I saw a short interview with Jennette McCurdy about her new memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died (2022), and it sounded interesting. But then my friend mentioned she had read the book, and argued that we should outlaw child actors altogether. I didn’t completely disagree with her, but it seemed like an extreme statement. I wondered what in the book had made her feel so strongly. So, I picked it up on audiobook from the library. I thought it was fascinating. I never got bored, and I was always happy to get back in my car and learn more about her life. McCurdy is a good writer, and she describes being a child actor as well as growing up with a very problematic mother.
Jennette McCurdy was a child actor, starring in iCarly and Sam and Cat–two shows I have no familiarity with. I found it interesting that this book turned my friend off so strongly from child acting. I was expecting some child actor horror stories. However, from my perspective, it was McCurdy’s mother that was horrifying:
McCurdy’s mother was extremely volatile. And McCurdy took it upon herself, even as a young child, to keep her mother happy. This meant trying to control her father and brothers and anticipating what her mother would want. Obviously, McCurdy couldn’t have her own feelings or wants when she was always tending to her mother.
McCurdy’s mother had a turbulent relationship with her husband. She screamed at him, threatened him with knives, and kicked him out of the house. She also forced McCurdy into acting when McCurdy had zero interest in it. In addition, there was some sexual abuse. Even at sixteen, McCurdy had to shower in front of her mother who would give her “cancer inspections” on her breasts and genitals. When McCurdy told her mother that she never wanted to grow up, her mother taught her calorie restriction–she taught her how to be anorexic. And when doctors and dance instructors noticed the extreme weight loss and were concerned for her health, McCurdy’s mother lied to them.
It was obvious that McCurdy’s mother dealt with some significant mental health demons, but it was hard to read about a young girl, totally dependent on this unhinged woman for love, security, and support. Compared to her mother, McCurdy’s experiences in show business were relatively tame–although still not healthy. Probably the biggest problem was that she had no interest in acting and didn’t like it.
One aspect of this book that stuck with me was McCurdy’s descriptions of her struggles with her eating disorders. What was anorexia morphed into bulimia. McCurdy was very clear about how she would break down emotionally after eating and need the release that throwing up gave her. It was about a lot more than just being skinny, but a way to emotionally regulate feelings she couldn’t handle on her own. In addition, McCurdy did not shy away from writing about the deleterious and disgusting effects of her disease. She’d describe sneaking into a public bathroom and having vomit running down her arm. She described how her teeth started to rot.
Still entwined with her mother and her mother’s crazy demands, it wasn’t until after her mother’s death that McCurdy could really make progress on healing herself. So, even though McCurdy never stopped loving her mother, the title makes perfect sense. Recommended.
CBR15BINGO: “Bodies, Bodies” for the discussion of eating disorders and weight loss