Last year, Marie-Noëlle Hébert won the Prix des libraires du Québec for the French-language title La grosse laide, a deeply emotional graphic memoir chronicling her years-long battle with an eating disorder. The English translation, My Body in Pieces, likewise follows Hébert as she struggles with body image and low self-esteem.
In the story, 20-year-old Hébert lives alone in a big apartment with only Ganache, her cat, for company. In a call to her maman, it’s clear she’s both emotionally and mentally suffocating from an unrelenting pressure.
Over a series of flashbacks, we learn the roots of Hébert’s anguish extend deep into her childhood. As a child, she’s obsessed with princesses but can’t recall the moment the fascination took hold. At eight, she’s already come to hate shopping because of the clothes she must choose from. Bullied by the cool kids, she finds relief in a bag of chips. Incidents such as these lead Hébert to develop a list of secrets for being beautiful, which include “never try to look like a fat girl who thinks she’s thin” and “forget about what you want and do what you’re told.”
Unable to tolerate her father’s fat shaming any longer, Hébert leaves home. Her desire to be completely alone leads her to distance herself from her friends. The only one of her friends to remain is Matilda; with her encouragement and support, Hébert finally seeks the professional help she desperately needs.
Hébert speaks with unflinching honesty about the debilitating loneliness and pain she endured: “[My family] thought it was more important to teach me how to hold in my stomach than teach me to stand up and be proud of myself.” In this line, the author encapsulates the damaging cycle women perpetuate when they pass down their own body shame to future generations.
Hébert’s illustrations in graphite pencil – a technique she largely taught herself – are not only breathtaking but also searing. Using a spectrum of dark hues, she’s able to communicate an anguish beyond what her text expresses. In one particularly gut-wrenching spread, Hébert dissects her body one piece at a time. In cutting away at herself, she becomes eerily manufactured and lifeless frame by frame.
My Body in Pieces reminds young readers of all genders that perfection doesn’t exist and encourages them to both accept and love themselves without apology.