My family knew me as the skinny kid. “You’re so skinny! Skinny-Minnie!” said my mom and aunt, the perpetual dieters. My sister was the cute one, with her long blond hair, but I was the skinny one, and everyone reminded me of it. My body has gone through so many iterations since then. I have become a mother and had children of my own. And now, I hate my postpartum body. But back then, back when I sat in friends’ laps, they would complain that I had a boney butt. I was so small that my butt throbbed after sitting on wooden bleachers. I was smaller than my 16-month-younger sister, smaller than my same-age cousin, smaller than my three-years-younger cousin. I didn’t get hand-me-downs, I got hand-me-ups. I had deep hems on my school skirts. I was the skinny one.

Then, in college, I was the hot one. My best friend told me that, along with a girl named Emma. They said I was tied for best body in the dorm. My residential college regularly threw Gatsby-inspired parties and I dressed as a flapper, all flat chest and belly, narrow hips and slim legs. I have a picture of myself in grad school: I am standing in Death Valley, in a shirt that’s hiked up over my navel. You can see the line of my hipbones, my flat stomach. I was the small one. Then the hot one. And now I am the one who hates her postpartum body.

Courtesy of Kathryn Catanese

I know, intellectually, that small and skinny aren't the only ways to be beautiful. I’ve seen women with curves on curves and thought, Wow, she’s gorgeous. I believe every body is beautiful. But I had three kids, two years apart each, and gained a huge amount of weight with each: 50 pounds with my first son, 60 pounds with baby number two, and a whopping 100 pounds with baby number three (I was also diagnosed during this pregnancy with gestational diabetes). Every body might be beautiful, but mine doesn’t feel like it. It didn’t feel like it pregnant, and it still doesn't feel much like it afterwards.

My body no longer matches my image of myself. So I struggle, postpartum, to accept myself the way I am.

Take the basic etchings of pregnancy: stretch marks. With my first son, they began to spiderweb over my breasts. With my second son, they crackled over my belly. By the third baby, my inner thighs rippled like a strange cheese, all bumps and rips and tears. They turned white, of course, and because I’m so pale, you can’t see them. But you can feel them, can see their texture. I hate the loss of my smooth skin. I know stretch marks supposed to be the mark of some kind of strength, a reminder of the beauty thing you did in carrying a child. But for me, they just look like cheese.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

I’ve always been able to lose most of the baby weight — all but 10-to-20 pounds with each kid. But that 10-to 20-pounds sat in places I’d never dreamed of. I had breasts following my births: 32HH, to be specific. I didn’t even know that was a possible bra size. They’re about the size of my head, and I’m not even breastfeeding that much anymore. My husband loves them. But I wish I could buy bras at the mall again.

Then there’s my belly. After baby comes out, there’s always a pooch in the space he’s occupied for 40 weeks. For my first baby, I wore a belly binder religiously, night and day, for six weeks. My stomach tightened up. For the other two babies… well, I had a lot on my mind, and I didn’t like the visible ridges the binder left under my shirt. So I’m left with a pooch of fat and skin under my ribs. Lately, I’ve gained some weight due to medication, and that pooch now sags down like a bulldog’s jowl. I hate it. I hate it.

Every single day, I look in the mirror and see a woman who is not me.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

My boobs are bigger. My hips are wider, my stomach fatter. My thighs rub together now — there is no thigh gap in sight for me. I remember how traumatized I was during my first pregnancy when they first touched; now, I’d settle for them touching a little bit less, rather than not at all. I swear I even have a little bit of extra fat under my chin, but my husband denies it.

I also hate that my stomach developed this weird, crepe-y skin on the bottom. It’s wrinkly and strange, a mark that I’ve definitely had kids, sure as my hooded belly button. The crepe-y skin obscures my mons pubis when I look down, which just makes me feel fat. There isn’t anything wrong with being fat. But fat isn’t my self-conception, and I find it very hard to accept myself this way.

Every single day, I look in the mirror and see a woman who is not me.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

I’m not the Skinny Minnie my mom and aunt sighed over. My body isn’t that unattractive, truly. My husband says I look great. I disagree. The belly, the boobs, the hips, and the stretch marks combine to make something I don’t picture when I think about myself. My body no longer matches my image of myself. So I struggle, postpartum, to accept myself the way I am. I don’t like it.

I’d like to say I’m learning slowly to accept it, but I’m not. Instead, I put on makeup and wear dresses to make myself feel better. I hide. Cover up. Keep the parts of myself hidden that I don't recognize. I don't love my body, but I don't begrudge any other woman who does. I love my three sons, but they sure have changed the way I look and feel about my body.