Updated: Mar 13
Kathleen Felli writes readers' reactions to the bestselling memoir and the cultural dilemma of how to talk about abusive mothers.
Over winter break, I read Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died, a raw account of the former child star’s upbringing with her categorically abusive mother.
A controversial title with an equally controversial cover (Jennette holding a pink urn behind a bright yellow backdrop), I’m Glad My Mom Died is not for those who preach reverence for the dead, especially dead family members. A victim of her mother’s abuse until her early adulthood, McCurdy does not shy away from expressing relief that her mother, Debra, is no longer alive to torment her. Those who cannot understand her perspective seem to have more of an issue with McCurdy’s (justifiably) irreverent attitude towards her mother than they do
with the abuse she faced.
At the center of I’m Glad My Mom Died is McCurdy’s extensive relationship with disordered eating, which she claims was introduced at a young age by her mother. She describes a moment in her adolescence where – in order to combat the weight gain that is common during puberty –Debra suggests that Jennette begin calorie restriction. This calorie restriction had a great impact on her physical development: Jennette would become malnourished to the point where she would not get her first period until later in her adolescence. Along with these emerging physical issues, Jennette’s introduction to calorie restriction at a young age would set the stage for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as well as alcoholism during the height of her success as an actor.
Living vicariously through her child after her own dreams of being an actress were denied, Debra engaged in emotionally manipulative behavior to keep Jennette compliant to the eating practices that were actively hurting her. In the world of Hollywood where looks matter, Debra equated her daughter’s physical appearance to her ability to get work. Coming from a working-class background, Jennette was acutely aware at a young age that she was the primary provider. Such responsibility at a young age is not common, and Jennette had to bear it while also having body image and self-esteem issues.
As readers, it is important to remember that McCurdy is allowing us to bear witness to a mother-daughter relationship that is not only “not normal,” but extremely dangerous. Her story – far more complex than what is represented in this post – is a cautionary tale about the ways in which mothers can perpetuate their daughters’ suffering in a patriarchal society. Debra would not feel comfortable pushing an agenda that is inherently misogynist to her daughter if she herself did not have internalized misogyny. In the end, it becomes clear that the title I’m Glad My Mom Died is more than just McCurdy’s feelings about her mother’s death: it is a declaration that the trauma inflicted by her mother has died as well.
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