Jennette McCurdy says her mother would ‘measure her thighs’ and ‘weigh her daily’ when she was 11

The former child star first opened up about her abusive childhood in her memoir ‘I’m Glad My Mother Died’

Kate Ng
Wednesday 12 July 2023 15:19 BST
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Jennette McCurdy reveals an email she got from her abusive mother Debra

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Jennette McCurdy has detailed how her mother encouraged her to engage in disordered eating when she was 11 years old.

The former Nickelodeon star, 31, previously said that her mother, Debra McCurdy, “explicitly” told her how to eat in a way that would delay puberty so that she could continue to land child roles and therefore support her family financially.

In a new interview with Louis Theroux on his podcast, The Louis Theroux Podcast, the iCarly actor opened up about exactly what her mother would do to promote disordered eating.

“We partnered up to count our calories, she weighed me daily, she measured my thighs with a measuring tape, she taught me what diuretics were and we read calorie books together,” she recalled.

McCurdy said that, to her 11-year-old self, it “felt amazing” to be “partners in crime” with her mother, and Debra told her that it was a “secret we shouldn’t tell anyone”.

“I thought that was great because it was like a secret code language, nobody else knows what we’re doing, we could nod to each other and know that we were in this together, and nobody would be part of this.”

However, Debra’s tactics to keep her daughter’s calories under control led to an “arduous relationship with food” for McCurdy.

McCurdy explained that she began acting when she was six years old and began booking more significant roles when she was 11.

She recalled playing characters that were younger than her actual age because she looked younger, and how her mother “made it clear that that was really helpful because casting directors like to cast older kids to play younger roles”.

The actor said that one day, she felt a “lump” on her chest area and went to her mother out of fear that it was cancer. Debra has been diagnosed with breast cancer when McCurdy was two years old and later recovered.

Jennette McCurdy Portrait Session
Jennette McCurdy Portrait Session (2022 Invision)

“I always had this fear of cancer recurring for her, cancer for me… it was just a constant fear,” she explained. “She reached her hand up my shirt, felt the lump and said, ‘Oh, Netty, no, you don’t have cancer, you’re just getting boobies.’

“That was truly as horrifying to me because it meant growing up and it had always been really clear to me that my mum did not want me to grow up. Not just for acting, but it also felt like her worth was tied up in me being young. With me being young, she had something to do, she felt good, me growing up kind of felt like her loss of purpose.”

McCurdy asked Debra what she could do to “stop” her breasts from growing, which is when she introduced her daughter to calorie restriction.

Speaking about her mother’s own eating disorder, which she had had “for years”, McCurdy recalled that Debra began restricting her food intake at the age of 14 by eating “one donut a day”.

Jennette McCurdy attends TIME100 Next Gala at SECOND Floor on October 25, 2022
Jennette McCurdy attends TIME100 Next Gala at SECOND Floor on October 25, 2022 (Getty Images for TIME)

“The idea that this was abuse, that this was unhealthy, I couldn’t go anywhere near the reality of it,” she said.

“I kept clinging to, ‘Oh, mum’s doing this because it’s what’s best for me, it’s what’s best for my career, she clearly wants what’s good for me,’ and I think a part of her believed that she wanted me to have a better life than she had, but I don’t think she ever stopped to consider what that actually meant, what does that look like, what does my daughter want.

“She just assumed that her dreams must be everyone’s dreams, because of narcissism, I guess.”

In her 2022 memoir, I’m Glad My Mother Died, McCurdy opened up about the abusive childhood she endured at the hands of Debra, who died in 2013 after her breast cancer returned.

During her interview with Theroux, she also revealed that her mother would shower her until she was “17 or 18” and would give her “breast and vaginal exams”.

“She would give me breast or vaginal exams in the shower and said that she was checking for lumps – she was just checking for cancer,” she recalled. But when McCurdy voiced how “uncomfortable” the experiences were, her mother became “hysterical”.

McCurdy grew up in California with Debra, her father Mark McCurdy, and her three older brothers, Dustin, Marcus and Scott. Her best-selling memoir led to a two-book deal with Penguin Random House’s Ballantine Books label.

For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this piece, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677. NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.

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