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This is the year I turn 50. This is the year I continue to hate my body.

This year, I turn 50. This year, I continue to hate my body.

I turn 50 this year. I continue to hate my body this year.

Any way I say this, it sounds bad.

Of my soon to be 50 years of life, I have spent approximately 40 years actively hating my body.

Does a letter hate its envelope? A foot its shoe? A chick its egg?

Why, then, this hate?

This hate.

I have pictures. I know what I looked like as a child. I was not a fat child. Instead, I was told I was a fat child. That my rounded child’s belly and parentheses thighs were FAT, and FAT was something I needed to feel bad about. The message was that fat was the worst thing a person could be, and I was

eight.

Nine.

Ten.

Eleven.

The railroad spike of this directive sledgehammered into the wet cement of me, set hard.

Sandwiched between two ruthless brothers in a household where verbal cruelty was a competition sport, I was easy game. My parents — the should’ve-been referees — were, instead, the audience. With the rebuttal they should’ve been providing to my brothers’ barrage of relentless brutal nowhere to be found, I had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. In the void of any contradiction, every harsh word became truth.

Dear Little Girl Tracy Lynne Oliver,

You will want so much to look like your Barbie dolls. Breasts, waists, legs. There’s a humming there, a warmth in a place you already know to keep secret. The want of what Barbie has, the knowledge of that want, even at this barely age, I curse it for you. If I bent time and replaced the Barbies with baby dolls, would my hate be less? At the least, would it have created a small reprieve? A short lapse for you to be able to cultivate a childhood free of that womanish wanting? A long enough pause to cultivate a childhood free of expectations of body?

You are enough.

Say it.

Hurry.

I can give you a list that’s Eskimo-words-for-snow long of things I hate about my body. My thigh-hate alone is a treasure trove: how I can hear the whish of my pants rubbing together where thigh has always met thigh; how, when I’m standing, those thighs bunch up over my knees, creating a detestable roll that shouldn’t be there on a person; how, when I’m seated, the flab of them spreads wide and gross like some sort of supine, cowardly victim waiting for a sword; the dimples and stretch marks that wallpaper them like a diseased affliction; their abhorrent jiggle; the way they wear down my jeans in the same exact spot, the threadbare fabric evidential shame of how my gargantuan thighs cannot be contained, even by man-made materials.

My thighs, once conjoined twins forever fighting to reunite.

I can go on.

And on.

Each hate changing with the weather. With every outfit. With every shower. With every summer. With every event.

A plethora of opportunities for fresh, stale hate.

Will we I ever be able to not hate our my bodies body?

Dear Not Yet Teenage Tracy,

You will study the soft puff of your nipples, impatient for the fullness to bloom underneath them. Don’t worry, that day will come. Your breasts will be just fine. It’s the rest of you that you have already learned to hate.

Regretfully,

I cannot stop using the word hate even though I keep telling myself that hate is a strong word. One definition of hate reads, “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.” And then there are examples of usage: “to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.” And here I am, using that word in relation to my very own body, unable to choose a softer word, because in my soul, hate is the perfect word choice. Hate is exactly what I feel toward myself.

Dear Teenage Tracy,

Every time a young man picks one of your thinner, more developed friends, it’s NOT one more validation of your grotesque. It’s another missed opportunity for a pimply faced adolescent boy to know the amazing you.

Wear those Dolphin shorts. Go swimming without a T-shirt. Peel down that one-piece and throw it over a telephone line like sneakers. Put on a red Phoebe Cates Fast Times bikini. You will never be as thin as you are right now. Your thighs are perfect.

I understand why you see everything funhouse-mirror wrong, and it’s okay. Just trust me, you are at the height of your magical powers. Radiate.

I have had only one way of going through life, and it begins every morning when I wake up and remember I have to go through my day, my life in this body. I put on clothes I do not wish to wear — their bigger sizes a failure. Their smaller counterparts hang alongside, all mocking and sass. But put them on I do. And through the world I walk, feeling every eye disapproving on the too much of me. The failure of my unperfect frame.

Every day, I vow to change this body. And every day, I do not.

It does not.

Even when my body has changed, the hate lies in wait. In the hot dark. Patient for its pounce.

There is no freedom.

Dear Twenties Tracy,

Wear that dress. Wear that skirt. Go to that pool party. Your thighs are the perfect glossy swerve. See that what-mesmerizes-men spot where the swell of your hips rolls soft into the bank of your waist? The bang of your ass harmonizing with it all, a siren call.

That sexual hourglass, it’s yours.

See it.

Hear me.

Please. Hear me.

Why can’t I ever see me as strong? Why can’t I revere myself for growing two children within my body? For pushing them out, pain a high-pitched scream? Why do I choose to forget how I carried this body running for more than seven miles when it was the last thing I believed I could do? How my strength carried me farther than the mind and soul of me ever thought was possible. Why did I never believe how others admired my curves, my soft, my sway? Why am I first, fighting for front of the line, to be my own villain? A lifelong adversary. A rivalry of epic proportions. Why? Why do I see this now, know this now, and yet still I persist?

Dear Thirties Tracy,

You don’t know it now, but you are my favorite version of me. I see how you shine. The way men look at you. The way even women glance. If only I could pull you out of yourself, grab you by your hair, tow you to this future place and make you watch. Make you see what I/you see. Maybe then it would dampen the hate. Maybe you could at least live your next two decades feeling a kindness toward your flesh rather than a constant loathing.

Maybe, if you can see you now how I/you see you, you could find some goddamn peace.

I still have that one shirt you/we used to wear. The one we knew made everybody want us.

That feeling? Of goddessness? That is you. No matter what your hate tries to tell you. That feeling is the truth.

Hold on to that. Eat it fork and spoon.

My enemy, myself.

Here are some of the wars I’ve waged:

I have starved you. Remember that preteen best-friend competition of who could eat less? “One saltine, four grapes, one hard-boiled egg” vs. “Two Ritz, a slice of Velveeta, half an orange, and two Starburst.” Starving yourself into eighth grade, into 10th grade, into your senior Hawaii trip, into your wedding, into multitudes of events requiring a show or evaluation of body. I have Weight Watchered, Jenny Craiged, Deal-A-Mealed, Nutrisystemed, and Atkinsed you. Then there were the pills. The colorful variety I put inside myself just to get rid of you: Dexatrim and all its various forms and flavors, Ayds, behind-the-counter Sudafed and Fen-Phen, to name a few. The primal rush when you begin with them, then how, when it fades, you take more. Then more. How your heartbeat skips and flounders, how your eyes vibrate and your breath doubles and hitches. I have worked you to the point of excess, hoping to shape you into what everyone wants; Jane Fonda Workout, ThighMaster, Richard Simmons, aerobics classes, step aerobics classes, Jazzercise, Zumba, Thighs of Steel, Buns of Steel, Billy Blanks Tae Bo, Couch to 5K. I have bound, salved, and wrapped you in attempts to wipe you away. I have often dreamed of knives and how easy it would be to just cut the excess away—that slab, that roll, that bump. Slice. Slice. Slice.

The less of me there is, the better.

Less of me = more of me.

Wasting myself away just to feel good.

I win these wars I wage.

I lose these wars I wage.

The battlefield, my body.

Dear Forties Tracy,

During this decade of your life, you will have one of your greatest accomplishments. You will run seven miles without stopping—through the hilly street of San Francisco, no less. You and your body will do this. The body you continue to abhor. This was not an easy triumph. You worked for it. You worked so hard. You, who never ran a day in your 40-plus years of life. Remember how your body made this happen and try to hold some kindness…if for nothing else…this feat alone.

That kindness, though, should be held for much more. Like your body’s daily caring. Of you. Of everything you are.

I will never know the joy of being happy in my body. I was robbed of that early on. The thieves long gone, leaving me to hold what they left behind. I’m frequently envious of the women who can walk about unapologetically thin in clothing that fits to form or reveals every part that I am first to shroud. How unencumbered their life must be to not steer its course around the hate of their body. To be able to go anywhere, dressed any way, for any reason, without the dread of the closet. Without the blunt of the mirror. Pool party, nightclub, ski weekend, spa, saying yes, yes, yes while I calculate pounds to lose per week, minus Master Cleanse, minus carbs, plus B12 shots, plus gym time, plus weight-loss teas, plus diuretics equals saying no, no, no. Equals staying home.

Equals less living.

Equals less life.

If I haven’t seen you in more than a year, I canceled our plans to catch up not because of any reason I gave you.

I am not dancing at your wedding, because I do not want to be captured on video, my fat replayed into the potential eternity of your marriage.

I am not taking the elevator instead of the four flights of stairs with you, because of how I “hurt my foot” yesterday.

I am not going to the beach to hang out with everyone, because I will be the only one wearing capri pants and a cover-up.

I am not going to go hiking with you, because I won’t be able to keep up, but I will tell you it’s because I’m too busy.

Let me hold the camera. You get in the picture. I’ll get in the next one.

The elevator at work is fully mirrored. I keep my eyes on the ground. I have made very clear how much I hate my body; I am also not a fan of my face.

Where can you hide if there is nowhere to hide?

Dear Tracy,

You are almost 50 years old. Tell them yourself there is no happy ending. Despite your perspective. Despite your loss of life better lived. Say out loud that these lessons, this love, you are giving to your younger self do not apply now. Say out loud, “I will continue this hate, because not being a perfect size means I should not love my body.” Say, “I will keep wasting my life, hide myself away, and ignore all who love me, because my thighs rub together and I have fat rolls.” I want you to speak these idiotic phrases out loud. Over and over again. Until you can hear the absurdity.

Now. Let me hear it.

Now learn.

Illustration by Daiana Ruiz. Creative art direction by Anagraph.