The former actress writes about her troubled relationship with her late mom in her memoir, 'I'm Glad My Mom Died.'
Jennette McCurdy is opening up about her troubled relationship with her mom, Debra McCurdy. In her new memoir, I'm Glad My Mom Died, the 30-year-old former actress details the emotional and physical abuse she says she endured throughout her childhood up until her mom's 2013 death from cancer.
Jennette's mom overcame her first bout of cancer when the iCarly star was a toddler, but Jennette says she didn't let her family forget about her health battle. Instead, she writes, Debra had "constant reenactments" from that time, in which she had Jennette and her siblings watch home videos when she was at her most sick.
Having Jennette pursue acting was something Debra insisted on, given that her parents hadn't let her follow her own dream to be a star. Ahead of auditions, Debra would have Jennette down sugar-free Red Bulls.
And when one of those auditions didn't go well, Jennette writes, her mom would make changes. When she was considered too "homely" to audition for the lead in Because of Winn-Dixie, for example, Debra started insisting on a beauty routine for Jennette: using white strips, tinting her eyelashes, and using store-bought hair dye.
Eventually, Jennette decided she didn't want to act anymore, a feeling she shared with her mom.
"This was our chance! This was ouuuuur chaaaaance!" Jennette recalls her mom saying with "hysteria" in her voice.
Around age 11, when Jennette started developing breasts, she worried that her mom wouldn't love her as much if she aged, because Debra "often weeps and holds me really tight and says she just wants me to stay small and young." When she expressed her fears about growing up to her mom, she says Debra had a solution: calorie restriction.
"I start shrinking by the week as Mom and I team up to count our calories every night and plan our meals for the next day. We’re keeping me on a 1,000-calorie diet, but I have the smart idea that if I only eat half my food, I’ll only be receiving half the calories, which means that I will be shrinking twice as fast," Jennette writes. "... Each Sunday, she weighs me and measures my thighs with a measuring tape. After a few weeks of our routine, she provides me with a stack of diet books that I finish quickly... I weigh myself five times a day."
When a doctor expressed concern that Jennette may be anorexic, Jennette says Debra denied knowing about a change in her daughter's eating habits. The weight loss was so extreme that, at age 14, Jennette still sat in a booster seat in the car.
Around the same time, Jennette says she had begun to "dread" showering, as her mom still bathed her. During every shower Jennette says Debra would give her "a breast and 'front butt' exam."
"She says she wants to make sure I don’t have any mysterious lumps or bumps because those could be cancer. I say okay because I definitely don’t want cancer, and since Mom’s had it and all, she would know if I do," Jennette writes. "I usually just try and think of Disneyland when Mom’s doing the exams... By the time the exams are done, a huge wave of relief washes over my whole body and I usually realize that’s the first time I’ve felt my body since the exam started."
When Jennette eventually landed iCarly, her mom continued to monitor her food intake, but less so than usual.
"A part of me wonders if Mom is supporting my meals a bit more because Miranda and Nathan eat breakfast and lunch in our joint schoolroom and it might look weird if I don’t, or if I eat much less than them or something," Jennette writes of her co-stars Miranda Cosgrove and Nathan Kress. "But I don’t ask her. I just let it happen."
Even at age 16, Debra continued to shower Jennette and started shaving her daughter's legs when the time came. All of the attention that came from the show, Jennette writes, caused her to "resent" her mom.
"Fame has put a wedge between Mom and me that I didn’t think was possible," Jennette writes. "She wanted this. And I wanted her to have it. I wanted her to be happy. But now that I have it, I realize that she’s happy and I’m not. Her happiness came at the cost of mine. I feel robbed and exploited. Sometimes I look at her and I just hate her. And then I hate myself for feeling that."
When Jennette set off on tour in support of her music, Debra was unable to come along because her cancer had returned and she was undergoing treatment.
"I feel free. I’m even able to shower myself. I’m realizing for the first time how exhausting it is to constantly curate my natural tendencies, responses, thoughts, and actions into whatever version Mom would like most," Jennette, who stopped limiting her calories at the time, writes. "Without her around, I don’t have to. I miss her deeply, and my heart aches over what she’s going through, and I certainly feel a lot of guilt about the ease I feel these days, but that ease is undeniable."
When she returned to Los Angeles, Debra moved into what was supposed to be Jennette's first-ever solo apartment uninvited. Around that time, Jennette, who never learned to drive because her mom didn't want her to, started dating someone. When Debra found out, she called her daughter, who did not have sex with the guy, a "FILTHY LITTLE LYING WHORE," and said Jennette was "nothing more than a little SLUT, a FLOOZY, ALL USED UP."
Just before Debra died in the hospital, Jennette tried to wake her mother up from a coma by telling her, "I am so skinny right now. I’m finally down to 89 pounds."
When Debra did die, Jennette's eating disorder continued.
"I feel lucky, grateful even, that trauma has finally resulted in my lack of hunger. Sure, Mom died, but at least I’m not eating," she writes. "At least I feel thin and valuable and good about my body, my smallness. I look like a kid again. I’m determined to keep this up. I’m honoring Mom."
Eventually, though, Jennette's appetite made an unwelcome return, and she began making herself throw up her food.
"I feel victorious," Jennette writes of her feelings after the first time she made herself vomit. "So what if I f**ked up and ate? So what if I failed? So f**king what? All I have to do is shove my fingers down my throat and watch my mistake be undone. This is the start of something good."
She soon realized it wasn't all good, though, and sought out a therapist when she was "no longer able to remain in denial about how much of a problem my alcohol consumption is (a big one) and my bulimia is (a bigger one). I’m no longer in denial about the extent of my grief over Mom’s passing (insurmountable)."
As her therapy progressed, Jennette's therapist was the first one to point out how Debra's behavior, and the way she "condoned your anorexia, encouraged it," had been "really unhealthy" and amounted to "abuse."
"My whole life, my entire existence has been oriented to the narrative that Mom wants what’s best for me, Mom does what’s best for me, Mom knows what’s best for me," Jennette writes. "... If Mom really didn’t want what was best for me, or do what was best for me, or know what was best for me, that means my entire life, my entire point of view, and my entire identity have been built on a false foundation."
With that realization, Jennette quit therapy for a while. She soon found out that her mother had lied to her for years, and that the man that she believed to be her father was not biologically related to her.
When she made herself vomit on a plane and a tooth fell out in her hand, though, Jennette sought out an eating disorder specialist.
"I think of Mom. I don’t want to become her. I don’t want to live off Chewy granola bars and steamed vegetables," Jennette writes of how she felt months into her recovery. "I don’t want to spend my life restricting and dog-earing Woman’s World fad diet pages. Mom didn’t get better. But I will."
As for how Jennette, who quit acting around 2018, feels about her mom today, well, the title of her book -- I'm Glad My Mom Died -- pretty much says it all.
"My mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me. She gave me breast and vaginal exams until I was seventeen years old... When I was six years old, she pushed me into a career I didn’t want... She taught me an eating disorder when I was eleven years old -- an eating disorder that robbed me of my joy and any amount of free-spiritedness that I had. She never told me my father was not my father," Jennette writes. "Her death left me with more questions than answers, more pain than healing, and many layers of grief -- the initial grief from her passing, then the grief of accepting her abuse and exploitation of me, and finally, the grief that surfaces now when I miss her and start to cry -- because I do still miss her and start to cry."
"Mom made it very clear she had no interest in changing. If she were still alive, she’d still be trying her best to manipulate me into being who she wants me to be. I’d still be purging or restricting or binging or some combination of the three and she’d still be endorsing it. I’d still be forcing myself to act, miserably going through the motions of performing on shiny sitcoms," she adds. "... There’s a good chance I would’ve had a complete and public mental breakdown by this point. I’d still be deeply unhappy and severely mentally unhealthy."
I'm Glad My Mom Died is out now.
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