Read an Excerpt
Growing Up Duggar
I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
WHEN OUR PARENTS WERE planning to build our current house in northwest Arkansas, they asked us kids how many bedrooms we thought the house should have. It was an easy question for us to answer: we wanted to be together. So, upstairs in our house today, there’s one big room for all the girls, one big room for all the boys, and our parents’ bedroom with an adjoining nursery.
Jana and I (Jill) sleep in double beds with our youngest sisters, Jordyn and Josie, and the other girls sleep in twin- or youth-sized beds. It’s always an exciting time when the littlest sister gets to move from the nursery to the “big girls’ room” with us, although they’re always free to toddle back to Mom and Dad’s room if they need to. We love the late-night conversations and falling asleep each night surrounded by our sisters.
One night a few years ago as I was putting my retainer in my mouth at bedtime, my sister Johannah, then probably five or six, asked what it was. I told her it was something I slept with to help keep my teeth aligned now that I didn’t have to wear braces anymore.
“Can I wear it?” Johannah asked.
We Duggars do love to share a lot of things but, thankfully, dental appliances aren’t among them. I smiled and told her no, it was made just for me and it wouldn’t fit her mouth at all.
Thinking about that conversation later reminded me that we can’t conform ourselves to other people’s molds. But we try sometimes, don’t we? It’s inevitable that human beings, particularly teenagers and especially teenage girls, go through times when they may try to remake themselves into something, or someone, they’re not. Every girl has a tendency to compare herself to other girls, noticing how they dress or style their hair, how much they weigh, how they talk, the words and phrases they use, and how guys respond to them.
You may think that kids like the Duggars, who are homeschooled and don’t watch TV or read secular magazines, are immune from feelings like that, but we’re not! We’ve experienced some of those same negative feelings about the girl in the mirror that you may be feeling right now or have felt in the past.
Jinger didn’t seem to mind when we visited a dude ranch and deputies Jessa, left, and Jill took her into custody.
All of us have gone through times when we’ve felt we needed to lose weight. And we’ve all looked at the girl in the mirror and sometimes found things that just didn’t seem to measure up.
Are you going through a time in your life when you’re being critical of the girl in your mirror?
THAT’S HARD, ISN’T IT? You’ve looked at that girl in the mirror all your life and had made friends with her, and then one day you look at her and notice the blemish on her forehead or the nose that isn’t as cute as your friend’s nose. Maybe the girl who seemed just fine yesterday now seems too short or too tall, too thin or too heavy. Maybe her clothes, the ones that were your favorites yesterday, seem completely wrong today. And that hair. It’s ridiculous!
Suddenly the girl who looked just fine yesterday seems like a total loser today compared to those cute girls at the mall . . . or your school . . . or your homeschool group . . . or even your church.
So then what happens? You reject that girl in the mirror, and in your heart you worry that she’ll be rejected by others, too, including those you admire. Fear of rejection is one of the major problems facing teenagers and young adults today. It affects almost all of us, including the Duggar kids, at one time or another.
For example, I (Jill) can remember a Sunday morning when we were getting ready for church and I went through multiple outfit changes because I was trying to measure up. The night before, I had stood in our closet for at least ten minutes trying to decide what I would wear the next day. (Ever been there?)
Finally I chose an outfit I thought was suitable. I took it upstairs and laid it out so it would be ready the next morning. But when I walked out of the bathroom Sunday morning, dressed and ready to go, I noticed how great Jessa looked wearing an adorable outfit she had recently found at a thrift store. Plus, she had the cutest aviator sunglasses perched on her head and a stylish leather bag slung over her shoulder. Suddenly the outfit I had chosen for myself the night before seemed totally wrong. I wanted to look as cute as Jessa did.
So I hurried back downstairs to the closet and stood there for what seemed like another ten minutes, trying to find something to wear. Then I heard Dad’s voice over the intercom saying, “Everyone hurry up! It’s nine forty, and the first vanload is leaving for church.”
I grabbed a skirt off the rack and tried it on, but then I remembered that the shirt I usually wear with it was dirty. I hurriedly put that choice back on the hanger and found a cute denim skirt—only to realize the zipper was broken. I was growing more frustrated and about to settle for the original outfit I had put on that morning when my eye landed on a brown-striped skirt. Perfect, I thought. Why didn’t I think of this in the first place?
While we sometimes do the shopping for our family at warehouse stores, our favorite place to shop for clothes is thrift stores.
But then I had to change my shoes to go with the skirt, and—or where were those sandals that looked so great with this skirt? I finally rushed out of the clothes closet and around the corner to the bathroom mirror. Oops! With all the changing, my hair had gotten messed up. I hurriedly worked to restore order to it and then discovered we had run out of hair spray in that bathroom. Running to another bathroom to grab some, I could hear the car horn honking as the second load of churchgoers waited for me.
It was nearly ten o’clock—church time—as I rushed out the door. Not exactly the way one would want to prepare for a morning of worshipping our Creator! And it all started because I compared myself to one of my sisters and felt that my appearance fell short.
It seems like such a trivial matter now, looking back on that morning, but it’s so typical of teenagers, especially young ladies. It’s easy for us to compare ourselves to others and think we have to be like them to measure up or to be accepted. But too often it’s impossible to meet the goals of perfection we set for ourselves, and as a result, we end up dealing with all sorts of destructive feelings: poor self-worth, lack of confidence, jealousy, discontentment, and so much more. Before we know it, momentary concerns about our outward appearance turn into lies about ourselves that swirl constantly through our minds, telling us, “I’m not good enough.” “I’m a failure.” “Nobody loves me.”
Ultimately, we lose sight of what’s most important: our inward character.
FOR MANY YEARS, I (Jessa) couldn’t care less about what I wore and how I looked. I was the typical happy little Duggar kid, filling my day with homeschool work and playing with my siblings and friends.
But life changed for me when I was about twelve or thirteen. Whenever I was around friends outside our family, I became very quiet and self-conscious—really insecure about the way I looked, dressed, and acted.
I had friends who were really beautiful, and whenever we were together I compared myself to them and always came up lacking something. These critical feelings caused me to have a mistaken view of my friends and myself—thinking they were perfect and I wasn’t. I felt so ashamed and awkward that I couldn’t even talk to anyone about my feelings. I felt overwhelmed and stuck in that negative mind-set.
I remember during that stage of my life having mixed feelings when I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I was eager to go to the party but overly concerned that I had to look and act just right. What a dilemma, worrying about what clothes I would wear, what I would say, what gift I would bring!
I can still feel those butterflies fluttering in my stomach as we drove up to the birthday girl’s big yellow house. I was excited but nervous at the same time. I was thinking about all the conversations I’d had with the girl and our friends that focused on outward appearance—who had cute clothes and who didn’t, whose hairstyle we wanted to copy and whose hair was always a wreck. The butterflies continued to churn as I arrived at the front door with another guest.
Our younger sister Joy is beautiful inside and out.
“Oh, I love your outfit!” the birthday girl said to the friend beside me.
She didn’t say anything about what I was wearing, so I immediately assumed she didn’t think my outfit was as perfect as the other girl’s.
Soon the party was under way, and I enjoyed all the games, but after we’d sung “Happy Birthday” and settled around the living room for cake and ice cream, the topic of movies came up. I hadn’t seen the popular movie the other girls were talking about, and I felt out of place. The critical thoughts came bubbling back up: Jessa, you don’t fit in. It’s obvious you’re not as cool as the other girls.
Looking back, I can see how my inward struggles grew worse because I craved the birthday girl’s approval—as did several others in this group of friends. I wanted her to like me. Receiving her approval made me feel good about myself. But when she let me know, or when I assumed, that she didn’t quite approve of my appearance or something I said or did (or didn’t do), I felt worse about myself. I felt as though I had failed—and I carried those feelings with me for days after we’d been together.
My friend seemed to be the perfect picture of the girl I was not. She was tall with beautiful hair and big, brown eyes. She was slender and attractive. After being with this girl, I would look in the mirror and see frizzy hair, ordinary eyes, and a body that wasn’t as slender or as beautiful as hers. Constantly comparing myself to her was the perfect recipe for jealousy and discontentment.
WHAT POWER I WAS giving my friend by allowing her to make me feel that way about the girl in the mirror! The same girl who all my life had smiled back at me each day and been an accepted and essential part of me now became someone I looked at with a constantly critical eye.
Thankfully, about that time, I heard a Bible teacher share an inspiring message about how God has perfectly designed each one of us with ten aspects of life that, without extraordinary action, we cannot change and that He wants us to accept:
1. Who our parents are
2. Who our siblings are
3. The order in which we are born into our family (oldest or youngest, etc.)
4. Our nationality
5. Whether we’re a girl or boy
6. Our mental capacity
7. The time we were born in history
8. Our physical features
9. The natural aging process
10. The date we will die
This teacher said that if we reject our physical features, we reject our self-image and often assume that others will reject us, too. This assumption can cause us to make poor decisions based on our own misperception of ourselves.
That’s right where I was in my relationship with my “powerful” friend. I realized I had been ungrateful to God for the wonderful way He had made me. I had pushed aside what the Bible tells us—that God looks on each one of us as His uniquely beautiful creation—and instead I let an immature teenage girl make me feel bad about myself.
When my parents realized what was happening, they wisely helped me rethink the priority I had put on this friendship, and they encouraged me to ask God to forgive me for not appreciating the way He had created me. Looking back, I feel sad to think what it must have been like for God to see me, His unique and carefully designed Jessa, looking in the mirror and disliking the girl He’d created with such love.
Have you been there? Standing in front of a mirror with a negative attitude about the girl you’re seeing? You’re not alone! All of us, including the Duggar girls, have had times when we compare ourselves with the way other girls dress, do their hair, how much they weigh, how they carry themselves, and how guys respond to them.
But if we’re upset with that girl in the mirror, it means we’re upset with God for how He designed us. We may start to think He messed up when He designed us or even that He doesn’t love us. And that leads us to put our confidence and trust in someone else—such as a teenage peer who somehow gains a more powerful influence on our lives than God.
Jill, left, and Jessa followed the traditional custom of taking a “mud bath” while visiting the Dead Sea in Israel.
If that’s where you are right now, we’re here to help you see yourself through new eyes—God’s powerful, love-filled, encouraging, and forgiving eyes. We hope to convince you that God loves you more than anyone else in the world loves you and that He has a unique plan for your life. We’ve learned through firsthand experience that when we make Him the priority in our lives and seek His way and His approval, He will fill us with a humble confidence that gives us inward strength and makes us immune to the sometimes-harsh judgment of others who don’t have our best interests at heart.
Our parents worked hard to instill that idea within us as we were growing up.
ULTIMATELY, HOW WE CARE for ourselves (hair, makeup, clothes) tells others what we think about the way God made us. So our primary goal is to honor the Lord with our appearance. A friend of ours said it this way: “A girl’s outward appearance should send a message that says, ‘This is who I am,’ not ‘This is what I do.’ ” We want to maintain this perspective and keep our focus on pointing others to God.
Accepting the way God has uniquely made us helps us not to be so concerned with how others view us. Many people have demonstrated that truth to us. One of them was a sweet, Christian woman I (Jill) met last year when we were on a trip out west. She invited us to her home for dinner one evening, and while we were there, she and her husband showed us around their place and told us a little about themselves.
She shared that she came from an Italian family, and then she joked that a lot of Italians have long noses. She said when she was about to graduate from high school her mom came to her with a check that was a gift for her to be able to get surgery done to make her nose smaller.
The woman told us she was taken by surprise—and so was her mom when the daughter told her she wouldn’t be carrying on the family’s “nose job” tradition. “I’m content with the way God made me,” she said.
That conversation really made an impact on all of us girls, reminding us that none of us can choose the design God selected for us when He created us, but we can choose how we respond to His design. Contentment is realizing that God has provided everything we need for our present happiness.
Another key is recognizing the “unchangeable” things in our life and choosing to live joyfully with them. For this lady, it was accepting her Italian nose. For us it may be our ears, height, shoe size, gender, parents, siblings, or any number of other things.
Sure, it’s technically possible to change some of these things. You can renounce your citizenship and pledge your loyalty to another country, and you can have surgery to change some of your physical features, but before you do, we hope you’ll carefully and prayerfully consider what God originally gave you when He created you. If you go through life comparing yourself to others, you can always find someone who is smarter, better-looking—whatever—and it’s easy to become discontent, depressed, or even angry at God.
But if we choose to be grateful and thank God for the unchangeable things in our lives, whether it is facial features or a birthmark we were born with—or even physical scars that have come about later in life from accidents such as burns or being injured in a car wreck—it changes our whole perspective on life. We will finally be able to overcome fear of rejection and live confidently and contentedly with these unchangeable things that we did not choose for ourselves.
NOW, SOMETIMES THERE ARE changeable things in life that can use improvement—our weight, for instance. When we were younger, most of us could eat about anything we wanted to and not gain weight, but those times have changed. We’ve found that most of us older Duggars have a tendency to gain weight.
We might not be the neatest sushi makers, but Jana, Josie, Jedidiah, and Jackson sure had fun trying when we visited the Japanese Sushi Academy.
Over the years, Mom has done her best to prepare nutritious meals for us, and she has always kept healthy fruits and vegetables around for us to snack on throughout the day, whether they are grown in our own garden or purchased from the local farmers market. We have chosen to avoid pork, and instead we choose grass-fed beef or lean poultry. While we do eat some processed foods, we try to be selective, and we do not keep a stash of sodas, potato chips, or Pop-Tarts around the house.
And the Duggar children are very active, whether we’re building a tree fort or playing our favorite sports together—some of which include basketball, kickball, football, foursquare, and volleyball (and we have enough players to make up at least two teams!). But just the same, we have found that as we grow older, it can be challenging to stay fit and in shape.
Just last year our oldest brother, Josh, decided to lose some weight, and he felt like the first thing to go should be his sweet tea and sodas. With his work and busy schedule, he had not been watching his intake of those sweet drinks, so he was surprised when he hopped on the scale one day and realized he had gained more than twenty pounds. When he cut out the sugary drinks, started drinking more water, and exercising a little, he saw the weight drop off.
Mom told us she put on nearly forty pounds a few years ago throughout the course of several pregnancies. She tried several weight-loss programs but began to think she would never be able to slim back down. Finally she tried Weight Watchers and learned about making wiser food choices. During one of the weekly meetings the leader said, “When it comes to losing weight, it’s really eighty percent diet and twenty percent exercise. You can eat more calories in a few minutes than you can burn off in an hour-long workout.”
Weight Watchers taught Mom about portion control, and it provided a great accountability system. She also started exercising three miles a day on an elliptical machine. By working to keep in shape, she looks and feels great, and she’s been a big inspiration to the rest of us!
A couple of other changeable things in life are makeup and hair. We heard a pastor say one time, “Any ol’ barn looks better with some paint on it!” Our goal when we wear makeup is to look natural, so no wild colors and it’s not painted on an inch thick. But cosmetics can help cover blemishes, accent natural beauty, and draw attention to your countenance (another word for your face).
It’s the same with hair. When cared for properly and thoughtfully styled, it too can be a beautiful frame to draw attention to your countenance.
We Duggar girls choose to wear our hair rather long, but we could wear shorter styles if we wanted to. Our hairstyle is our choice, and we choose longer hair based on our understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:14–15. It says that even nature itself teaches us that, while it is a shame for a man to have long hair, a woman’s hair is her glory. We figure, if God says our hair is our “glory,” then He must have considered it a gift to us, and we want to take care of it and put a little effort each day into styling it.
Twenty-five Duggars plus our cousin Amy, Grandma, and our film crew traveled together to London, where the girls took time out from sightseeing for a photo in front of Buckingham Palace.
But if we become obsessed with having the perfect hairstyle and spend two hours in front of the mirror every morning making sure every hair is in place, that’s going a little too far. (And it would also be nearly impossible in the Duggar household, given the limited number of bathrooms and the seemingly unlimited number of people needing to use them at any given time!)
One thing we’re trying to do in this book is to share not only what we’ve been taught but also what we’ve learned through firsthand experience. I (Jana) can tell you I learned an important lesson about hair—and also about making rash decisions.
One day several years ago when I was a young teenager, some of us girls were talking with a friend and she mentioned something about how you could put highlights in your hair by simply using peroxide or lemon juice. It was certainly inexpensive and sounded easy to do, so I decided to try it. I wasn’t making a big change to my sandy-brown hair, just adding some highlights, so I didn’t consider it a big deal and didn’t ask Mama about it—and didn’t mention my plan to anyone else. I didn’t know exactly how to do it, but I was sure I could figure it out. I mean, how hard could it be to put one simple liquid on my hair?
So, a few days later, I got some peroxide and put a rather generous amount on my hair, dabbing it on and then combing it through. I stood there looking in the mirror, not seeing any change, and thinking, Hmmm. I guess it didn’t work.
Oh well. It was a nice, sunshiny day, and I decided to do some work in the flower beds, something I enjoy.
A few hours later, I came back inside and couldn’t believe what I saw in the mirror! Everyone else was surprised, too. My twin brother, John-David, said, “Wow, Jana! Did you dye your hair orange?”
When Dad saw it and I explained what I’d done, he said, “Oh, Jana, peroxide isn’t something to mess around with. I wish you had talked to Mom about it first!”
By that time, I was wishing the same thing! I told Dad, “I didn’t think it would bleach my hair this much.”
It was hard living with the prolonged consequences of my spur-of-the-minute decision. Then, as my hair began to grow out, it was no longer just orange but two-toned orange and brown. I was so embarrassed by it that, once again, I acted impulsively. I went to a beauty supply store and asked the salesclerk what she recommended. She suggested I cover up the problem by using a slightly darker shade of hair color than my natural shade.
I was so determined to fix the problem that I ended up picking a color that was too dark, leaving me with nearly jet-black hair—and teaching me an important life lesson. Since then I’ve been content with the color God chose for my hair.
We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with dyeing your hair (although we recommend that you know what you’re doing before you try it!). We love to experiment with different styles, and some of us may decide someday to add highlights or change our hair color. But most likely, it won’t be Jana!
Like many people—maybe like you—we sometimes feel we need to make a change in our appearance or in some other aspect of our lives, but we’re learning that it’s wise to ask advice, and we certainly need to pray about it. We like to look our best, but we don’t want to get carried away and let a focus on outward beauty cause us to lose sight of what’s most important: developing inward character.
NOW, LET US TAKE a moment to chat about the Duggar girls’ fashion preferences and shopping habits. What we’re about to share are our personal standards—not everyone shares the same convictions. Even families who share our Christian values may not share our same convictions about modesty. Daddy reminds us regularly that if the Lord shows you something from Scripture, then you have a responsibility to respond to that guidance. We simply honor what God wants our family to do. It doesn’t mean that what we do is for everybody. God convicts different people of different things at different times.
As we were growing up, Mom and Dad always explained in detail why we do what we do and that everything had a root in Scripture. Now that we’re older, we do our own research. Dad and Mom desire each one of us to individually follow God.
Duggars tend to be night owls instead of early risers, but quite a few times we have had to get up super early to gather in our home’s living room for remote broadcasts for the Today show.
Throughout our younger years, Dad taught us all to be frugal, and Mom did an amazing job of clothing her big family well on a shoestring budget—and thrift store purchases. Her focus was never on whether her children were dressed in the most expensive clothing but on who filled our hearts.
We’re aware of modern fashion trends because we travel a lot and interact with a wide variety of people. But we prefer to wear modest and feminine skirts and dresses; it’s how Mom dressed us as we were growing up; and now that we are older, it’s what we choose for ourselves. It’s our own personal conviction based on scriptures such as Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Timothy 2:9. And since our favorite shopping style is frugality, our favorite places to shop are thrift and consignment stores. If you shop there enough (and we go fairly often!) you can find great clothes at great prices.
While some people shop in used clothing stores begrudgingly, we absolutely love it! Many times you can find adorable outfits for about 80 to 90 percent off the prices you might pay for them at the mall. It’s like a treasure hunt! When we’re traveling, as we get close to the place we’re going to stay, we girls get online and start mapping out nearby thrift stores. (If our oldest brother Josh is with us, he’ll be locating every nearby pawnshop looking for equipment or items he can use or resell.)
Duggars simply love deals. Mom and Dad continuously teach us to “buy used and save the difference,” and we enjoy both the shopping and the savings.
We aren’t especially interested in labels, except maybe for those brands we know are well made and won’t fall apart in the laundry. We simply want to dress in a way that is modest and cute. We want to be respectful of those around us, and we don’t want those we meet and work with to be distracted by what we’re wearing.
It’s okay to enhance or accent whatever beauty God has given us, but we try to be careful not to wear clothes that are too tight and draw attention to the wrong places. But this does not mean we go out dressing frumpy or trying to look formless. Clothing can be cute, trendy, and stylish, and still entirely modest.
We do not dress modestly because we are ashamed of the body God has given us; quite the contrary. We realize that our body is a special gift from God and that He intends for it to be shared only with our future husband (Proverbs 5:18–20). For this reason, we avoid low-cut, cleavage-showing, gaping, or bare-shouldered tops; and when needed, we wear an undershirt. We try to make it a habit to always cover the top of our shirt with our hand when we bend over. We don’t want to play the peekaboo game with our neckline.
Scripture states in several places that the uncovering of the thigh is nakedness, so we have also chosen not to wear short skirts; our goal is to wear skirts that come below the knee.
It just makes sense that convictions should carry over into every area of life, so looking ahead, we each desire to maintain this standard of modesty when choosing our wedding dress. For us, this will mean finding a dress with sleeves and a modest neckline. We feel that many designers encourage girls to flaunt things to all their wedding guests that should be seen only by their groom. However, there are bridal companies who understand that it is possible to make wedding gowns absolutely gorgeous while being entirely modest. Several of our friends have purchased stunning dresses from designers such as www.beautifullymodest.com or www.totallymodest.com.
Everybody makes mistakes. Toddler Jana realized she’d made one when she pulled a long strand of toilet tissue off the roll—and then couldn’t figure out how to get it back on.
It is our goal to maintain modesty when we are swimming or participating in other activities as well. While long shorts and a swim shirt have worked in the past, we have now found many modest swimwear companies online that make cute styles that are both practical and comfortable for swimming. (One that we have used is wholesomewear.com.)
Mom says that after she became a Christian, she realized, I wouldn’t go out in public wearing just my bra and panties, but how is wearing a bikini or even a one-piece at the pool or beach any different than that? She felt convicted that there wasn’t any difference.
It’s true that boys need to keep their minds out of the gutter, but we girls also have a responsibility not to dress or act in a way that builds up sensual desires in guys.
As Christians, it is our hope that through the way we dress, act, and carry ourselves, others will be able to see God’s love shining through our faces, our words, and our actions. That’s the “clothing label” we want to wear.
As teenagers we may have gone through times when we were insecure and momentarily influenced by the world around us instead of by the God who made us. But through our parents’ prayers, and ultimately by God’s grace, God has brought us back to what’s really important. The stories of how that happened are what we hope to share with you in the following pages.