Writer uses a bologna sandwich to illustrate the beauty battle women wage with themselves

When you wake up to Khloe Kardashian's unedited photo debacle making headlines, it's not hard to see why so many women have body and beauty complexes.

Even for those of us who roll our eyes at Kardashian drama, the struggle is real. Even when we know that the images on Instagram are filtered and edited to unrealistic perfection. Even when we understand that societal beauty standards are arbitrary and stupid. Even with the proliferation of body-positive messages that encourage us to love the skin we're in, most women I know wage some kind of internal daily battle over beauty.

If only it were as simple as embracing what we look like in our natural state. If we truly and fully did that, though, we'd be smelly and unkempt, hair matted, nails scraggly, and teeth rotting. There's a certain amount of grooming that's reasonable to expect in civilized society, but what's enough and what's too much? At what point does beautification become problematic? There's no definitive line.

Then there's "health and fitness," which is good on the one hand, but toxic on the other. I could write an entire book on the social politics of fat on women's bodies. Follow that up with the make-up, the hair coloring/curling/straightening/styling, the wrinkle creams, the injections, and gracious, I'm already feeling mixed up inside barely 200 words into talking about women and beauty.

Writer and video blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom described these internal struggles women experience perfectly in a Facebook post. Sharing a photo of herself biting into a bologna sandwich, Backstrom wrote:


"You want to understand a woman?

Let's start right here: smack dab in the middle of a romantic moment I shared with a fried bologna sandwich. This was five minutes ago, y'all.

It was, in a word: intense.

Soft white bread, a generous schmear of mayo, and more than a couple slices of homegrown tomatoes. My word. I felt like confessing to my husband, which is why you have this picture.

I texted it to Ian, with a joke that I might actually be cheating, because nothing satisfies a woman quite like a solid sammy, hot tots, and a little bit of dippin sauce.

You can argue all you want, but you'd be wrong.

Sandwich. Tots. Dipping Sauce.

That's all we need.

I was fully in the moment when I got a little *ping* from my Optavia coach. She wanted to know how I was doing on the program. "The program" being a thing I signed up for a few months ago when couldn't fit in my skinny jeans and was suddenly motivated to shed a few bologna sandwiches.

So, now I'm invested to the tune of hundreds of dollars, with two full boxes of powdered astronaut food sitting in my entryway closet because I don't care how delicious a powder brownie mix is, NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, competes with fried tots and dipping sauce.

Anyways, back to understanding a woman.

You need to understand:

I am fiercely committed to enjoying bologna sandwiches.

I am 100% committed to becoming the next Brooklyn Decker via overpriced crash diet space food.

And I am ALSO anti-diet culture and will probably post a picture of myself weighing 200 pounds telling everyone on this page to LOVE THEMSELVES AS THEY ARE because, DAMMIT you are beautiful!

And you know what the crazy part is?

I am 100%, full-hearted, unabashedly all three opposing people at once.

The woman eating the bologna sandwich.

The woman who says "screw diet culture".

And the woman who signs up for random crash diets when I want to fit into a fashionable dress for a family wedding.

If you want to understand a woman, you have to understand this conflict.

I want to love myself as I am.

I want to enjoy life without reservation.

And I want to be beautiful by society's standards.

And I understand that none of these things agree or make any damn sense, and it drives me crazy, and makes me feel like a hypocrite, and makes me rage at the system, and makes me order overpriced powdered brownies, and makes me binge on bologna sandwiches, and makes me go to bed feeling like I should've done it better because if I was just

a little more disciplined

a little bit thinner

a little more consistent

a little more wild

a little more free

a little more original

but also a little more like the standard

then...maybe THEN, I would be an ideal woman.

And maybe I already am. I certainly believe that my friends are, and they enjoy bologna sandwiches.

But I wouldn't know. Because I look to the right and look to the left and all I see are things society thinks I should improve.

And it messes me up and confuses my brain and it drives me to space food and fried bologna sandwiches.

And that, my friends, is what it is to be a woman."

Seriously. She nails it.

It's not that men can't have this same kind of internal conflict; I'm sure some men are torn between wanting a burger and fries and embracing their dad bod, while also coveting Lenny Kravitz's abs. But for women, there are just so many elements for us to grapple with. We want to feel beautiful, but we don't want to conform to stupid societal beauty standards. We want to be in shape, but we want to love our bodies just as they are. We want to feel sexy, but we don't want to be sexualized. We slip down beauty standard rabbit holes—from hair to skin to weight to eyebrows—and we roll our eyes all the way down while also taking notes.

It's a confusing struggle, but for so many women, it's very real. Thank you, Mary Katherine, for keeping it real.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

Keep Reading Show less