If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline by calling or texting 1-800-931-2237.
Jennette McCurdy never wanted to be an actor. She wanted to be a writer. But her mother Debra McCurdy wanted her to act, insisting “writers get fat.” So McCurdy started working as an extra before graduating to commercial work and eventually going on to star in Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.”
While her on-screen characters were beloved by many, McCurdy struggled off-screen. In her memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” she details her complicated relationship with her abusive mother up until her death from cancer in 2013.
“She turned to me when I was 6 and said that she wanted me to be an actress because her parents would never let her be one,” McCurdy says. “I mean it quite literally. I am glad that she died.”
McCurdy’s mother was a hoarder, filling their house with objects the family couldn’t afford and forcing McCurdy and her brothers to sleep on floor mats instead of beds. She constantly fought with and disparaged McCurdy’s father, sometimes becoming violent. McCurdy recounts a time in the memoir when her mother chased her father with a knife.
“I felt like, ‘Oh, nobody else in my family can read Mom the same way. I can see when she's about to blow,’” McCurdy told host Robin Young at a recent CitySpace event. “I felt like it was my job to keep her emotionally regulated.”
As McCurdy writes, after forcing her into child acting, her mother controlled her entire life well into her teenage years. McCurdy’s mother physically dressed and showered her until she was around 16 years old. She homeschooled McCurdy, further isolating her, and planned their life around McCurdy’s acting schedule.
McCurdy’s mother decided what roles she would audition for, what she wore to these auditions and even how she acted during them. When McCurdy landed the role of Sam Puckett on “iCarly,” she recalls only feeling happy because she knew her mother wanted her to get it.
“The funny thing about being a child is you don't realize that that that the environment that you're in is abusive or dysfunctional,” McCurdy says.
On the set of “iCarly,” more hardships abounded for McCurdy. She describes being thrust into a chaotic environment, all conspiring at the hands of “The Creator,” understood by many readers to be Nickelodeon showrunner Dan Schneider. Investigations into the workings of the show found him to be verbally abusive to cast and crew.
“I was in a lot of toxic and chaotic, dysfunctional environments that I didn't recognize as such because I'd been used to that at home,” McCurdy says. “I think until somebody's psychologically developed, they should not be allowed to go anywhere near Hollywood.”
As McCurdy got older, she couldn’t land parts for young children anymore. Petrified of her daughter growing up and losing out on roles, McCurdy’s mother taught her a destructive way to keep her body small: calorie restriction. Cutting calories spiraled into full-blown bulimia that McCurdy battled throughout her teenage years. She details it in the book, sparing no graphic detail.
“Somebody had pitched the idea, ‘Should we have a trigger warning on the cover or inside the book, like somewhere?’ And I very, very strongly felt no,” McCurdy says. “I would not have recovered if I would have just constantly been avoiding triggers. By facing my triggers is really where I found recovery.”
McCurdy felt lost when her mother died until she eventually found therapy, which helped her immensely in recovering from bulimia. But she wasn’t ready to dive into her relationship with her mother just yet. When a therapist suggested her mother may have been abusive for the first time, McCurdy shut down.
“I couldn't take her down off the pedestal that I needed her to be on because it would mean reorienting my entire life. The lens that I had was ‘my mom knows best,’” she says. “Accepting that she was abusive would mean figuring out who I was and what I wanted. That was something I wasn't ready to face.”
In the near-decade since, though, she’s been able to process this relationship, much of it on the pages of her memoir. Now, McCurdy says she’s completely done with acting but plans to keep writing and begin directing films.
“If I could have shown myself where I am now, I would not have believed it when I was little,” McCurdy says. “I would have just screamed with joy. I would have been so thrilled and I think I would have had really something to believe in: a really much-needed dose of hope and optimism. I'm thriving!”
This segment aired on November 8, 2022.