Faith vs Fantasy

Faith versus fantasy. I’ve been pondering this idea for quite some time. What exactly is faith? And how is it different than fantasy? These questions fascinate me – and they are particularly relevant both in my work as an actress and in my work as a body image/weight loss coach.

“Having faith” is a common theme in acceptance speeches, commencement addresses and motivational keynotes. And it seems that the more challenging the endeavor – the lower the odds for success – the greater the need for “faith.”

There is no better example of this than the life of an artist. There is a common expression in the acting world that says, “You are just one audition away from your big break!” In an industry where 2% of its union members actually make a living acting, is holding onto being “one audition away from your big break” faith or fantasy? Using that logic, I am just “one ticket away from winning the lottery.” And while most people would consider winning the lottery a fantasy, some people do win. And some actors do become academy-award winning movie stars. And the stories of how these now famous stars were once on the verge of giving up on their dreams are the legends that keep many frustrated actors going.

What is the difference between faith and fantasy?

This question is particularly relevant in my work as a weight loss/body image coach. When it comes to our weight and well-being, it seems to me that we have faith in a fantasy. And this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – except that it keeps so many of us stuck in pain and dysfunction around food and exercise. It keeps so many of us stuck in body shame and pain.

The fantasy, of course, is that we can control our weight and our shape through what we eat and what we do for exercise. We have come to believe (with the help of clever marketers) that because we are responsible for what we eat and what we do for exercise, we can (and should) control our weight and our shape. And therefore, if we are overweight – or not the size/shape we’d like to be – we are somehow lazy, stupid or wrong. It is our faith in this cultural fantasy that is the basis of our pain and dysfunction around food, exercise and our bodies. It is our faith in this fantasy that undermines our sense of self and our self-esteem.

To find freedom, peace and healing around food and exercise, we must let the “diet and exercise” fantasy go. But letting it go can be tough! We are the targets of a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry that bombards us with thousands of marketing messages each day. And this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – except that all of these marketing messages use this “you can control your body by controlling what you eat and what you do for exercise” fantasy as the core premise around which they build their campaigns.

And many of these marketing campaigns instill in us a secondary fantasy: If we can only… lose the weight, get in shape, fit into that dress, fill-in-the-blank, we would finally be happy.

So how do we let the fantasies go and still hold onto our faith? Isn’t faith what keeps us going? Isn’t faith what keeps us fighting for our dreams – despite the obstacles – so they can come true and we can be happy? After all, that’s why we want anything in the first place. We want what we want (including the body we want) because we think having it will make us happy.

After much philosophizing and reflection, I finally Googled it. The best explanation I found was from an article by Rabbi Shais Taub. In it he says, “Fantasy is an idea we cling to in order to escape reality. Faith is an idea we cling to in order to have that courage to face it.”

In terms of how this relates to our relationship with our bodies, we need to learn to honor the “reality” of our own experiences. And if our experiences of our weight and our well-being do not jibe with what the conventional, cultural (marketed) ideas suggest, we need to stand firm in our truth. By doing so, we exhibit self-respect, courage and faith in ourselves. And with faith in ourselves, we can experience happiness and face whatever Life may bring.