The Fat Twin Phenomenon

My identical tw-- uh, best friend (left) and me
Did you know I have a twin? I do. Lots of them, in fact. Or, if not a twin, at least a sister. Millions.

My poor mom.

Picture this: Two women sit next to one another on a shuttle to a hotel in Chicago. The shuttle driver grins at them in the mirror and asks, “Are you two twins?” They get the same question a few days later. A few years later, while one of them visits the other’s workplace, several people approach the smiling duo and ask if they’re sisters.

They’re not twins. They’re not even sisters. In fact, they are separated by years (nine), hair (one has long, straight, blonde hair, while the other’s is curly and brown), height (the blonde is two or three inches taller), and body shapes (the blonde is more hourglass). Their eye colors and face shapes are completely different, and no one would ever confuse their voices over the phone. However, they have three things in common that automatically, and apparently, render them indistinguishable:
  1. They are women.
  2. They are White. 
  3. They are fat.

What? You didn’t know all fat, White women look alike? It’s true. Trust me, the blockier brunette who is nine years older and three inches shorter than her fat, hourglassy, blonde best friend.

You know the old jokes that all Asian people look the same to White peeps and Black folks can’t for the life of them tell the differences among all those pale-skinned individuals? Yeah, it’s the same thing with fat women of similar races. Do you know how many times I’ve been told I look just like Rosie O’Donnell or Melissa McCarthy? Truth is, I look nothing like either of those women; they’re just about the only fat, White, dark-haired women people can remember in pop culture.

Above is picture of Melissa McCarthy, Ros-- wait. I mean me, Melissa Mc... No. I mean... Ah, heck. Who can tell the difference, anyway?

Need another example? I teach at a local college. My sister, who is ten years younger than me and looks nothing like me -- green eyes to my brown, rounder face to my oval, sensual facial features, abundant – ahem – assets, and, until she inexplicably dyed it, dark blonde hair -- attends this college. She is fat and, not surprisingly since she actually is my sis, also White. I have had multiple people at my workplace ask me if Kris is my sister. Okay, the same last name helps, but that doesn’t explain away all the incidences. Truth is, the question has a lot more to do with our body size than that same gap between our front teeth.

My beautiful sister, Kris, who looks nothing whatsoever like me.
One more, and then I'll leave you to decide if I've made my point. As I’ve mentioned, my romantic partner is also fat. One time while flying together, a flight attendant asked if I was my partner’s mother. My. Partner’s. Mother.

It boggles my mind. There must be some mental filing cabinets in people’s heads, and one of the giant files must be labeled “fat,” just as there are also, for example, capacious “Asian American” and “disabled” files. Once you get lumped in there, all those 893 other distinguishing characteristics get smudged into obscurity. You’re “fat” or “Black” or “immigrant,” just like all those other people in there. You must be related, since it’s your primary identifying characteristic. In fact, you even look alike – sometimes even identical, in spite of your age, your personality, and all those physical differences.

I’m not certain this essay contains a moral. I’m mostly thinking through this because my best friend is coming to visit in a month, and I’m getting ready to face the “Aw, how cute! Are you two sisters?” question. Perhaps the moral is not to assume that sharing one culturally devalued trait means we are that trait. 

Or perhaps the moral is to keep your mouth on lockdown when you see two people who represent the same marginalized group. Just because you can't see the differences between them doesn't mean they're twins, cousins, or heck, even care about the other's existence.


  1. You are so right, as always. I am very sure that if I had a fat friend, or any friends, or even walked next to a fat person, some skinny ass boy would be all like, "hey, are you two related? twins, right?"

    BTW: don't you think it's a little vain of you to post all those pictures of yourself above? I mean - really! But tell me: how did you get two of you in that top pic? Photoshop?

    1. Looking at you, LJ, is like looking into a mirror. Sometimes when we talk on the phone, I'm convinced I'm executing a monologue. ;)

    2. Oh, and never doubt my mad Microsoft Publisher skills. :-D

  2. True the world over! My friend Jill & I are both beautifully rounded people, and were both head teachers of schools within the same borough in the UK. But we look nothing like each other, and our styles are very different. This was some years ago, & she was wearing a Laura Ashley pretty dress, I was wearing jeans & a top, and was visiting her school. One of the parents coming to collect a child asked if I was Jill's daughter! Now we both had dark poodle perms (I know....but this was the late 1980s!!!!), but Jill is, I think, 7 years older than me! And the famous person I get compared to is Dawn French!

    1. Ah, MJJ, nice to know fat folks all over the globe experience the joys of the Fat Twin Phenomenon. So sorry this happened to you. <3


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