The four eldest Duggar daughters write in Growing Up Duggar: It’s All About Relationships about modesty. “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,” said the four adult daughters. “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.”
The girls said they also use “Nike” as a code word to warn their 10 brothers and dad about an immodestly dressed woman.
“That’s a signal to the boys, and even to Dad, that they should nonchalantly drop their eyes and look down at their shoes as we walk past her,” the girls explained. “It’s meant to help keep the guys’ eyes from seeing things they shouldn’t be seeing. By using the single-word signal, the warning can be given quietly and discreetly.”
“She had no idea that dancing around in a short skirt in front of a bunch of boys was causing many of them to think sensual thoughts about her and the other cheerleaders,” daughters Jill, Jana, Jessa and Jinger wrote of their mom’s high-school days. “She also used to go to school dances but stopped participating when God convicted her that dancing stirred up a lot of sensual desires in young men and women that could not be righteously fulfilled.”
The Duggar girls — who refrain from dancing and revealing shoulders or upper legs — praised Michelle for quitting the cheerleading team when she found God in the middle of her senior year.
“A lot of people didn’t understand why she would choose to give up one of the most coveted positions in the high school, but that was where she felt God was leading her,” the girls said of their mom, who was then known by maiden name Michelle Ruark. They added she was rewarded around the same time by meeting Jim Bob Duggar, whom she married a three months after graduation.
Michelle Duggar, the matriarch from 19 Kids and Counting, revealed she struggled with bulimia during high school and the early stages of her relationship with Jim Bob Duggar.
“I found out that genetically I could put on weight easily, but with my activities, gymnastics and cheerleading, it was important for me not to,” Michelle told People about the impetus of her eating disorder, which she said began at the age of 14. “I would look around and compare myself to my friends, saying, ‘oh my, she’s so small,’ or ‘she has such skinny legs.”
Michelle said the pressure to look a certain way led her to purge whenever she ate more calories than “acceptable” or indulged in sweets.
“I was doing it sometimes on a daily basis, or sometimes I would go a week,” Michelle said about throwing up. “I felt this was the answer to my problems.”
Michelle was still struggling with the eating disorder when she met Jim Bob Duggar at the age of 16. She said he was the first person she opened up to about her harmful habits.
“I shared this struggle with him and he said he would help me and help keep me accountable,” Michelle said, explaining he encouraged her to call whenever she felt the urge to throw up. “I just know that I would be tempted and I would have the crazy thought that I wanted to throw up, not hold onto the calories. Thank God it didn’t go on longer than it did or I could have done horrible damage to my body.”
As Michelle and Jim Bob went on to raise a (extra large) family, Michelle never hid her history with low self-esteem from her nine daughters. But, she only agreed to speak publicly about her experience for the sake of her eldest daughters’ upcoming book, Growing Up Duggar.
“When the girls were writing their book, they brought this up and I thought, if my sharing it is going to help another young lady, then I want to share it.”