by Ronja Iding
Many of us grew up watching Nickelodeon shows like iCarly or Sam and Cat. I’m sure many of us even fantasized about what it would be like to be a child star on these shows. Having tons of money, fans, and fun with your co-stars, going to parties, and getting free stuff wherever you go. But Jennette McCurdy, who spent a significant amount of her childhood portraying Sam Puckett, had no easy life behind the scenes. Growing up with a narcissistic hoarder mom, who struggled with cancer on and off throughout Jennette’s entire childhood and who encouraged her to develop an eating disorder left her with a lot of childhood trauma. In her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died” McCurdy opens up about just how much trauma she had to endure.
At the tender age of six, Jennette was put into acting to fulfil her mother’s lifelong dream of becoming a star. Although acting was never Jennette’s dream, she quickly recognized that she had to do it to keep her mom happy. “I think she wanted me to have a better life than she had, but I also think her approach was very unhealthy and informed by her own lack of self-work and she lived vicariously through me.” Jennette says in an interview with ABC News.
Jennette’s family always struggled financially, and like a lot of child stars her acting paid the bills. By the age of eleven, Jennette had become the main source of income for her entire family, which included her three older brothers, parents, and maternal grandparents. They lived in a smelly hoarder house due to her mother’s mental illness, and the children slept on mats in the living room. “It felt like a lot of pressure, and then I think my mom saw my career as a way out of that life, of that way of living, of that constant grind.” Jennette explains.
Jennette’s mom started teaching her about calorie restriction around the same time. To keep her small and childlike this dangerous way of eating became a habit. Jennette reflects, “I think my mom wanted to keep me as controllable as possible. I think she really wanted to have her influence on me and me growing up was a threat to that.” Living with a mother that encouraged and conditioned her anorexia was not the end of the abuse. Jennette, along with her youngest older brother, was showered by her mother until she was seventeen. She would even shower them together, leaving her children with more trauma.
Along with the trauma she had to endure at home, Jennette was thrown into the spotlight as a child star, leaving her even more confused, “You’re playing an adult’s game, you’re in an adult’s world, and you don’t recognize that. You’re incapable of being on that level, but you are confused, and you think that you are.” Jennette tried to quit acting a few times, but quickly stopped once her mother started frantically crying and yelling.
Her mother’s first cancer diagnosis happened when Jennette was only two years old. Ever since then, the family had lived in fear of her cancer coming back. Eventually, when Jennette was eighteen, it did. Not too long after, when Jennette was twenty-one, Deborah McCurdy died.
Right after her mother’s death, Jennette developed both drinking problems, as well as bulimia. She started binge eating and throwing everything up due to a guilty conscience. She closed herself off to the world due to her pain, trauma, and confusion.
Even after her mom died, it took a lot of time until Jennette was able to address the abuse, she had been enduring her entire life. “I couldn’t initially accept the idea that my mother was abusive toward me because my whole life […] I was operating through this lens of my mom wants what’s best for me even after she died. I’m nothing without my mom. […] Accepting that she was abusive would have meant reframing my entire life.” She went through several therapists to seek help for her eating disorder and trauma and eventually quit acting to focus on her health and to figure out what she wanted. Today she is able to identify her mom’s behavior as, “violent and erratic unstable”.
Today Jennette reflects on her decisions after her mother’s death and says, “I’m proud of myself. I think I’ve chosen a path of integrity, and it hasn’t always been easy.”
There is a lot more to unpack in her memoir concerning Nickelodeon, child stardom, how these networks operate behind the scenes and luckily her friendship with one specific costar that helped her grow and heal throughout the years. Her writing style is refreshing and makes it easy to read the whole thing in one sitting, while also leaving you with a whirlwind of emotions. If you want to know more, I recommend having a read through it.
Author bio: Ronja studies Anglophone Studies and Kommunikationswissenschaft at UDE. When she’s not watching movies or reading books, she writes her own stories or plays ice hockey.