Jennette McCurdy opens up on childhood and stardom in memoir


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Carol Chen

Writer and former actress Jennette McCurdy published her memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died” on Aug. 9. The title and pastel-yellow cover paired with an image of McCurdy holding a pink, confetti-filled urn with a smile grabbed the attention of millions.

McCurdy grew up in a low-income Mormon household in Garden Grove, California. The family consisted of McCurdy, her three older brothers, father, maternal grandparents and mother, Debra McCurdy. Debra was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and had been in remission for most of McCurdy’s childhood.

The uncertainty of Debra’s health created a dynamic where the family, especially McCurdy, had an obligation to keep Debra happy.

“I think that my mom probably sensed the desperation I had to please her,” McCurdy said in an interview with Amanpour and Company. Debra pushed her dream of becoming an actress onto her only daughter, making McCurdy a source of income at the age of six.

The responsibility of being a child actor came with a lot of pressure. McCurdy subsequently developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, which she initially believed to be the voice of the “Holy Ghost.” Debra encouraged McCurdy to lose weight and count calories because looking more childlike would help book more roles.

Unfortunately this resulted in a lifelong battle with anorexia and bulimia.

After years of minor roles and acting classes, McCurdy landed the role of Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly,” a children’s sitcom. The show was a massive hit, giving McCurdy financial stability and celebrity status. She continued to play her character on the show’s spin-off, “Sam & Cat.”

On the set of Nickelodeon, McCurdy had uncomfortable encounters with “The Creator,” who is assumed to be Dan Schneider. Schneider was the creator and co-producer of several Nickelodeon shows, including “iCarly,” “Zoey 101” and “Victorious.” Many chapters highlight moments when The Creator would pressure McCurdy to drink alcohol, give massages to her and verbally abuse his employees.

McCurdy was offered $300,000 to keep quiet about her experience on the network, which she rejected.

Since the release of the memoir, other Nickelodeon stars have been coming forward about their mistreatment.

Alexa Nikolas, best known for her role as Nicole Bristow on “Zoey 101,” led a protest outside Nickelodeon on Aug. 25 with signs labeled “Sickelodeon” and “Predators.”

“I didn’t feel safe around Dan Schneider; every time he came on set my body got extremely tense” Nikolas said.

Daniella Monet, best known as Trina Vega on “Victorious,” called out the TV company for airing sexualized scenes she was uncomfortable doing. Similar to McCurdy’s experience, Monet recalled outfits she and her co-stars wore that were not age-appropriate.

Debra’s cancer returned in 2010, during which McCurdy was stepping into independence and the relationship with her mother strained. She had a few romantic encounters she kept secret until the paparazzi revealed one to the public. The book details an email from her mom calling her “a SLUT,” “a FLOOZY” and “an UGLY MONSTER.”

In 2013, Debra passed away, leaving McCurdy to grieve and heal, which she detailed in the second part of her memoir. The experience with her first therapist did not go smoothly as McCurdy had difficulty accepting her mother was abusive. As she found out several secrets about her mother, she came to terms with the reality.

McCurdy quit acting and sought help for her eating disorders.

“I want my life to be in my hands,” she wrote. “Not an eating disorder’s or a casting director’s or an agent’s or my mom’s.”

The memoir has touched everyday people, especially those who had to develop their own sense of identity after a narcissistic parent’s passing or estrangement.

“It has taken eight years of therapy to try to begin to convince myself that my mother and I are not intertwined,” Nylah Burton said for Glamour Magazine. “Even miles and years apart, sometimes I can still feel her — what she’s thinking, what she’s doing.”

Although most of the memoir contains troubling excerpts, there are sprinkles of humor and positive moments. McCurdy cherished the time she spent with her father and grandpa. She also appreciated the strong friendship and support from co-star Miranda Cosgrove.

She wrote with the same perspective and thoughts she had at the moment of each event. The readers grow up with McCurdy through short chapters, sharing in her pain and victories.

“I’m Glad My Mom Died” gives a glimpse into McCurdy’s most vulnerable moments and leaves the reader with a better understanding of what it’s like to be in the spotlight.