Book review: Fat Girl Dancing, Kris Kneen

An achingly honest memoir of otherness, queerness and embodied becoming.

Award-winning author Kris Kneen’s captivating memoir, Fat Girl Dancing, is a masterpiece of introspective corporeality. Deeply phenomenological and vaguely chronological, this book engages with size as an aspect of otherness, intersecting with concepts of queerness and gender performativity. 

Deeply metaphoric but never on the nose, Kneen’s sensual prose unpacks problems with seeing fatness as being situated within bodies as opposed to contexts. Writing from the inside out, and living from the outside in, the author unravels pernicious cultural myths regarding the realities of weight, while anecdotally revealing the indignities and micro-aggressions of living in a society that doesn’t quite fit. 

‘Pleasure and horror, celebration and disgust. I look at other fat bodies and I am drawn to them, aroused by them, empathic to them. I look at my own body and I am flooded with disgust. I look at my own body, and my flesh is soft and sweet and slicked with the natural musk of my body’s own oils. I want to celebrate this bag of flesh and fat. I want to love it as I love the fat people around me, but my tongue is sharp as a razor and I would cut myself with one lick.’

This book of bodily-becoming breathes at the intersections of otherness, and explores how this can be experienced. Kneen invites the reader into their childhood, adolescence, triumphs, shames, memories and marriage, peeling away layers of illusion with revelatory rawness. Stunning black and white close-ups punctuate the narrative, revealing nothing-and-everything in the soft angles and heavy contrasts of the naked human form. 

‘What will it take to free me from the shadow of Venus, the perfect woman of mythology and art? What will it take for me to come to peace with my body? I force myself back to my mirror. I drag myself back to the canvas.’

Elucidating the many ways in which the “fat tax” must be paid, Kneen outlines their various engagements with the world, mediated through the lenses of specific activities. Diving. Swimming. Hiking. Dancing. Becoming. Descriptions of how, in each of these contexts, the world is a differently-experienced place to differently-bodied people.

Instances of judgement disguised as concern reveal the illogicality of equating thinness with moral superiority, as Kneen deftly distinguishes between natural inconveniences and societal harms, both of which are capable of eroding self-confidence and – with it – the self. 

Look! I slash with the pastel, cutting lines of colour onto the page. Look! My desperate marks scream out to the artist buried deep inside me.’

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Fat Girl Dancing is an achingly honest memoir about writing the body, with poignant poetic emphasis on artistic expression, performing femininity and rebelliously refusing to languish. Kneen ultimately discovers that – in a world of too-short seatbelts and inadequately sized toilet cubicles – cosplaying as another version of oneself can function as both creation and self-reclamation, catalysing the relinquishment of a culturally-imposed void. To read this book is to experience embodiment as the othered self situated among many contexts.

Kneen’s journey will resonate deeply with those whose worlds don’t always fit, people who sparkle blue with joy, and those who know how it feels to experience a non-Euclidean selfhood.

Fat Girl Dancing by Kris Kneen
Publisher: Text Publishing 
ISBN: 9781922790217
Format: Paperback
Categories: Biography and Memoir, Non-Fiction, Australian 
Pages: 320pp
Release Date: 2 May 2023
RRP: $34.99

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.