This week, I read Growing Up Duggar by Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar — “us girls,” if you will.
The first thing you need to know about “us girls” is that they all write with the same voice and that this voice seems to belong to a person who uses words like “youngsters” and “chums.”
Next, they really take up for their parents right off the bat. Their parents are totally able to spend more time individually with each of their 19 kids than most parents with only one or two kids.
Immediately, we are faced with four people “us girls” have talked to: a young girl in an orphanage, a single mother, a mother struggling with her teenage daughter’s interest in boys, and a girl in a juvenile detention center who doesn’t think God forgives her. That’s who this book is for: people the Duggar women made up.
They also tell us right away about the two types of women in this world: women who to go to Christian school and church three times a week and girls with piercings and tattoos hoping to be “fixed.”
Finally, the Duggar ladies want us to know that they wrote this book because they are super humble. Off we go.
Chapter 1- Your Relationship With Yourself
One thing is clear in this chapter: the Duggar girls see themselves as part of a single entity. Their identities as Duggars are very important.
Jill writes that when her parents had the house built, the kids decided they all wanted to stay in two big rooms. Jill and Jana were totally excited to share double beds with their younger siblings.
Jill also reveals the first of many anecdotes. Johanna once asked Jill if she could wear her retainer. Jill reminded Johanna that she could not conform to the mold of another person. A favorite quote emerges: “We Duggars do love to share a lot of things but, thankfully, dental appliances aren’t among them” (1).
The Duggar girls have struggled to accept themselves. Jill says she once spent 10 minutes trying to figure out what to wear, and then she walked out to see Jessa looking cute as hell in a new outfit and aviator sunglasses. As a result, Jill had to change again. It was a whole thing, and Jill almost made the family late for church because of a comparison. Jill says that as minimal as a momentary comparison may seem, these ideas can turn into thoughts like “I’m a failure” and “Nobody loves me.” It’s not clear why they don’t get into any of these deeper ideas, which would have been way more powerful and compelling.
It also becomes clear to me that this point that they have chosen a random assortment of photos with no rhyme or reason, and sometimes the captions make no sense. For example, one photo of three of the authors and one younger sister at Costco tells us that the Duggar family loves to shop at warehouse stores but that they usually shop for clothes at thrift stores.
Jessa describes herself as having been “the typical happy little Duggar kid,” which tells us a lot about the way these kids view their lives. Their identities are completely wrapped up in both being Duggars and in giving off the appearance of happiness.
Jessa tells the story of going to a birthday party and being terribly insulted when the birthday girl complimented a friend’s outfit but not hers! It was the physical demonstration of her own inner struggle. She wasn’t as perfect as the other girl! She wasn’t tall with beautiful hair and big brown eyes! She wasn’t as slender! It was a huge affront.
A “friend of ours” once told the Duggars that a girl’s outward appearance says who she is, not what she does. I have no idea what this means because they don’t really explain its relevance. Jill then tells us about an Italian family she met in which all the women got nose jobs, except for one who decided she wanted to be happy with the way God made her. It had an impact on “all us girls” because the girl accepted her “Italian nose.” This was followed by a picture of Jana making sushi with the younger kids for no reason at all.
The Duggar girls know that there are a lot of things you can’t change, but they also know there are things you can. For example, “most of us older Duggars have a tendency to gain weight” so mom prepares totally nutritious meals. They don’t have a stash of pre-made foods anywhere.
The ladies tell us that you can change your hair. They wear their long, but they could totally cut their hair if they wanted to. You know, if they didn’t want to violate 1 Corinthians 11:14–15.
Jana also says that she once put peroxide in her own hair without asking her mom! Oh boy! It turned her hair orange, and she got a lecture about trying to change her hair. Then, she tried to dye her hair to cover it and it turned jet black! If only she’d been content with the hair color God chose for her, she would not have had to live with dark hair for a short period of time!
The Duggars recommend that if you want to change your hair, you should pray about it first.
When it comes to choosing clothes, the girls have got you covered. First, you should know that they have strong convictions you might not. God convicts people of different things all the time, but that totally doesn’t mean they won’t judge the shit out of you while pretending not to. They only draw attention to parts of the body that enhance their natural beauty, and they don’t like to draw attention to the “wrong places.” They also use this time to link to two modest bridal companies and a modest swimwear line so you can also look like you love to swim in a giant trash bag.
This chapter leaves us with a final thought: “We girls also have a responsibility not to dress or act in a way that builds up sensual desires in guys.”