It's hard to imagine what Michelle Duggar might've looked like at a younger age. We've seen a few throwback photos from her early days of marriage to Jim Bob, but when we picture teenage Michelle, we mainly think of her still in her big, long dresses and skirts, covering up pretty much all of her exposed skin except for her arms. You know, the way her daughters dress. But it turns out, back in the day, teenage Michelle was pretty different from the mom of 19 we know now.
Michelle Duggar in High School
Back in her early days of high school, Michelle used to rock short skirts a plenty. After all, she was a member of the cheerleading team. Yep, she was a cheerleader — and a gymnast too, showing off the skin-bearing uniforms that came with participating in both sports. "She was a pretty, popular cheerleader," revealed a source who went to high school with Michelle. "The cheerleaders and football players all hung out and partied together, and she was part of that group."
— TLC Network (@TLC) March 9, 2015
In fact, being a cheerleader is allegedly what initially attracted Jim Bob to his future wife. They started dating when Michelle was just 16 and, and though they got serious quickly, they also, uh, got physical. "When Michelle and I were dating, we took things farther than we should have," he admitted according to Radar Online. And making out with her boyfriend wasn't the only time that the now-extremely conservative Duggar matriarch acted in ways that would've broken her own parenting rules.
She also used to mow her lawn as a teenager while wearing nothing but a bikini. Which, honestly, isn't really that scandalous, but is pretty much unheard of for the Duggar family, who don't even wear bathing suits to swim — or go to the beach at all. In fact, the Duggar sons aren't even really supposed to look at women in bikinis. When there's a hint of anything that might trigger lusty impulses, one of the family members is supposed to say, "Nike," which lets all the men and boys know to avert their gaze. So what changed between the mom's teen years and adulthood?
Michelle Duggar and Jim Bob
Well, pretty much the answer is marriage. They were young when they tied the knot, too — Michelle only 17 and Jim Bob 19. The future mom of 19 started to take religion more seriously at the age of 15 after seeing a movie that made her think about death. It's an anecdote she shared on 19 Kids and Counting, and fans in the /r/CountingOn subreddit have some good ideas about what it might be. Theories range from the 1980 fundamentalist apocalypse flick Image of the Beast to the 1983 nuclear holocaust horror The Day After. Whatever the movie was, it scarred Michelle into thinking about the afterlife — and whole-heartedly embracing Christianity. Her renewed religion (plus her cheer skirt) made her a perfect match for her husband.
Their married life wasn't terribly different from their dating life at first, but over time, their belief system grew more strict. At first, the husband and wife even used birth control to prevent any unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. It was only once they suffered a miscarriage, after the birth of their first son Josh Duggar, that they changed their minds. They blamed the contraception for the loss of their pregnancy and swore to never use it again. That marked Michelle's first major step towards becoming the mother of 19 she is today.
The second came later, after the parents discovered that Josh had been molesting two of his sisters. Michelle and Jim Bob decided that the solution would be to keep their sons and daughters separated. Boys and girls weren't allowed to be alone together, even in a game of hide and seek, "little ones don’t sit on big boys’ laps," and they started dressing more modestly.
Of course, it didn't help that the already religious couple was becoming even more involved in their church over the years. Following the Institute in Basic Life Principles teachings, and the ATI curriculum, the Duggars put a heavy emphasis on teaching girls how not to temp men — and teaching boys how to avoid "temptation" rather than learning how to reconcile it. Their religion goes so far as to demonize having a crush on anyone other than your future spouse. Modesty is paramount. And if something as horrible as sexual assault befalls you, like it did two of the Duggar daughters, it's considered not solely your assaulter's fault, but also your own. Whether they didn't cry out, had been "evil with friends," or exposed themselves indecently by — god forbid — wearing clothes that showed their knees, the church would lay some of the blame squarely at the victim's feet.
Michelle Duggar, age 51
These days, Michelle Duggar is pretty much a totally different person than she was as a teen. And though, yeah, everybody grows up, her values and rules seem to have wildly changed. In fact, we have to imagine her teenage self would be pretty horrified at them. Michelle's kids aren't allowed to dance, engage in physical intimacy beyond side-hugs before marriage, wear pants or even shorts, or swim in anything less than a full dress. Teenage Michelle, with her cheer dances, cheer skirts, bikinis in the front yard, and boyfriends, breaks pretty much every rule. She lived by her own rules — and seemed to be in charge of her own life.
But as it turns out, adult Michelle is equally horrified in hindsight. "[When] I mowed the lawn in a bikini, [I] had no idea what I was doing to my neighbor's husband across the street. No wonder the woman hated our family — you know? And, I think I had no clue as far as the responsibility I had in that the way I dressed caused men to have struggles," she told PopSugar. Michelle definitely chose the life that she wanted, even if that includes blaming her teenage self for an adult man's inappropriate attractions. We just hope her children have the freedom to do the same.