The Duggars were once the first family of reality show channel TLC. Those days are gone, but people still take an interest in their lives. After their original show was cancelled, many fans just jumped ship to the spinoff series Counting On. But one family member, Joy-Anna Duggar, seemed to have had enough of it all. And based on what the show tells us, can you blame her?
Joy-Anna Duggar was the ninth child of the religious Duggar family and grew up with a camera following her around from age ten. She was born to Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Duggar in October 1997, and she was pretty much bang in the middle of the family, as ten more kids came after her. You’ve read that right, this is one big and happy family. Or is it?
In November 2016 the 19-year-old Joy-Anna revealed she was in a “courtship” with a male friend named Austin Forsyth. Courtship is what the Duggars do instead of dating. Yes, Duggar kids can only “court” the person they intend to marry, and there’s to be no sex outside marriage or even kissing. So incredibly liberal then.
Austin proposed to Joy-Anna in March 2017. In the Counting On episode “Joy Gets Engaged” viewers got to witness Austin creating a romantic cliffside dinner for Joy-Anna and then getting down on one knee for her. The reality TV cameramen hid in the bushes so as not to ruin the moment, but well, it still might have dampened the romance somewhat.
And the pair were married in May 2017, not long after the proposal. Almost a thousand guests were invited. Joy-Anna’s bridesmaids included her sisters Johannah, Jana, Jinger, Jennifer and Jessa – yes, all the Duggar children have names beginning with J. Plus the wedding marked what was presumably the first time Joy-Anna and Austin had ever kissed. Cute!
Not long after the wedding, in August 2017, Joy-Anna announced she was having a baby. And the couple’s first child, Gideon Martyn, was born in February 2018. Everything seemed idyllic for the young reality TV star. But was it really? Because the Duggar family had been somewhat controversial for a while, after all.
If you didn’t already know, the Duggars are a fundamentalist Christian family. And they homeschool their children and don’t allow them to watch much television or movies. Plus, perhaps most notably of all, they don’t use birth control. They say only God can decide the number of children they have. That’s probably why Jim Bob and Michelle have ended up with so many.
It’s been suggested in the past that the Duggars appeared to be following the controversial teachings of the Quiverfull movement. This preaches, amongst other things, that families should have a lot of children, and women should be deferential to men. But to be fair, the family have always denied it. One thing they have been associated with, however, is the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a religious organization that’s been likened to a cult.
The IBLP have been criticized before following concerns over their reported set of rules for followers. You’ve guessed it, they’re said to be a pretty draconian bunch, including that certain clothes and music are a bad thing. And let’s not even bother getting into one alleged teaching about miscarriage. Still, for some reason the Duggers turned to the organization once a family crisis reared its head in 2015.
And this crisis actually got the family’s original show 19 Kids and Counting cancelled. In May 2015 Joy-Anna’s older brother, Josh Duggar, was accused of historic sexual abuse against girls, including his sisters. TLC swiftly cancelled the show and released a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time.”
But that was far from the end of the Duggars’ troubles. Because just a few months after the first scandal got the show cancelled, it transpired that Josh had been cheating on his wife via the website Ashley Madison. So it became clear that there was no way he was getting back his place in the public eye.
When details came out about Josh’s sexual abuse, committed when he was still a teen, the media dug into what the Duggar parents had done about it at the time. And it turned out that they had sent him to – guess where? The IBLP, where he’d done “faith-based healing” at one of the organization’s training centers. Nice touch! And he wasn’t the only member of the family to visit one.
Because Joy-Anna’s husband Austin is also associated with the IBLP. And in 2010 before he got engaged to Joy-Anna, he attended one of their youth retreats. That’s far from being the only bit of controversy that surrounds him, though. Because Austin’s parents, Terry and Roxanne Forsyth, run a place called the “Fort Rock Family Camp and Christian Retreat Center.”
Putting aside the fact that online reviews for the place aren’t exactly stellar, in 2018 the camp hosted authors Debi and Michael Pearl as guests. Apparently, the Forsyths are friends with them. And the Pearls’ book To Train Up a Child allegedly promotes hitting children with tubing as a form of discipline. But there’s more.
According to the CheatSheet website, the Duggar parents themselves allegedly follow the concept of “blanket training” from the Pearls’ book. This reportedly involves placing an ill-disciplined child on a blanket in the middle of a room and giving them a whack whenever they try to move off it. Yikes! Second generation Duggars, however, have condemned the practice.
Plus there’s no indication that Austin himself believes in “blanket training.” But throughout his marriage to Joy-Anna he’s continued to be associated with the IBLP. In 2019 he appeared in a video on the company’s website about how as a youth he, “began to spend time with wrong friends and rebel against his parents.”
The extended Duggar clan is very big on respecting parents. But apparently some members have had issues with Jim Bob, the patriarch. Jill Duggar’s husband Derick Dillard, for instance, has claimed that Jim Bob keeps any money the family earns from the TV show. And the son-in-law also alleged that Jim Bob controls the lives of his children on social media, according to CheatSheet. Jill and Derick left the show in 2017, and Jill’s statement about it appeared ambiguous.
In an October 2020 YouTube video she released with her husband, Jill left plenty of room for fans to fill in the blanks. She said, “We found out we didn’t have as much control over our lives as it related to the show and stuff, as we needed… We had to make a decision at that time to kind of put the show aside.”
But Jill also said in the video, “There’s been some distancing [from relatives] there. We’re not on the best terms with some of my family. We’ve had some disagreements and stuff, but we’re working toward healing definitely and restoration.” Leaving the show, she said, felt “like it was the best thing” for her kids.
And then Joy-Anna appeared to follow in her sister’s footsteps. Because when a new season of Counting On was advertised in May 2020, Joy-Anna and Austin were not in the promo picture. And the Reddit community DuggarsSnark instantly started speculating. One person said, “I wonder if Joy and Austin are officially defecting. She made [a] pregnancy announcement [on a] YouTube video instead of going through the show.”
Another Redditor wrote, “So not only are Jill and Derrick out of it… but so are Joy and Austin. Good for them!” More tellingly, another person wrote, “Where are Joy and Austin?” only to get the response “I didn’t notice they were missing.” And neither had TLC, was the obvious joke to be gotten out of that. Because the channel had given no advance warning the pair wouldn’t be on the show anymore.
Plus the promo image was just a taste of things to come – because Joy-Anna and Austin weren’t on the actual show. On the official TLC YouTube channel a fan wrote underneath a June 2020 clip, “They totally took Joy out of this season. No interviews with her?” In reply another person claimed that she had quit.
Eventually Jill’s husband Derick confirmed on Instagram that Joy-Anna and Austin wouldn’t be on the show anymore. He did it in the form of a swipe at his extended family, however, writing on TLC’s Instagram, “I wish all the siblings would have been invited to family game night by Zoom… We quit filming, not family life. Joy and Austin also quit filming, but they were there.”
What had gone on? Well, there have long been rumors that Joy-Anna didn’t want to follow the strict, domineering rules of her family. Although she married Austin in May 2017, the original wedding date was actually supposed to be in October of that year. And then an announcement of a pregnancy came in August. Was Joy-Anna pregnant out of wedlock?
As it happened, Gideon Martyn was born exactly nine months after the couple’s wedding day. So maybe there was no behind-the-scenes reason for changing the date after all. But both halves of the couple have publicly admitted that they struggle with the harsh rules of the religious set they were born into.
For example, in a July 2017 episode of Counting On, Austin admitted that he once hugged Joy-Anna from the front (gasp!) before marrying her. Like sex and kissing pre-marriage, this is forbidden. And in a March 2018 episode, Joy-Anna gave a revealing speech at her brother Joseph’s rehearsal dinner. She told him, “You really did change my life… I think I was having a hard time taking my parents’ faith as my own and you really befriended me as an older brother.”
But then in 2019 Joy-Anna and Austin suffered a terrible blow. They planned to have another baby, but Joy-Anna suffered a miscarriage. The couple wrote on Instagram, “What a precious thing to know that when our daughter opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the face of Jesus. Please pray for continued healing, not only physically but for our hearts as well.”
So Joy-Anna and Austin understandably took a 10-day hiatus from social media after losing their baby. When they returned, they posted a photograph of their son Gideon, aged one at the time, sleeping against his mother. Many people left comments to wish the family well and send their condolences.
Yet Joy-Anna did conceive again. In March 2020 she announced she and Austin were expecting another child. By this time the pair had started their own YouTube channel to connect with fans, seemingly distancing themselves even more from the main Duggar family and their reality show empire.
Joy-Anna and Austin haven’t given an interview about stepping down from the Duggar family, or any explanation for why they’ve done so. At least not yet. But some think that the pain of losing a baby, and having the entire world know about it instantly thanks to their fame, can’t have helped matters at all.
Tellingly, Joy-Anna and Austin revealed their latest pregnancy via social media rather than with TLC and Counting On. It may be that they desired privacy, or at least more control, in anticipation of the new baby. And there’s also the matter of finances. Money appears to be a big deal within the Duggar family.
In an article published in July 2020, Newsweek noted that Austin had his own means of making money outside of reality television. Calling him, “one of the more knowledgeable members,” of the family, the magazine claimed, “Lately, he has been flaunting his work ethic and financial independence from the Duggar clan.”
Believe it or not, Joy-Anna isn’t actually allowed to have a full-time job and be a mom at the same time. Not according to the rules of the Duggar family, anyway. Yet she may be working around this Handmaid’s Tale-like arrangement. According to her Instagram Stories, Joy-Anna helps Austin with his business.
Most of the other Duggar kids are allegedly dependent on Jim Bob. For example, Jessa Duggar’s husband Ben makes his money from being a tutor to the younger children in the family. Jessa also makes money from YouTube, but apparently not very much. According to Derick at least, this is all by design.
Because Derick is a pretty vocal critic of his father-in-law to say the least. In a March 2020 episode of the YouTube show Without a Crystal Ball, he alleged that Jim Bob actively prevented him from getting a job he wanted. According to him, the Duggar family dictated that he wasn’t allowed to seek employment outside the family.
In fact, according to Derick, no-one who marries into the family is allowed to take a job outside it… except for Austin. Because Austin has kept his job as a contractor. Why exactly this is the case, nobody seems to know. But Austin and Joy-Anna have a net worth of around $700,000 now, according to Romper.
Joy-Anna and Austin also have their own house, the purchase price a mere $10, gifted to them by Jim Bob. It’s a pretty common thing for the family patriarch to give houses to his children. And according to CheatSheet, this has led some to wonder if Austin and Joy-Anna had just stuck out the reality show because they knew they’d get a house out of it.
And it’s also been noticed that Joy-Anna has been displaying, by Duggar standards, more rebellious behavior since she left the show. Because Duggar women are expected to dress very modestly. They can’t wear pants, for a start, and sleeveless tops are banned as well as skirts which go higher than the knee.
Yet while pregnant in late May 2020, Joy-Anna appeared on her Instagram account wearing a tank top that showed her arms. In fact, she posted two pictures showing two different tops – one striped one and one black. And this happened only a day after her sister Jill photographed herself in a tank top as well.
Though perhaps the most notable sign of a Joy-Anna rebellion came when she gave birth to her daughter Evelyn Mae in August 2020. For starters, it was filmed, and it looked painful. But by Duggar rules, Joy-Anna is meant to have as many kids as possible. Yet during the birthing footage she told her husband, “Babe, we’re not having another kid.” Maybe she was joking – but maybe she wasn’t.