Jennette McCurdy opens up about child stardom in her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died

Jennette McCurdy released her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died on August 9, 2022 (Brian Kimsley - image credit)
Jennette McCurdy released her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died on August 9, 2022 (Brian Kimsley - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and abuse.

Jennette McCurdy spent most of her life putting her mother on a pedestal.

The child star broke into the television industry at the tender age of six and when her mother passed away in September 2013 from cancer, she didn't know what to do next.

"I don't know who I am without her because I was living for her, and now she's dead," McCurdy said in an interview with CBC's Q with Tom Power. But McCurdy said there was also a sense of relief.

"I couldn't face this at the time, but there was some relief there. And I didn't know I would feel so guilty about that relief that I would just shove it down."

Last week, McCurdy released her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died, garnering attention for both its shocking title and her relationship with her abusive mother, Debra. The 30-year-old also opened up about her struggles with an eating disorder.

"No child is psychologically, emotionally, mentally equipped for the obstacles of child stardom," she said. "Even if they have the greatest support system around them."

The former actor was best known for her role as Sam Puckett on iCarly, a 2007 Nickelodeon sitcom about teenagers with a viral web show. The show ran for six seasons and had a revival in 2021 with most of its original cast members.

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

But McCurdy said she never wanted to be an actor – this was her mother's dream.

"I think that she saw an opportunity in me and kind of saw a way of maybe fulfilling her dreams," she said.

"I just remember my whole life being sort of oriented to her and orchestrated around her and what she wanted and what she needed and what would make her happy in any moment," McCurdy told Q.

McCurdy describes her mother as layered and complicated; charismatic, captivating and infectious. But behind closed doors, McCurdy details her actions as manipulative.

"When I look back, [I can] recognize how much discordance there was between what I wanted and what responses were coming out of my mouth. So anything that came out of my mouth was always to please mom," she said, "Oftentimes, I disagreed with her, but I didn't know how to locate that part of my voice."

McCurdy adds their shared eating disorder was a way for her and her mother to connect.

"It's everywhere with eating disorders, where the more entrenched you are in that disease, the more your instinct is to latch on to other people who are that entrenched in the disease. It just glommed together and perpetuates the cycle."

She remembers her mother skipping breakfast, eating half of a granola bar for lunch and plain vegetables for dinner. She had also restricted McCurdy's daily caloric intake. McCurdy started to piece together her mother's unusual eating habits, but also found relief for her own battles.

"She was really helping me with my eating disorder, which I at that point couldn't identify as an eating disorder because I was living in the delusion of it."

Her late mother did not publicly address her and her daughter's disorders.

When her mom died in 2013, McCurdy said grief wasn't simple.

"I'd feel like I miss her and I'd start crying, I'd feel angry that I was crying. I'd feel mom doesn't deserve my tears, she abused me. How is there still room to miss this person?"

Life as a child star

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

Culture writer Ashley Spencer, who recently wrote about the memoir for the Washington Post, said sometimes relationships between child actors and guardians can get complicated.

"If a parent is on the payroll of their child and they don't have their best interests at heart, they may be pushing them to do things that the child would otherwise not want to do."

She adds celebrity tabloid culture during McCurdy's initial tenure at Nickelodeon in the early 2000s was running rampant.

"There was a very voyeuristic intrigue and child stars of that era, and especially with teen stars," she said. Thin body types were being idolized, said Spencer, and teen girls were deeply influenced by this dominating image.

There was also added pressure for some young stars to behave in the public's eye.

"There's a lot of pressure on the kids that are on the shows to be role models and to be a good influence on these children that are watching the shows," Spencer said.

Moving forward after acting

Though she had self-doubt about quitting acting, McCurdy knew it was the right decision.

She threw herself into writing and directing, creating a one woman show homonymous to her memoir, and began hosting a podcast called Empty Inside. She has also written and directed shorts Kenny and 8 Bodies.

She attended therapy for years before considering writing a memoir and realizes her relationship with her mother will always be complicated.

"I think she'll always remain in some ways the heartbeat of my life," McCurdy said. "I think there's always something about that relationship that will stick with me and inform who I am and who I continue to be."

If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, here's where to get help:

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.