Michelle Duggar knows all about mom body issues.
The mother of 19 children, who with her family stars in TLC's reality series "19 Kids and Counting," says she gained a few pounds with each baby. Happens to a lot of women and it's no big deal if you have a couple kids. But when you hit double digits, those few pounds start to add up.
"It snuck up on me," Michelle Duggar told TODAY Moms in an exclusive interview for our Love Your Selfie body image series. "Before I knew it, I was 40 pounds overweight."
That was about 10 years ago; she lost the weight and kept it off with a combination of better eating and exercise. And she's happy with her body now. Of course, it's not the body she had pre-babies. But she's OK with that — and here are 19 reasons why.
1. God. The Duggars are Christian, and her faith in God helps Michelle avoid obsessing over her bodily imperfections. After all, God gave her this body, so who is she to complain? "I am not the center of my universe, Jesus is," Michelle says.
Her religious faith also helps motivate her to work out in the mornings when she'd rather stay in bed; she figures God wants her to take care of her body: "I don't want to get up at 6 in the morning and get on the elliptical, but I take myself off the throne and put Jesus on the throne."
2. Her daughters. Michelle says she's very mindful that her nine daughters, as well as her 10 sons, look to her for cues as to how they should feel about their own appearance. "A mama really sets the tone more than anyone else," she says.
3. She doesn't let the haters bring her down. As Michelle and husband Jim Bob's fecundity has sometimes become a topic of national discussion, Michelle is often the butt of jokes. Strangers speculate on the condition of her body. Does she care? Nope. See No. 1. "I don't want to reject my critics, there could be some truth" in criticism, she says gently. "But at the same time I'm not going to let it dictate who I am. Truly, my Lord is the one I want to please."
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4. They're worth it. Michelle and Jim Bob decided early on in their marriage that they would not use any method of birth control and instead to "let God decide" how many children they would have. They believe children are blessings from God, and everything that comes along with those kids? Also a blessing. "The stretch marks and the little pudgy places, those are my marks of glory for my kids," Michelle says. "I look at Jordyn, I look at Jackson and I think, 'I remember that stretch mark. You were worth it. And I wouldn’t trade that stretch mark for anything.'"
5. No fat talk. Michelle says she pays attention to how she talks to herself about her appearance. Husband Jim Bob has noted that expectations can kill relationships. The same is true, Michelle says, with body image: she tries not to expect too much of herself. "It helps to talk to ourselves the right way," she says. "We are hard on ourselves. We believe lies. We’re constantly bombarded with 'oh, you’re so fat' — those are lies."
6. Jim Bob. Michelle credits her husband for always making her feel beautiful and never criticizing her appearance, even at her heaviest weight. "Jim Bob has NEVER put me down for my body. He has NEVER mocked me for my mommy tummy," she says. "He is one of my biggest encouragers."
7. She doesn't compare herself to others. This is another good example to set, especially when you have nine daughters. "We're always going to find somebody skinnier than we are, somebody bigger than we are," she says. "Every girl struggles with, 'Oh, I wish I looked like that or I wish my hair was like that.' We go back to the point of who you are and how God made you – you’re not your sister. It’s all about being who God wants YOU to be."
8. She forgives herself. No one is perfect, and when you have 19 kids there's plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Michelle says she tries not to beat herself up, whether the slip-up is a forgotten appointment or a few extra pounds. "Forgiveness makes the home a more peaceful and harmonious place," she says.
9. She got in shape! Loving your body doesn't mean accepting an unhealthy weight. When Michelle realized her weight gain was slowing her down and causing her pain, she made changes. "When I dropped that 40 pounds I felt physically so much better. I had more stamina," she says. Weight Watchers helped her lose the weight. "I had to write down everything I put in my mouth and oh, my word, you talk about accountability."
10. She made fitness fun for the family. Like everything Duggar, Michelle's quest to lose weight was a family project. When you can't escape for an hour at the gym, you make your family part of your fitness routine. "Every evening after dinner we'd all go out walking, I would push the baby and I would walk for an hour. Just enjoying that time outside with my kids."
11. She gives thanks. Especially after her pre-eclampsia health scare with her youngest, Josie, who was born prematurely and is now a healthy 4-year-old, Michelle tries to appreciate the fact that she and her family are generally healthy. "I praise God for the life I’ve had so far, the health I’ve had; I don’t take that for granted," she says.
12. Support from friends. Every morning she texts her friend Cindy; they motivate each other to work out and send each other uplifting messages. "It's good to have outside accountability," Michelle says.
13. She doesn't worry about trends. Hairstyle/clothes/makeup of the moment? Not for Michelle. When she got her hair cut and straightened for a "makeover" on the show, she smiled politely... and then went back to doing her hair the way she's always done it, trends notwithstanding. And when she learned that her favorite style was something derisively called a "mullet"? She laughed. (See No. 3.)
14. No bikini body stress. Michelle and her children dress "modestly," meaning she and the girls cover up from neck to knee. Even while swimming. While the full-coverage swimsuits she favors don't look like the coolest things on the beach, at least she's spared any bathing suit angst.
15. She focuses on relationships. At the end of the day, Michelle says, her life is all about her relationships with God, with family and with others — not what she looks like. "The whole view of who I am is not about that physical body, but it's how I respond to the relationships in my life," she says.
16. She accepts what she can't change. Michelle says she always tells her children there are a list of things they won't be able to change in life, appearance and aging among them. "This is life, and it's about character," she says.
17. Thou shalt not covet. Envying others just leads to bitterness, which makes for an unhappy life, Michelle says. "If you take out resentment and become envious and covetous – that includes coveting someone else’s metabolism," Michelle says. Sure, everyone has those feelings occasionally, she says, but when it happens "we humble ourselves before God and pray about it."
18. She's open to having more children. Michelle's last pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in 2011, but she and Jim Bob say more children are always possible. After being pregnant or nursing a baby almost constantly for the past 26 years, Michelle says it's a little odd NOT to be sharing her body with a baby. "Every month, I think, 'Well Lord, are you going to give us another baby?'" she says.
19. God. Again. Yes, religion is a big part of the Duggars' lives and Michelle's self-image, so we're counting Him twice. "One of the things that we have talked a lot about in our relationship and with our kids is the self-image that we have, looking at life from God’s point of view," she says. "It's about accepting yourself how God made you."
"It goes back to that relationship with our Lord, ultimately," Michelle says. "A child is a gift, and we don’t reject the fact that my body changes. We embrace that gift and we embrace the fact that there will be some changes, there will be some stretch marks."
Amen to that.