully as a child star could, with most of it kept out of the spotlight. And, for what it's worth, their struggles rang true for a good portion of their fans; if Mary-Kate can get through it then so can I.
And just as smoothly as they began their careers, they ended them—entertainment-wise, that is. It felt like the close of a chapter in all of our lives, time to quit watching New York Minute so damn much and do something with your life. And the beauty of it is that we're still able to follow their lives. After all, how much can a pair of billionaire twins who starred on one of the most famous television shows of the '90s really disappear?
Even better is that unlike so many former child stars who toil around the industry attempting career re-launch after career re-launch, the Olsens carved out a new path, one that appeals to millennial women perhaps even more than the movies of their childhood did. How fabulous that the girls whose braids and barrettes we once coveted are now making their own clothes for us to copy? We've moved on from those aforementioned butterfly clips, but we'd be lying if we hadn't daydreamed about that snakeskin backpack from The Row.
Whatever it takes to take home a little part of MK&A, right?