The Duggar Sisters Are Finally Able To Connect With Fans Authentically, But They're Squandering It

The Duggars of "19 Kids & Counting" once seemed like a breath of fresh air in a reality-show universe that included Kardashians throwing their wealth around and "Survivor" contestants eating bugs. But their own reality proved to be just as shocking: The family belonged to a controversial church that dictated their clothing, entertainment, education, and love lives. Parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar allegedly used corporal punishment to instill obedience in their children. Jim Bob has been called "controlling" and "verbally abusive" by one of his own daughters. Then, of course, there was oldest son Josh, whose conviction on charges of horrific crimes put an end to the Duggars' TV careers. It also apparently polarized the family over the question of his guilt.

The 11 married Duggar siblings must feel liberated now that they're out of both their childhood home and the spotlight. The brothers have opted to keep their lives private; Joseph Duggar hasn't updated his personal blog in almost three years. The married sisters — Jill Duggar Dillard, Jinger Duggar Vuolo, Jessa Duggar Seewald, and Joy-Anna Duggar Forsyth — are more open about sharing their everyday struggles and triumphs with their millions of fans through social media. Now that they're not bound to TV contracts, the sisters are free to be their true selves and speak their minds. Sometimes, they get it right; other times, unfortunately, their attempts to connect fall flat. If the Duggar sisters really want to be relatable to their audiences, they need to clarify their post-TV identities, solidify their personal messaging, and be more selective about what they share.

Jill's sponsorships feel forced

Jill Duggar Dillard is by far the free spirit of the Duggar sisters. She and her husband, Derick Dillard, cut ties with the reality series in 2017 so they could pursue their own goals. Even more bravely, she distanced herself from her father, Jim Bob, due to a dispute over his allegedly withholding their TV earnings. She was also one of the few siblings who spoke out against her brother Josh after his arrest and conviction: "God has carried out his vengeance today for [Josh's] unspeakable criminal activity," she wrote on her family blog. Having fought back against being controlled, Jill has repeatedly flouted her parents' teachings on clothing, music, and birth control. She even sports a nose ring — an accessory she would never have been allowed to wear at home. The "earthy" Duggar is living authentically at last. 

What's not so authentic, however, are Jill's paid sponsorships on Instagram. She may love her sons' swim school and her favorite boho home decorating company, but advertising always has an air of phoniness that goes against her personal style. Sometimes they're off-brand, too: Jill is proud of her cooking skills, which makes it odd to see her showing off a pan of homemade oatmeal bars one day and promoting a meal subscription box the next. Instead of positioning herself as a spokesperson, Jill should take a cue from sister Jinger and write her own memoir. It's time for the world to hear her side of the story.

Jinger says she's free — but is she?

Jinger Duggar Vuolo has distinguished herself as the sister who publicly renounced her parents' church. Her bestselling memoir, "Becoming Free Indeed," blasts the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) as a "cult-like" organization. The church's rigid rules, she explains, were not only un-Biblical, they also made her depressed and fearful of being punished by God if she dared to show a knee or listen to Michael Bublé. It wasn't until Jinger left home to get married that she realized that she could wear shorts and still be a good Christian. Like Jill, she has been openly critical of brother Josh, calling him hypocritical and agreeing that his jail sentence was justice well served. 

But while tons of fans are in Jinger's corner, others are still concerned about her future. Wed to Jeremy Vuolo, a soccer player-turned-pastor, she now belongs to his church, a non-denominational congregation that's almost as conservative as the one she left. Divorce is frowned upon, as are Catholicism, psychological counseling, and LGBTQ+ rights. Women are forbidden to hold leadership positions in the church, and they're discouraged from working outside the home, according to the church website. As in the IBLP, households are led by men, and fathers have the main say in raising children. Can Jinger truly connect with her fans as the "free" Duggar child if her personal choices are still limited? Many will be watching to see how her beliefs continue to evolve.

Jessa hasn't yet found her influencer voice

Of the married Duggar sisters, Jessa Duggar Seewald is following the most closely in the family footsteps. While she probably won't break mom Michelle's impressive childbirth record, Jessa has the second-largest family of the sisters. Her four children range in age from 7-year-old Spurgeon to 1-year-old Fern. (Sadly, Jessa suffered a devastating loss when she miscarried in February; she had a previous miscarriage before her pregnancy with Fern.) Jessa has embraced the homeschooling mom role she trained for all her life; her Instagram feed is full of sweet and humorous parenting moments.

Like her sisters, Jessa, too, has entered into a number of sponsored promotions on Instagram. For a busy young mom, it would seem like the perfect way to add to the family income without having to sacrifice time with the kids. But so far, Jessa hasn't created a definitive brand. Her partnerships have ranged from a Walmart Christmas craft box to a furniture company, a robotic vacuum, a kids' learning app, and a local coffee roaster — a pretty broad range of interests. Rarely does she advertise the same thing twice. Though some fans might buy anything endorsed by a Duggar family member, others might see this as a former reality star's way of getting free merch. One of Jessa's sponsorships also stirred debate: a Christian health cost-sharing company whose members have complained about its slow reimbursement process. If Jessa wants to become a major influencer, she needs to establish a solid niche.

Joy's realism sometimes gets too real

Joy-Anna Duggar Forsyth's realistic take on motherhood is a welcome change from the idealized life shown on "19 Kids." A typical Joy post on Instagram might show her children Gideon and Evelyn barefoot and muddy, a pantry strewn with coffee grounds, or a selfie showing her "oily hair [and] breakouts." Now that she's expecting her third child — a boy — she's sure to encounter even more relatable moments.

But some of Joy's content is wince-y. Her videos of the kids riding ATVs without helmets and playing near their father's hunting rifle are giving her a rep for carelessness. When she has nothing special to share on her weekly YouTube updates, it can feel like scrolling through your aunt's 200 photos of her trip to Mt. Rushmore. Joy's pregnancy announcement and gender reveal were exciting, but did we really need to see footage of the Forsyths assembling a bunk bed? Or going to the doctor, only to learn they came on the wrong day? 

To keep her followers engaged, Joy could do a weekly Q&A similar to the one she posted on March 18. As The U.S. Sun reported, Joy finally revealed why she broke her family's skirts-only dress code. "[My husband and I] just looked through Scripture for a long time and feel like this is okay for our family and where we are," she said. As sis Jinger has discovered, sharing the truth behind their upbringing is key to staying relevant as a Duggar.