About 5 years ago my body image was in the gutter. I was also in a relationship with a wonderful man, who cared about me like the Earth cares about the Sun. He loved me, just the way I was, but there was a problem with that: I didn't love me just the way I was.
I would always marvel at his intelligence and would ask him to explain his homework and classes. He was funny, silly, and loved to make puns with me. You're probably thinking, but what does this have to do with body image? I'm getting there. Don't worry.
My poor body image put a huge strain on our relationship. There were days when I couldn't even cuddle with him because I felt crappy about the way I looked. He loved my curves, but some days I would just throw my arms up and say "I can't! I'm feeling too ugly!"
As I look back on this experience, I am purely awe stricken. Here was my boyfriend, who loved me unconditionally but I couldn't reciprocate because I was so unhappy about my body image. With a whole lot of courage from myself, as well as my boyfriend, I took up a running class. I even managed to find a running buddy, who is still my friend to this day. When I started to learn what my body was capable of, I began to think of how it functioned, and not how it looked. I saw my body as a vessel that could potentially improve race scores, and I was focused on improving my running technique.
I was elated. I consistently told my boyfriend about how I was improving, and he was so supportive all the way through. When I took up running, my body image issues weren't magically cured. Poor body image is something that can take over your every waking moment of every day. During that period, there was not a period where I would wake up, swing my legs out of bed and say "Ew my thighs are gross." I worked out 5 days a week, and did a lot of walking up and down the stairs of my university campus. (I will tell you that there are a lot of stairs!!)
I am about 25 now, and I finally feel good about the way I look and, most importantly- how I feel as a person.
I feel that it is very difficult to talk about poor body image without it leading to body shaming. I find that talking about poor body image leads to a ripple effect: one girl says she feels fat, then the other says she is so ugly, and so on and so forth. Also one thing: one cannot FEEL fat!! It`s not an emotion!!
We need to build an alliance and stand strong together. Shaming is not the answer. Accepting each other, and our selves, as well as being able to talk about body image in a healthy way is key. I would know, I've been there. :)