Two Heads, One Body, a Billion Questions: The Gawker Guide to TLC’s Newest Stars, Abby & Brittany


When it was announced earlier this month that the Hensel Twins, Abby & Brittany, had been given their own TLC series (premiering tonight) people who watch TV all the time were like, "FINALLY" and people who occasionally make time for other pursuits were like, "WHAT IS HAPPENING?"

This primer will answer some basic questions about conjoined twins Abby & Brittany and, in so doing, inspire you to come up with many, many more of your own.

Who are Abby and Brittany?
Abigail "Abby" Hensel and Brittany "Brittany" Hensel are 22-year-old conjoined twins from Minnesota. In the language of TV specials, they are "Joined for Life," "Twins Who Share a Body," or maybe 2 Girls 2 Cups 1 Body. The girls are best known from a series of documentary specials—one shot when they were 11, one shot when they were 16—that aired on the Discovery Channel and TLC, and are still re-run pretty frequently, especially during the dead zone between Christmas and New Years, when people have run out of things to say to their families.

Yeah, I'm seeing a lot of heads here. How are they conjoined?
Abby and Brittany each have their own head, spine, heart, set of lungs, gallbladder, small intestine, and stomach. In broad terms, most everything else is shared. They have one wide ribcage two arms, two legs, two breasts, one bladder, one pelvis, and one set of reproductive organs. They were born with a third "rudimentary" arm protruding from their back, but this was surgically removed when they were very young, meaning it cannot appear as a straight-talking minor character in the series.

How… how?
Abby controls the right side of the twins' shared body while Brittany controls the left. One girl cannot sense touching on the other girl's "side." Each twin manipulates one arm and one leg. They're incredibly well coordinated with this set-up, able to walk with a smooth gait, dribble a basketball, and even ride a bike. The really mesmerizing thing is watching them type on a computer, as both girls' hands fly over the keys (millennials, ugh), but there's no verbal discussion of what they're writing.

Do they have sex?
There is some debate about this among the members of the Gawker editorial staff, none of whom have had sex with Abby and Brittany. A rumor circulated in 2009 that Brittany was engaged, though the source of this seems to be an announcement on XM radio that was never broadcast anywhere else. The promo for their new show doesn't mention any love interests, which probably indicates that there are none, since that would be something to play up. Abby and Brittany have said they hope one day to marry and have children.

Do conjoined twins do that?
Sometimes. The world's most famous conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker (born in Thailand in the 19th century — the inspiration for the term "Siamese twins"), married and had children with two sisters. Originally, the couples shared one home with one giant bed, but eventually the wives opted to live in separate houses, and the brothers split their time between two residences. Earlier this year in Wisconsin, a conjoined twin who was separated from her sister at birth gave birth to her own healthy baby. However, every set of conjoined twins is different. None of the aforementioned twins shared sexual organs, as Abby and Brittany do.

Can they drive?
They can. Much of their sixteenth birthday special focused on their driving test. Abby, the louder, bossier sister who likes driving faster, operates the pedals and gearshift. Brittany, the dreamier, more easygoing twin is relegated to more boring jobs: blinker and lights. Both girls steer. They had to take their test twice – once for each girl (which, frankly seems a little silly, considering the breakdown of roles) and each has her own driver's license.

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