This story discusses topics related to sexual abuse and mental health.
Jennette McCurdy is no longer the robust and loveable child actor we grew up loving as Sam Puckett on the hit Nickelodeon series “iCarly.” At an event with USC students Tuesday night, she discussed the toll becoming a child actress took on her young life.
In a one-hour presentation, McCurdy discussed her mental health journey, career in acting and childhood pressures, all of which she describes in her book, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”
The once child actress, now 30, answered students’ questions on everything from writer’s block to the importance of therapy. Organized by USC’s Performing Arts Committee, the event drew hundreds of students to the Tutor Campus Center ballroom.
Much of McCurdy’s young life was shrouded in stress and financial burden that she says was forced upon her by her mother. At the age of two years old, McCurdy’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, requiring chemotherapy treatments and bone marrow transplants, she said. According to McCurdy, as a means to cover the financial expenses of cancer treatment, Debra pushed her daughter into acting at the young age of six years old.
McCurdy stated in an interview with People Magazine as well as in her book that her mother emotionally and sexually abused her and forced her into a child acting career because she herself wanted to be a performer.
“Her parents actually wouldn’t let her,” McCurdy said. “So, she put me in acting and put all her dreams and expectations of everything that entailed on me.”
Her mother was so obsessed with the idea of McCurdy being a child star that she enforced calorie restrictions on her diet at the age of 11, which she said in the book, led to anorexia and bulimia. McCurdy also said that her mother would routinely conduct vaginal and breast exams on her and never let her shower alone.
These experiences led her to embark on a journey of self-discovery through therapy and enabled her to come to terms with her past, write her book and find her purpose in her “values,” she said.
“Starting out in acting when I was so little, I definitely wasn’t prepared to handle the rejection and didn’t know how to navigate it,” McCurdy said. “I think by nature of being a kid, the thought is ‘What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong?’”
“There are so many things beyond your control, but my mom definitely didn’t really help with validating that,” she added.
She also reflected on the evolution of her use of humor as a defense mechanism to a coping mechanism. First using humor to add a sense of levity to her otherwise “heavy” life, McCurdy found herself to be overcompensating through comedy, she said.
“I did a press tour before the book came out, and this came up quite often, [people would ask me], ‘Do you hate your mom?’ And it’s the furthest thing from that,” McCurdy recalled. “I loved my mom too much. I was enmeshed with her. I lived for her.”
After her mom died in September 2013, McCurdy found herself questioning her identity and having to work through the codependency that they shared, she said. This resulted in her break from acting to then venture into writing.
Following the speaker event, students expressed how powerful it felt to hear McCurdy be so open and honest about her trauma and therapy.
“It was really interesting to hear how she worked through these difficulties in her life,” said Austin Colcord, a junior American popular culture and law, history and culture double major. “With writing this book and giving these talks, she overcame these obstacles by writing about it and sharing how she went through it.”
Danielle Davidson, a junior business major, appreciated that McCurdy’s discussion mentioned the positives of therapy.
“It seems like she’s grown a lot, and she’s talking about therapy, so I hope that therapy has helped her,” Davidson said. “It seems like it has.”