The Duggar Family Doesn’t Go to the Beach, and Why That’s Bad for Their Kids

The Duggar Family Doesn’t Go to the Beach, and Why That’s Bad for Their Kids July 1, 2012

by Sierra

This just in from the Department of Unintended Irony: Michelle Duggar makes a public statement about modesty, just to be sure you know how modest they are – too modest for the beach – in case you were straining your neck looking for their modest stairstep children in the crowd while you immodestly sunned your heathen midriff. After all, they’re so modest, they wouldn’t want you thinking and worrying about them too much!

Michelle Duggar poses with her family in the hospital after delivering a baby.

Michelle Duggar: We Don’t Wear Shorts – Or Go to the Beach!

Okay, guys, I’m turning off my snark filter. Really. It’s starting to overheat.

Before I go any further, you may be interested in checking out Libby Anne’s post Carefully Scripted Lives: My concerns about the Duggars. I am going to talk a bit below about isolation and doctrines of modesty and purity, two things that Libby Anne explains alongside the other less savory bits of the Duggars’ lifestyle. If you’re not familiar with the Christian patriarchy movement, that post should put the rest of my post in context for you.


Back to Michelle Duggar’s words.

This kind of article infuriates me. It does. I start chugging smoke out of my nostrils and seeing the world with an extra shiny pink tint, like a greasy undercooked steak. Is it because the idea of broadcasting your modesty to the world via a platform given to you by your televangelism (oh, excuse me, “reality show”) is stunningly hypocritical? Is it because of the obvious doublespeak pouring out of Michelle Duggar’s mouth when she claims that she doesn’t judge anyone else for their immodesty, but that God says exposed thighs mean nakedness and shame? Is it because the very act of setting yourself apart – and calling attention to your religious motives for doing so – is an inherently judgmental act? Yes, all of the above. But there’s one more thing.

The Duggars are denying their children their only opportunity to see real bodies.

Little girls have a hard enough time not hating their bodies without the modesty doctrine.

Michelle Duggar is worried about inciting lust in others, and about her sons lusting after other women on the beach. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that the beach and public pool are some of the world’s least sexy environments.

You know who goes to the beach? Everyone. From babies to octogenarians. People in all states of health, age, physical fitness, ability or disability, pregnancy, hairy or shiny, small or large, attractive or unattractive. That’s why I love it. What you see at the beach is real humanity, not the glossy, smoothed out images that scream “SEX!” from billboards. Real people. Michelle should be more worried about her young children staring rudely at people’s scars, cellulite, psoriasis and stretch marks than getting turned on at the beach.

The Boys:

Some fundamentalist men enter marriage without even knowing that women have underarm and pubic hair.

By keeping her sons out of the pool and off the beach, away from real women in bathing suits, what Michelle’s doing is setting them up for even more lust, followed by disappointment with and judgment of their wives.

As much as the Duggars will conspicuously turn away from magazines at the grocery store check-out aisle, they simply can’t shield their sons from picking up the falsified images of women on billboards, on flyers in the mail, on buses in cities, in storefronts, on the walls of malls they drive past – in short, everywhere. Jim Bob and Michelle may think that they’ve created an environment that’s totally sheltered from such influences, but I bet you could already get one of their toddlers to draw you a picture of a woman in a bikini if there was nobody around to stop him. Short of locking their kids on the ranch with a high-voltage fence, Hunger Games style, the Duggar parents can’t prevent their kids from seeing sexualized images of photoshopped naked women.

What they can do is make sure those are the only images of women their boys see until their wedding nights. They might be told that women don’t really look like that, but how should they know? They aren’t even allowed to see their sisters or mother in real swimsuits. How can you take a falsified image of female beauty and replace it with a healthy one when you aren’t allowed to see real people? How do you learn to appreciate real women’s bodies despite (or, heaven forfend, because of) their deviations from the standard? I would not want to be a bride facing her husband for the first time and knowing that he’s never seen a woman with “imperfections.”

The Girls:

An idealized female form.

By keeping her daughters out of the pool and off the beach, away from real women in bathing suits, what Michelle’s doing to her daughters is setting them up for a life of shame and self-hatred.

What goes for the boys also goes for the girls. How are they supposed to combat those same photoshopped, sexualized images and value their own bodies under those circumstances? They are fighting the body image battle alone. They are surrounded by touched-up photos of seamless, lumpless, hairless divas and their only counterexample is the bathroom mirror. Contrary to what most parents who teach the modesty doctrine want to believe, modesty does not erase competition or comparison. It just removes your frame of reference. Even now, after I’ve worked through most of my body image issues and no longer torment myself by withdrawing from food, going to the pool is an incredible release of pressure to me. I get there, sit around with normal people, notice the features that look like mine, and feel good. Like I’m normal. Just another human girl.

Women who don’t see other women end up imagining that they really all look flawless under their clothes. Because, let’s face it, clothes are deceptive. Even if they aren’t trying to be sexy, clothes create a mystery. How would a Duggar girl know if one of her sisters has asymmetrical breasts? How would a Duggar girl know that her underarm hair is normal? It’s not like they’re free to sit around and talk about their bodies like that. They’re almost as isolated from one another’s bodies as they are from the bodies on the beach. When the mind can’t replace that blank space with a real human body, it imagines the closest thing it can find: that fake image.

Growing up in “modest dress” was a profoundly lonely and insecure experience for me. I felt like a freak of nature when I saw women on billboards, magazines, and TV shows. I thought my muscles – my very source of power! – were ugly. I shaved the hair off my arms thinking it was too masculine. Eventually, I starved myself, too. Even skinny, I couldn’t figure out why I still had certain bulges that wouldn’t conform to the Standard Female Body. The only real women I saw were decked out in their most flattering outfits – even if they were skimpy, they managed to conceal any idiosyncrasies. I was literally convinced that I was the only girl in the world with stretch marks on her thighs and visible triceps (I didn’t even know what triceps were called!).

So let’s put two and two together now. Suppose a Modest Christian Girl marries a Modest Christian Boy. She brings all that insecurity into the marriage. He brings all his unfair expectations of her body. What could possibly go wrong?

The Dugggars aren’t just practicing one of their weird religious rituals. They’re actively isolating their children and implicitly training them to feel both superior and hopelessly insecure. They’re raising entitled boys with unrealistic expectations of their wives, and girls convinced that their bodies are flawed. Do I think the whole family is going to develop eating disorders or have horrible wedding nights? No, of course not. Do I think isolation hurts kids? Absolutely.


Perhaps the worst outcome of all is that both sexes of children are learning that people who expose their bodies at the beach do not deserve respect. Because Michelle and Jim Bob are fixated on keeping their children sheltered from raw humanity, the kids are receiving the message that imperfect bodies must be hidden (although fake, “perfect” bodies are everywhere to see). They are also learning that superiority that Michelle denies. Isolation does this almost by default. If you feel lonely and ostracized, you make up reasons why that makes you better than the crowd. And as a Duggar child, you don’t have to reach far to get hold of “sin” as the tool for defining the people you’re set apart from.

Boys are learning that women who go to the beach and wear swimsuits are trying to attract male lust, are “easy,” are immoral and unworthy of respect. They learn that men at the beach are there to gawk at women, are depraved and weak and unworthy of respect.
Girls are learning that women who go to the beach and wear swimsuits are trying to attract male lust, are insecure, weak and unworthy of respect. They learn that men at the beach are there to gawk at them, that they are just waiting to be “defrauded” and are bound for hell. Again, unworthy of respect.

The common thread is that both of them are judging others (yes, usually women) on their presence at the beach and choice of clothes. Real substantive measurements there, huh?

The beach and the pool are learning opportunities.

It’s good for children to experience a place where their bodies don’t attract particular attention, where they can learn to relate to others without always thinking about sex. Where they can see all kinds of bodies at all stages of life and feel less ashamed of themselves for being human. Where boys can learn to interact with girls as people, respectfully. Where girls can experience not having their bodies gawked or whistled at.

The pool is my favorite place to be. I’ve never been sexually harassed there. Even though there are lots of people around, it’s just me, my body, the water and the sun. The other people around me, relaxing contentedly, just add to the feeling of peace and happiness. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like part of a community of simple shared humanity. We’re people, we like to be warm and splash around a little. That’s all we need to know.

See also this great post on why body image matters.

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

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  • You’re right. We live in Florida, we go to the beach all the time, and that’s exactly what we see. Yes, there are some very pretty young women there with revealing bikinis, but if you look around you do not see men staring at them with their tongues out. And you see people, as you say, of all shapes and sizes, just having fun.

    I also see what I assume are very observant Muslim families where the MEN are wearing shorts and no shirts, but the WOMEN have only their faces, hands, and feet bared. It’s supposed to be modest but in this culture it actually draws attention to the women. And they are stared at, which they would not be if they had swimsuits on like everyone else. Sometimes in a family group the older women are covered like that but a couple of the younger ones might have a t-shirt and shorts, so maybe these things are being thought through.

  • Reminds me of one of my favorite bits from Diana Wynne Jones’ “Fire & Hemlock” (a great book). The girl, Polly (age about 13), has written a long story she is very proud of, and her favorite line is about the hero’s “powerful muscles rippling under the silken skin of his back.” She sends it to a grown friend for judgement and receives this letter: “Dear Polly, Tom wishes you, for some reason I can’t understand, to consider the human back. He says there are many other matters you should consider too, but that was a particularly glaring example. He invites you, he says, to walk along a beach this summer and watch the male citizens there sunning themselves. There you will see backs – backs stringy, backs bulging, and backs with ingrained dirt. You will find, he says, yellow skin, blackheads, pimples, enlarged pores and tufts of hair.
    This is making me ill, but Tom says go on. Peeling sunburn, warts, boils, moles and midge bites and floppy rolls of skin. Even a back without these blemishes, he claims, seldom or never ripples, unless with gooseflesh. In fact, he defies you to find an inch of silk or a single powerful muscle in any hundred yards of average sunbathers. I hope you know what all this is about, because I don’t. I think you should stay away from the seaside if you can. Yours ever, Sam.”

    Sorry, I just had to share…:)

  • La Rêveuse

    Link to Michelle’s post no longer works. I’d love to read it if you can find it again. Great post, thank you.

  • I find it amusing that the Duggars don’t want to incite lust or for their children to lust after others. It’s pretty obvious that this couple lust after each other all the time!! That many kids don’t come from holding hands modestly!!

  • Sierra, you are a genius. This post has true wisdom and insight.

    Michelle D claims exposed thighs mean nakedness and shame.

    Here is the actual text:

    Isa 47:2 Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.
    Isa 47:3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.

    From the text, there is a progressive uncovering: First her hair, then her legs, then the thigh. I wonder if “pass. over the rivers” is a Hebrew idiom having to do with nakedness or a quick insertion of another topic, but after that, her nakedness was uncovered. Only then is shame mentioned.

    If Michelle Duggar was right about naked thighs, then by that same interpretation hair should always be covered (uncovered hair is shameful!) and grinding flour is shameful too.

    Ironic that I have heard of Quiverful women grinding floor, and seeing it as the right thing to do…

  • Here’s TNIV:

    “Go down, sit in the dust,
    Virgin Daughter Babylon;
    sit on the ground without a throne,
    queen city of the Babylonians.[a]
    No more will you be called
    tender or delicate.
    2 Take millstones and grind flour;
    take off your veil.
    Lift up your skirts, bare your legs,
    and wade through the streams.
    3 Your nakedness will be exposed
    and your shame uncovered.
    I will take vengeance;
    I will spare no one. ”

    “Wade through the streams” makes sense here, and you would hitch your skirt up to do it. It’s not like she was deliberately flashing her thighs at people. And yes, the tender princess having to grind flour herself is a symbol of her degraded, ex-royal state. But this isn’t talking about a woman at all, actually, it’s talking about an entire city and using a woman as a metaphor. I have heard of proof-texting before, but good lord.

  • crneil

    Lifting the skirts and baring the legs is how a peasant would dress while working in the fields. The shame may not be nakedness but the fact that the queen is now having to do lowly physical labor instead of being waited on.

  • Persephone

    I think the younger women are probably not yet married, but it may also, I hope, show that the next generation is recognizing the difference between what is god’s law and what is man’s law. (I’ve heard the phrase several times recently, and it’s really stuck with me.)

  • Persephone

    That’s part of it, but it’s also symbolic in that a princess or queen does not have to dress to work; her clothing is for display and a symbol of her position. A women who has to arrange her clothing to accommodate her work, in effect showing that she is a peasant and, therefore, lacking the protections granted noblewomen.

    I get sick of people claiming that feminism has destroyed chivalry. Chivalry only applied to the nobility. A knight could rape a peasant woman without worry. If the woman was the relative of a valuable servant of another lord, he might have to pay some recompense, but there was little chance of that.

    In essence, a peasant woman is naked for any man to see. A noblewoman is only seen naked by her husband. There are sexual issues here, but they are not related to enflaming lust, but to the general abuse of poor women in society.

  • Lisa

    This really makes me think of the times I’ve been at “clothing-optional” Pagan festivals. I remember telling a co-worker about it and she just could not get over the nakedness thing. I tried explaining to her that it really wasn’t a big deal, there was nothing sexual about it. I mean, everything was just right out there without any mystery or enticement. She couldn’t seem to wrap her head around the idea, though, and kept giggling like a middleschooler and making insinuations that all the men must have been secretely lusting after the women while the women stared at their junk. I was very disappointed that a grown woman could have such a childish view of the human body. It made me recall reading a novel where a foreign character was horrorfied by Greek fashions that left women’s breast exposed. She said “rape in Greece must be endemic!” to which one of the men replied “You will find a thing loses its appeal when it is always available.”
    What I’m trying to say is, I think you’re dead right about Fundie Christians thinking (and worrying) about lust and sex more than people raised without these ridiculous purity standards. The higher you put the cookie jar, the more people will wonder how tasty the cookies inside must be.

  • Lisa

    There’s a saying that appears in many traditional (patriarchal) cultures that really encapsulates this. It has different structures and translations but the basic concept boils down to: “No man’s woman is every man’s woman.”
    It means exactly what you implied. If you don’t have a man to speak for you, to say “That woman belongs to me/is under my protection, and anyone who assaults her has violated my property rights and must answer to my authority,” you are (figuratively and sometimes literally) screwed. That’s what most people don’t seem to really grasp about the Bible’s attitude towards women, modesty and purity. It was written in a time period when a woman’s virtue might be the only valuable thing she possessed, which her family could barter (through marriage) for a secure future. At that time, saying something like “If you rape a woman, you cannot simply cast her aside. You must marry her and compensate her family” was really revolutionary. It offered women more protection against being defiled and cast aside than they had ever had before. But in a time period when we’ve finally decided to acknowledge that women are human beings who can speak for and defend themselves, it becomes ridiculous to take a set of rules from an ancient and totally opposing perspective and impose them on the modern day.

  • Elizabeth

    You hit the nail on the head! I grew up in a ridgidly fundamentalist home, and looking at a boy was BBBAAADDDD. I remember learning that same thing about Greek fashions and havin the same reaction. Now that I’m out in the world, I’ve learned it doesn’t work that way, and I’m finally shaking that ridiculous modesty teachin off. It really does sexualize EVERYTHING!

  • I happened upon your blog on google and check out a few of your early articles. Stick with the very good articles. Ill probably be by again to read more, thanks for the information!.

  • rosemerry

    I was intrigued to see that every one of the Duggars was in Missouri supporting the infamous Todd Akin for the Senate. Their extreme ideas about abortion and even contraception seem to overpower any real Christian virtues relating to peace and brotherhood. For GOP candidate they all suported Rick Santorum. Even in a small family there are always differences of opinion. I wonder how ringmaster JimBob manages to get every Duggar to have the same ideas.

  • Iris

    I really liked your article and I think you’re dead right about the girls becoming completely insecure about their bodies. After all, it’s already quite hard for “normal” girls (and boys too sometimes) My family is anything but religious…I’ve seen my parents naked plenty of times and, by now, a couple of boyfriends. What lacked were other girls my age though – I don’t have any sisters and the most you’d see during P.E in school was people in underwear. I didn’t worry overmuch about my looks and I didn’t develop any unhealthy habits, but still: For some time in my teens looks were (and sometimes they still are) an issue. Of course my mother reassured me I was quite alright.
    It didn’t help at all.
    You know what *really* helped me?
    Taking karate lessons. There were young girls and women from 15 to 50 and they all showered afterwards. Skinny women, plump women, women with big breats and women with small ones. Everyone had some part that was pretty and everyone had parts that were less pretty (in a conventional way). Not everyone shaved everywhere (what a relief!). One of them has huge hanging down labia I will probably remember for the rest of my life. I had no idea they could be that way! She’s married with two kids and since they are also not religious I’m pretty sure her husband saw her naked plenty of times before he bought the ring so…can’t have been that big of a deal.
    What can I say, it was a revelation. Of course, besides seeing other women naked I also grew up and mostly left puberty (I’m 21 now) but I’m convinced that karate was the major reason why I started feeling so much better about my body. I quit it now because it’s not the right sport for me but I still vividly remember my “light bulb” moments when I realised that the women I imagined looked flawless actually didn’t. They looked okay. I looked okay. I’m not claiming that I now have it all figured out and don’t worry about my looks at all but it took a lot of pressure off of me.
    If I try to imagine that I had never seen another woman naked and never seen a naked man until my wedding night – my brain just goes “poof”. I’d probably need therapy after the first week because I’d still believe that underneath their clothes every woman looked gorgeous except me.

  • Iris

    That looked so much shorter when I wrote it …

  • Melanie

    What a stupid blogpost.

    Maybe we should all just walk around naked, so we do not have self image problems. ?? The reasoning here is insane. The Duggars are one of the few familes who get it right.

  • JMH

    Funny thing about Chivalry… anyone that does any good research into the middle ages can tell you that Chivalry *came from feminism*. It was a huge leap forward, the idea that it was distasteful to just ravage any woman you felt like, that it was an act of love to let her make the first move.
    I wouldn’t want to stay there for nothing, but I honour its place in history.

  • Amen. Society has become so “used” to giving in to this world’s ugly obsession with filth in all directions they don’t understand that the Duggar’s standards are actually what we need. Christian standards are the only standards that will save us.

  • suzannecalulu

    Actually, no, we fully understand what the Duggar’s ‘standards’ mean. It all boils down to control. Like almost Communitistic control, the denial of all that is truly Christian for a false judgmental cult that reduces women as walking uterii and men as beasts unable to control their own animal urges. Most everyone here has escaped from a similar type of spiritual abuse.

    Now if you wish to keep living in that type of belief system that’s your business. But don’t come here and try to say that the Duggars and fundamental evangelicalism is anything but toxic or preach to us, or mention Jesus in the same breath you bash members.

  • OMG this makes me mad too!!!!