Many studies have shown that there is a significant relationship between body image and fitness. This may be due in part to the fact that previous studies have also found strong links between both self-esteem and body image and self-esteem and fitness. In examining these variables, some people think of body image and self-esteem as the same thing, since both have the potential to heavily affect and be affected by the level of physical fitness. It is important to distinguish, however, that body image is usually only one aspect of overall self-esteem, which may include other things such as confidence in one's abilities, intellect, and interpersonal skills.
It is easy to see a connection between body image and fitness at first because people who take care of themselves, including eating healthy, exercising, and generally maintaining good physical fitness, are likely to see these things reflected in their bodies and be pleased with the results, causing a higher body image. The relationship can go both directions, however, and it is difficult to determine which is the cause and which is the effect. For instance, perhaps individuals with good body image feel more worthy of taking time for self-improvement, including exercise and good health practices, among other things, which eventually leads to a higher state of physical fitness.
It is entirely possible for an individual to have a negative correlation between body image and fitness. For example, an individual with body dysmorphic disorder may see something horribly wrong with his or her body and feel that it is unusually ugly despite the fact that he or she is in good physical condition with no aesthetic issues obvious to anyone else. Also, physically unfit people may have high self-esteem in other areas of life, such as academic work, which contributes to an overall positive self-image, including body image. For the majority of people, however, body image and fitness go hand in hand, with a relatively strong positive relationship.
Problems with body image can have devastating effects on fitness and overall health, including mental as well as physical health. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are sometimes reactions to the distorted body image of an individual who does not believe he or she is as attractive or fit as other people see him or her. Generally, a discrepancy in the other direction, when physically unfit people find themselves attractive nonetheless, does not cause as many potentially dangerous problems, but it may prevent those individuals from seeking out healthier lifestyles if changes are needed for health reasons.