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How having a twin changed my beauty identity

In fear of her twin being perceived as "the prettier sister", for the last few years, Layla has been emulating sister Salma's beauty look. Now she's going in a new direction

Up until last year, whenever I’d get ready for a night out, I'd always base my beauty look loosely on what my twin sister, Salma, went for: red lips, winged eyeliner and dewy skin. We’d always had radically different taste in clothes - Salma adopts a more classic look whereas I’m firmly in the millennial, neon-toting camp - but for most of my early 20s, I’d unconsciously adopted her signature make-up look. I’d look to her red lips as inspiration, her ultimate trademark, perusing the make-up shelves of MAC trying to find a chilli red - only to go home and realise the shade was identical to the one firmly lodged in her make-up bag. Then came the winged eyeliner that took far too many tries than I care to admit, followed by tell-tale highlighter on my cheekbones in an attempt to emulate her dewy skin.

We’d pretty much shared everything so it felt only natural to sport the same beauty look but, in this case, Salma was more territorial. She didn’t mind if I occasionally borrowed her clothes but she seemed more reluctant to share the insides of her make-up bag. Last year, it became a source of tension – I could sense her growing dissatisfaction that we looked so alike. When she banned me from wearing red lips at a mutual friend’s party, it echoed that scene in Mean Girls when Regina George banned Gretchen Wieners from wearing hoop earrings.

Though it was frustrating, I did understand. It’s hard enough being a twin and trying to carve out your own identity without someone hot on your heels. Dr Joan Friedman, twin expert, psychologist and author of Twins in Session: Case Histories in Treating Twinship Issues says Salma’s frustration is common: ‘‘Some twin pairs struggle to be “known,” not just “noticed.” Since outsiders habitually relate to them as a unit or a fixed dyad, they expectedly have conflicts with their twin in an attempt to define or declare their individual selves. While twins fight, their tensions have much more to do with establishing separateness and uniqueness, traits afforded naturally to siblings born at different times.”

Constant dissections of our facial differences were tricky enough – comparing the size of our noses and face shapes as if we weren’t in the room, for one – but now that I was emulating her beauty look we were once again being reduced to a single unit: “the Twins”. It was like being a kid again when we were lumped together, forced to share the same birthday cards and presents. This was particularly difficult as we’d had separate lives at university and were known as separate people. It was only after I’d returned to London that I’d started copying her red lips, something she’d been wearing in her second year at university. It was quite a departure from my own laissez-faire approach at uni: I’d only ever wear heavy eyeliner if I was going out.

In hindsight, I wonder if emulating her red lips and winged line had something to do with her going on a different path to me. Was I copying her beauty regime as a way to hold onto her because our lives were going in different directions? I’d started a new relationship and job while Salma had taken the plunge to go freelance. While I knew Salma was content with her choices, I started to become fearful of her abandoning me. Perhaps this went some way to explain why I’d even gone as far as to copy her acrylic nails - something she pursued as a way of overcoming her battle with trichotillomania, a condition which I’ve never had.

But after a while, and as tensions escalated between us, I started to have a creeping realisation that we didn’t always have to look identical. I wanted to find out, who was I when I wasn’t copying Salma’s signature beauty look?

So last year, I started experimenting with many different looks: gothic purple and black lips (a homage to the early years spent trawling around Camden market), glitter cat eyes, brightly hued eyeshadow - regrettably a pink one that made me look permanently sleepy. In the end, it was festival season last summer which transformed my relationship to beauty and as a result my identity. It led me to the discovery that I preferred daring beauty looks: confetti eyelids, glitter lips and sequins dotted all around my face. I was in my element: there were no rules and anything went. I turned to Instagram beauty videos for inspiration, saving a separate photo album on my phone for inspo and I ransacked the bags of make-up freebies I had collected from working at magazines, which I’d initially dismissed as too adventurous. These new looks helped me create a sense of self – and this time, I wasn’t looking to see what my twin was doing. Eventually, I managed to find my go-to look: nude lips and heavy kohled eyeliner.

But there were times when I wanted to run back to the red lips and the winged eyeliner, the dewy skin. I never felt entirely ‘done’ without them and it was only when I had a different face on that I realised how much depended on this look as a comfort blanket. It also made me realise that my fears ran deeper than the idea of being abandoned by my twin. On some level, I was afraid that I could never match up to her when we were together. When she would wear the red lips that would inevitably get compliments, it was as if people saw her as the prettier sister, or at least that was what I feared. I’d often wonder when people scanned our faces for similarities whether they were really trying to work out who was prettier.

“Having a different look to Salma is released me from the constant feeling that people might be subconsciously comparing us.”

Dr Avidan Milevsky, author of Sibling Issues in Therapy, attributes this constant comparison to societal attitudes: “It's natural for twins to compare themselves to each other. Ultimately, they are very similar they have similar personalities and they may even look like one another. Add to this that, as a society, we constantly are comparing twins to each other and hence they're going to do it to themselves.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about now having a different look to Salma is that it’s released me from the constant feeling that people might be subconsciously comparing us. Now, if they’re looking at us, I know it’s because they’re intrigued by something else entirely, such as my purple glitter lips.

These days everyone we know can tell the difference between us simply from our different faces. That’s not to say that anxieties don’t occasionally surface. I occasionally struggle with the pressure of feeling like having to be ‘the prettier twin’ and this can be particularly compounded online. When we go to the same place and upload a photo, I can spend more time than necessary comparing who’s got more Instagram likes or comments, wondering if our mutual followers think she’s prettier. But if I feel myself getting worked up, I try to remember not to focus on how other people respond, but instead, how I feel. Even if she racks up more likes, I’m happy with the way I look.

Now that we leave the house with radically different faces, it’s clear to see that I’ve come so far from the days of copying her beauty regime in painstaking detail. Having my own look helped me carve out an identity for myself and even led me to other steps, such as choosing a different career path and having separate friendships - and the realisation that I don’t have to simply copy my twin just so I can be closer to her. Our lives are moving in different directions slowly but surely but rather than see it as something to fear, I know she’ll be there whatever I wear on my face – even if it is the occasional red lip.