Updated: Nov 14
What you actually want when you want to change your appearance.
A lot of the work I do with body image clients is helping them figure out what they really want to do, have, or experience, by looking a certain way.
I call these goals “Secret Goals,” as they tend to be hidden inside a person’s explicit and conscious goals— namely, aesthetic goals relating to body and beauty.
Sometimes, the explicit and conscious goal is to look and feel beautiful with makeup, while the Secret Goal is to get their need for intimacy, love, or sex met by attracting a potential partner, or keeping a current partner interested.
Sometimes the explicit and conscious goal is to “be healthier,” while the Secret Goal is to get their need for acceptance and belonging met, to be accepted into a certain social group or tier, or to avoid feeling like an outsider.
Sometimes the explicit and conscious goal is to lose weight, while the Secret Goal is to get a specific person’s approval (like for her mother to finally accept and be proud of her).
In order to help my clients identify their Secret Goals, I ask them how they think they would feel if they achieved their body goals, what emotion needs they think would get met, and what they think would be different in their lives.
Their secret goals tend to be hidden within their answers to those questions.
If a person thinks they’ll feel safe once they lose weight, then safety is their Secret Goal. If they think they’ll suddenly find a great partner or have amazing sex then partnership or sex is their Secret Goal. If they think they’ll finally feel like they belong if they fix all their flaws, then belonging is their Secret Goal.
Do you have secret goals hidden inside your body or beauty goals?
Try answering these questions to see:
How do you imagine you would feel if you achieved your body goals or looked how you want to look? (That feeling could be your Secret Goal.)
What do you imagine would be different in your life if you achieved your body goals or looked how you want to look? (Those changes could be Secret Goals.)
What emotional needs do you imagine would finally be fulfilled once you achieved your body goals or looked how you want to look? (Again, those could be Secret Goals.)
Learning to identify your Secret Goals is a super important step toward body neutrality, both because it helps shine a light on why your body image issues exist, and because it offers you insight into the direction you need to go in order to overcome them and really thrive.
Once you know which emotional needs are going unmet, or what you’re really craving, you can simply cut out the middle-man (aka changing your appearance) and go get that thing directly! After all, despite what we’re taught, most of the needs and desires people try to meet with their appearance can’t actually be met by changing the way they look.
We’re taught that looking a certain way will automatically lead to happiness, confidence, success, belonging, and a fabulous sex life… but trust me, I’ve worked with some of the most conventionally beautiful women in the world, and they are living proof that it doesn’t work like that.
It should be noted here that sometimes identifying your Secret Goals can be super tricky, because sometimes we’ve been too thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that getting our needs/desires met is dangerous, impossible, selfish, or a burden on other people.
In such cases, identifying your Secret Goals might only be a starting point from which you’ll need to explore yourself even deeper.
To give you an example, I once had a client we’ll call Lauren who told me that she was thinking about getting liposuction for her legs and belly, but wasn’t sure. I asked her why — what was she hoping the procedure would offer her?
She responded that it would offer her a thinner profile, so I asked again. “And what would having a thinner profile offer you?”
To both of our surprise, she paused for a minute, and then burst out that she hoped the procedure would make her sister jealous, make the “skinny bitches at the yoga studio realize how wrong they were about me,” and make her husband (and his fancy friends) feel like he’d won the jackpot.
Whew! Lauren was describing a desire for status. She wanted to be on a higher rung on the social status ladder, which often points us in the direction of deep, chronically unmet, core desires and needs which someone learned from a young age wouldn’t (or couldn’t) be directly met.
Having grown up in a family of abusive narcissists, Lauren had learned that being better than someone meant power, and the only way to avoid verbal abuse and humiliation was to be perfect and therefore “above criticism.” So while her Secret Goal was social status, there was an even deeper layer underneath to unpack, which was the desire to feel like it was safe to exist and have emotional needs, and possible for those needs to be met.
All of this is simply to say: beware as you explore your secret goals. If they come from a wounded place, you’ll need to dig deeper and do some healing around them before you take action toward getting them met— otherwise you’ll be misled down an unfulfilling path.
It takes work, yes. But the cool thing about approaching your goals this way is that nearly all Secret Goals can be met more quickly and fully by taking direct action toward them than would have resulted from trying to change your appearance.
For example, someone who has been hoping that by losing weight she’ll attract a great partner can simply start dating and putting herself out there, and find a great partner without changing her weight.
This kind of approach shifts the power from external to internal, and shifts your role from passive to active— instead of trying to change how you look enough for good stuff to just “happen” to you, you go out there and make good stuff happen, no matter how you look.
This is a much more empowering and confidence-boosting way to go about getting what you want! Plus, taking action to go get what you want and need naturally debunks the myth that your body needs to look different in order for you to feel how you want to feel, and live the life you want to live.
Once you’ve identified your Secret Goals, the next step is to figure out exactly how to take baby steps toward directly pursuing and actualizing them.
Note that this step is simple, but not easy. The stuff we’re craving often feels impossibly scary and difficult to move toward directly, and requires a lot of patience, practice, skill-building, and time! That said, while this step takes a ton of courage and work, anyone can do it in the body they have today!
Here’s a few example of pursuing your Secret Goals more directly:
Searching for more acceptance and belonging? Instead of trying to “earn” that by looking perfect, learn to be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous— let your freak flag fly, and go out there to meet your people!
Hoping you’ll finally feel confident enough to wear a bikini? Instead of waiting until you’re happy with your body, take baby steps outside your comfort zone, choosing to be brave instead of comfortable and exposing more and more skin in public until you can rock the bikini!
Wanting more intimacy and passion with your partner? Instead of trying to elicit their desire by “looking better,” start having more vulnerable and honest conversations about what you’re feeling and what you want. Open up a dialogue about sex and intimacy, what makes you feel desired, and how to work toward more intimacy and sexual fulfillment!
What are your Secret Goals, and how can you move toward meeting them more directly?
Do any of them need to be explored or healed before you can take action, or do you just need to tap into courage, face your fears, and go after the life you most crave??
Let me know how this lands for you! <3 Jessi
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