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Former child star Jennette McCurdy has been vocal about how early stardom — starting when she was only eight years old on shows like “Mad TV” and “Law and Order: SVU” — deeply impacted her upbringing. Growing up with a controlling mother determined to make her youngest child a star, McCurdy got her big break in 2007 when she was cast as the plucky tomboy Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly.”
McCurdy was only 14 at the start of “iCarly” and spent six seasons with Nickelodeon until its finale in 2012. The show — and especially McCurdy’s character oozing confrontational confidence and corny one-liners — was a hit with the network’s young demographic. But offscreen, McCurdy was struggling with an abusive mother, eating disorders, alcoholism, and the politics of the industry.
Now 30, McCurdy is ready to tell her own story. Her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Is Dead” ($25), comes out today — and if the title seems abrasive, it’s meant to be. “I stand by the title and I believe in it. It was a tough thing for me to come to terms with,” she told Vanity Fair in a recent interview. “And the things that are difficult to come to terms with are often the things that need to be said the most.”
The memoir is full of difficult, complex topics, starting with McCurdy’s early childhood and her mother’s controlling behavior. By 11, McCurdy’s mother had already introduced severe calorie restrictions, promising it would help McCurdy book roles by staying small and looking young. The abusive behavior continued throughout McCurdy’s teenage years, including financial control, access to diaries, and invasive body exams during showers.
But it gets even more complicated when a child is brought up thinking these behaviors are normal. McCurdy coped by people-pleasing and viewing her mother’s behavior as protective and loving. “I lived for her,” she said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “I believed that she was in some way living for me. And to think she was incapable of even feeling for you, let alone living for you. It’s just really sad.”
When McCurdy was 21, her mother died of cancer — and though she struggled with grief, McCurdy was finally able to start living her own life. After starring in the short-lived series “Sam and Cat” with co-star Arianna Grande, McCurdy quietly quit acting, and later passed on the opportunity to join former “iCarly” co-star Miranda Cosgrove on the reboot series. Making the switch to directing and writing, McCurdy penned several articles for Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal on body-shaming, eating disorders, and the way the industry reinforces the obsession with thinness.
Writing is a way for McCurdy to process the traumatic events of her life and “speak back” to her mother’s influence. “[My mother would] always say writers get fat and dress frumpy,” she told Buzzfeed. “‘You’re going to get a watermelon butt instead of your peach butt.'” In her memoir, McCurdy writes, “My mom didn’t deserve her pedestal. . . . My mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me.”
Now well into her recovery, McCurdy is finally feeling hopeful about the future. She’s written and directed a pilot and four short films, and her one-woman comedy show “I’m Glad My Mom Died” sold-out at Lyric Hyperion Theatre in LA. Her memoir is already making waves as a number-one best seller, but most importantly, McCurdy feels empowered by her choices.
“I have not had any eating disorder symptoms for years. I feel so free from those,” she says. “People still often talk about how difficult they are to overcome. I hope (this book) provides some sort of encouragement for somebody out there who needs to hear it.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has resources available, including a 24/7 helpline at (800) 931-2237.