"She taught me an eating disorder": Jennette McCurdy on why some moms "don't deserve" to be revered

Ex-Nickelodeon star turned No. 1 bestselling author talks to Salon about abuse, OCD and why "I'm Glad My Mom Died"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 18, 2022 6:00PM (EDT)

Jennette McCurdy, author of "I’m Glad My Mom Died" (Photo by Brian Kimsley/Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Jennette McCurdy, author of "I’m Glad My Mom Died" (Photo by Brian Kimsley/Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

"Why do we romanticize the dead? Why can't we be honest about them?" author Jennette McCurdy wonders aloud in her new memoir, now a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. "Especially moms. They're the most romanticized of anyone." But McCurdy, who until recently was best known for her role as Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon classics "iCarly" and "Sam & Cat," is here to tell a different tale, one in which she admits, "I'm Glad My Mom Died."

When the book debuted earlier this month, it became an instant bestseller and sold out on Amazon. Its success revealed that there is a whole population of survivors who have complicated feelings toward our deceased relatives. "I'm Glad My Mom Died" is an unflinching account of McCurdy's abusive mother, who pushed her into show business at an early age. It's also about the dark truths behind the sunny facade of her teen stardom, her struggles with OCD and eating disorders and how she finally made peace with her past.

McCurdy joined me recently on "Salon Talks" to talk about this year's most candid book, her writing process and why it has connected so deeply with readers.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Congratulations on the incredible success of this book that's all about your childhood trauma. It is sold out everywhere.

I've been thrilled with the response. I could not have imagined this and it's been overwhelming in the best possible way.

"I'm Glad My Mom Died" made me laugh; it made me cry, Jennette. It's such a funny, dark, moving, honest, real, uncensored book, and it's unlike anything I've ever read. It has gotten a lot of attention for the title and the cover. How did you discover that this was how you wanted to present this book? 

I'm glad you asked. I think the cover is reflective of the tone of the book itself. I definitely wanted something that really captured what I think the essence and the tone of the book is. I wanted something that was attention-grabbing. That was definitely intentional, but also I would never do anything that's just attention-grabbing for the sake of being attention-grabbing. It sincerely was important to me.

"There are instances where mothers don't deserve the pedestals that they are put on."

I hoped that it would resonate with people who have experienced parental abuse. I knew that it would resonate with anybody who has a sense of humor, and I wasn't concerned with anybody else.

Some people have had a very visceral reaction. To that, I think, "How nice for you."

I think, "Wow, you must have had a wonderful upbringing, and I'm really glad that you did."

You talk also about the complexity of grief in this book. I often think how nice it would be to just have one emotion at a time.


You say, "I'm glad my mom died." But there's more on the other side of that too — being able to have good memories of her, being able to see the things that you loved about her, that you still love about her. That is not a conversation that we get to have a lot about death. Were there things that you read that you thought, "I want this to be like this"? Or was it about creating something completely new?

My favorite memoir is "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls. It's incredible. What she does is astounding, capturing humor in really tragic and traumatic environments. Her voice is so singular, but she was the north star of "My God, if I could do anything like what she did, I would just be so proud."

Let's talk about your mom.

Let's do it.

Your mom pushed you into acting from the age of six. You grew up with three brothers and your dad. You had a unique role in your family and in the family dynamics. Your mother controlled your life in a way that was separate from the relationship she had with your other siblings. What was that like having this very different, very intense, very one-on-one dynamic with this very dominant personality?

At the time, I thought it was wonderful. I thought that my mom wants to be my best friend and she wants to have this amazing secret relationship. She taught me an eating disorder, and she herself had eating disorders. I saw all of these things as being good, which I actually think is where the humor of the book comes from. I think naivete can be so delusional and warped as a means of trying to cope with the trauma that's happening around you. 

It's messed up, but I do think it's really funny. Now I sort of see it that way, but at the time I just thought, "My mom's the greatest. She loves me. She doesn't want me to have a different favorite color than her. She wants for all of my wants and needs to be Mom's wants and needs and that's because she loves me so much." I thought, "She lives for me and I live for her," not realizing that only one of those things was true.

You talk about your childhood home and how it was a hoarder house, and you didn't know that was weird.

I didn't at all. My mom had OCD. A form of OCD is hoarding, and that's how her OCD manifested. From an early age, maybe I think it started as a result of her first occurrence of cancer when I was two years old, she became really sentimental and unable to part with anything. 

Like this [cup of coffee]. If I finished it, she wouldn't be able to part with this cup because she'd say, "Well, my baby touched this cup, and it reminds me of when she took that sip of coffee," whatever story she was building around every single item. She had one for every single item. If my grandfather or father tried to clean up in any way, which they did, she'd say, "No, I need to keep it because X, Y, Z," that was whatever significance she was attaching to that specific napkin or whatever it was.

In the book, you talk about how OCD manifested in you. Even though your mom is the central figure of it, these other accelerants like being in show business and religion are also spinning around you. Jennette, religion is an amazing accelerant for OCD.

Thank you for highlighting this because I don't think it's talked about enough and it was really, really a slippery slope for me, how religion informed my OCD. I thought the Holy Ghost was talking to me. I thought the Holy Ghost was saying, "Hey, Jennette, touch your wrist five times, twirl around, touch your feet on the floor, touch whatever." 

I had so many different rituals. I thought the Holy Ghost was telling me these rituals with some sort of positive result on the other end of them. I thought if I did these rituals, I would book a job. I didn't realize, oh, that's not the Holy Ghost, sweetheart. That is rampant mental illness.

When it comes to Hollywood, you talk about some of the things that people said to you, the comments that they made about your looks, about your body, when you were a child. How does that influence someone who is already vulnerable? It feels like people who wind up being child performers find themselves in a predatory environment where they are exploited, where they are told things that then prey on their worst vulnerabilities.

I think that's so true. I think there were a lot of people who didn't know what they were doing, who may have had good intentions, may have thought they were saying something that was complimentary or harmless. And then I think there were comments that weren't coming from that place, that weren't coming from the best intentions and had a creepy hue to them. 

It's all complicated and difficult to parse through when you're 11 years old, 12 years old, 13, 14. That's absolutely all work that I've done in therapy and not something that I was able to unpack or explore or understand at that age. I just wasn't psychologically developed enough to be able to understand it at all.

Who can unpack anything at that age, let alone when they are a star at that age? It's hard being 11, period. 


"I logged off all social media. I really had to turn inward."

"You're such a good sport" — that's a phrase that people said to you a lot. You don't have to have been a kid on a hit TV show to see how manipulative that is, and the ways in which "You are such a good sport" is used against people.

I have chills. 

How did you get past that? Because money was offered to you to stay quiet. You had another chance to be part of the "iCarly" reboot. You have been able to say, basically, "I'm not going to be a good sport any more about some things." How did you walk away from that?

The good sport conversation is  a really important one to have. I hear from so many people that they relate to the experience of being a people pleaser and that people pleaser aspect is reinforced by these comments like, "You're a good sport." I don't think inherently being a people pleaser is in any way beneficial to anybody, least of all the person who's doing the people pleasing. I think it's the opposite of authenticity in many cases, or at least not directly authenticity.

For me, kind of stepping away from everything, I quit acting when I was 24. I stepped away very definitively at that time and I just committed myself to therapy. I logged off all social media. I really had to turn inward because I had recognized that external feedback was not helping me on my path. It wasn't getting me any closer to my values or the way that I wanted to live my life. Maybe there are some people who are able to navigate external feedback with their own internal feedback, but for me at 24, I wasn't able to. I had to shut it all out and make contact with me and who I am separate from anything outside of me.

Your book is an invitation to change the way we talk about death and the way we talk about dying. The impulse when someone's mother dies is to say, "I'm so sorry, your mom must have been such a wonderful person," or "This must be the worst thing that ever happened to you." What do you say when someone says, "My mom is really sick," or "My mom just died"? What do you tell people?

I'm trying to think if I've had that experience recently. I haven't recently, but it definitely changed how I react. I try to say, "I'm here for you in any way that you need. I hope you'll reach out if there's anything at all that I can do. I am sure there's a lot of layers to what you're experiencing." I

"The thing that got me back into therapy was the need to focus on getting help for my eating disorders."

try to reinforce or validate their emotional experience or whatever they share as opposed to launching in with, "Oh, you poor thing. Moms are the best!" or whatever people typically say.

Because as you say, moms are so romanticized.

Yeah. Everyone can laugh at dads being absent and neglectful. It's like, "Ha, ha, dad's not home." It's a thing that is so easy to laugh about and so normalized. Yet moms are just these reverent St. Marys, everywhere. I don't know when or why that started, but I don't think all dads are bad or all moms are bad. I don't think anything's black and white. But I do think that there are instances where mothers don't deserve the pedestals that they are put on.

You lost your mom when you were just 21. You were a TV star. Your second television show, "Sam & Cat" had just started in June and your mom died in September. Your initial response was, "It is what it is." How did you get to the point where you were ready to reckon with the abuse?

When my mom first died, I was not able to go anywhere near the idea that she was abusive. With the first therapist I saw to help with the processing of the grief of her passing, I would share stories and anecdotes of life and my upbringing with her.

Eventually the therapist looks at me and goes, "Jennette, you know what you're talking about is abuse, right?" That was it. I left that therapy session. I quit and I thought, f**k therapy. I'm never doing that again. I can't do it because if I need to accept the abusive behavior that my mom put on me, that would mean reframing my entire life. Everything was oriented around, "My mom is the best and mom knows better than me, and I'm helpless and powerless without her." Reframing that was daunting and intimidating and I didn't know how to face it. It did take a while before I was able to go anywhere near therapy again.

The thing that got me back into therapy was the need to focus on getting help for my eating disorders. I'm really glad that was the entry point because I don't think I would've been able to unpack and explore the complicated specifics of my life had I not gotten the eating disorder under control first. If that were still a really strong issue, I don't think I could have gone into nittier, grittier aspects of anything underneath it.

Did the writing process bring lot of stuff back to the surface?

Yeah, I'd been in therapy for years by the time I started writing the memoir. By that point, I was able to discern what was just for me, what I wanted to put into the book. Ultimately the goal was to make a good book, memoir genre aside, aspects of my life aside. I really wanted to make something that was hopefully entertaining and would connect with people. I'm so glad to see that it has been doing that.

You spent much of your formative years living somebody else's dream. You were a writer when you were a child and you were a director when you were a child, but those dreams got tamped down and discouraged. How are you pursuing these dreams that you had to put on hold for so long?

I'm so glad you asked. I am working on a novel and I'm working on a collection of essays. I wish that I could've shown my six-year-old self where I would be now. Oh my God, it's incredible. I'm so grateful to be able to be working on the things I'm working on now, and living a life that is fulfilling for me.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Child Abuse Icarly I'm Glad My Mom Died Jennette Mccurdy Salon Talks