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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

Yin and yang: Castleberry twins discuss self-identity

Photos courtesy Drew and McKenna Castleberry and Katherine Hui

By Grace Zhou     2/21/23 10:28pm

Upon meeting a pair of identical twins, many may wonder what it’s like to have someone who’s only distinguishable by a fingerprint — or in Drew and McKenna Castleberry’s case, a toenail painted blue.

“Drew rhymes with blue, so [as a baby], Drew always had at least one toenail painted blue,” McKenna Castleberry said.

However, Drew and McKenna Castleberry say that being asked about their experience as a twin is their least favorite question — for them, it’s their status quo. 

“To me, having a twin is my everyday,” Drew said. “I only had ten minutes of freedom before [McKenna] came along.”

Both Wiess College juniors, Drew is majoring in Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations, and McKenna is majoring in Biosciences. They both applied to Rice under the Early Decision program, leaving the question of whether they would be separated for college up to the admissions team. 

“We had a talk, asking each other, is [it] worth it to have the question of being together or not?” McKenna said. “Would we be able to handle one of us getting in and the other not? And so we decided that yes, it is worth the risk.”

As identical twins, the two grew up as mirror images of one another. Even their own younger brother, Ethan, didn’t realize he had two sisters until he was four years old.

“Ethan, Drew and I were eating ice cream together. Ethan was in the middle, I was on one side and Drew was on the other,” McKenna said. “All of a sudden Ethan looked up at my mom and said, ‘Oh my God, Mom, there are two McKenna’s?’”

Their brother wasn’t alone in this sentiment. People are inclined to think of identical twins as a unit, but Drew and McKenna said they get along so well because they are not the same person. 

“We are very much complementary twins: yin and yang,” McKenna said. “We have enough similarities to overlap to where we can relate to one another, but we’re two separate people.”

With an identical twin, Drew said finding individuality is challenging, but an important thing to seek out.  

“We did a lot of the same things, but we found little ways to make sure that we had our own unique experiences,” Drew said. “We’re both at Rice, but we’re not the same major. We’re not in the same clubs. We are at our happiest when we’re together, but at the same time, we allow ourselves some space and opportunities.”

Drew and McKenna started to find this individuality many years ago. They expressed gratitude toward their mother for encouraging them to distinguish themselves from a young age.

“I think a lot of the reason why we’re so comfortable in ourselves as both a duo and as individuals is because of our mom,” Drew said. “She did a great job giving us the individual attention that we needed.”

Drew and McKenna recalled a memory from preschool when they had a day on which they were supposed to dress up as an American ideal. Their mother dressed Drew in a Statue of Liberty costume and McKenna to represent the armed forces.

“It’s so funny, because I am slaying as the Statue of Liberty, and you can see McKenna being just extremely annoyed that she was not,” Drew said.

In addition to the challenges of creating individual identities, McKenna said being a twin also leads to constant comparisons, which can create daunting and stressful expectations. 

“It’s very hard, the pressures of competition and direct comparison,” Drew said. “And I would say, especially as a woman, being a twin has given me a lot of body image issues, because I have a replica to look at and [compare myself to].”

In spite of these pressures, though, Drew and McKenna said they’ve never stopped being built-in best friends. Throughout all the changes in life, they said their connection has remained constant.

“No matter what happens in my life that can change my perception of myself or the way that other people see me, you have never seen me differently,” Drew said to McKenna.

In response, McKenna echoed the feeling of a built-in connection. 

“I speak with [Drew] like I would speak with no one else, ever,” McKenna said. “That level of trust and communication — I value that beyond all things.”

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