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Women just can’t win.

If you’re a heavier-set woman, you’re told that you’re too big and need to lose weight to live longer and healthier.

If you’re an average-sized woman, there’s always someone saying you could have bigger breasts or that you should squat for your life to obtain a bigger bottom.

And as I’ve noticed more and more lately, if you’re a very strong, physically fit woman, you’re deemed too “manly.”

And yet, a man can walk out here with a beer belly and a booty (and some hips) bigger than yours and no one has anything to say. I can’t deal.

But seriously, I always knew that being a muscular woman is something people seem to frown upon. For instance, when I interviewed fitness enthusiast Lita Lewis in 2014, a woman who has since become a health and fitness inspiration to me, there were quite a few comments, including “Too many muscles for my liking.” And quite a few popular fitness enthusiasts have publicly responded to people who’ve said that they are packing too much muscle. That includes Massy Arias, who told Cosmopolitan, “This is my body, my decision, my prerogative. If I want to work out and be a beast, let me work out and be a beast.”

Still, it wasn’t until I started on my own quest to actually gain more muscle that I fully realized just how harsh people can be about women who are on the brolic side. Those people include my fiancé.

One of my biggest goals right now is to be stronger. I like the way I look and feel with more muscle on my body these days. As I was walking down the street with my fiancé a week ago, I told him that I wanted to really define my ab muscles. I was quite serious about this as the excitement in my eyes and tone would make one think I was speaking on something much more thrilling. When I finished sharing my goals with him, he responded with, “I don’t know. That’s not really cute.”

Exsqueeze me?

When I inquired about the statement he was trying to make, he said what a lot of people say, which is that trying to build more muscles is a look better suited for a guy. I couldn’t receive it. I told him that I didn’t appreciate his comment, seeing as I was talking about doing something positive and feeling good about myself, and his response was to tell me that in his eye, it wasn’t attractive. “I’m not trying to look ‘cute,'” I said. “I’m trying to be strong and healthy.”  He would eventually apologize and we would go about our walk in peace and positivity, but I couldn’t help but be stuck on “That’s not cute.”

Why are we so quick to say that women who train their bodies extensively aren’t cute, aren’t feminine, and are trying to be like men? Why do we skirt the whole point that these individuals are attempting to build strength, endurance, tone up, be powerful, and most importantly, live a healthier lifestyle, to instead focus on whether or not all that adds up to being attractive to someone else? Granted, these women likely aren’t pressed about whether or not anyone thinks them to be the finest thing this side of the Mississippi, but I thought it important to reiterate the fact that there isn’t one way to be feminine. The femininity people say these women lack isn’t just embodied in the woman with the soft curves, or the dainty models with the long limbs and striking features. Femininity can still be found in the women who have more muscle on them than they do makeup. Just as we don’t want people to define womanliness by whether or not we’re playing certain roles in society, we shouldn’t define it by one sort of look.

Still, I do think things are changing when it comes to our outlook for the long term. Look at Serena Williams. Just a few years ago, how many men and women were saying that she came off too muscular and mannish after years of building muscle on the tennis court and in the gym? But nowadays, we watch her use that strength to balance in a split inside mainstream magazines and to dominate on the court. (Not to mention, to snag the men some of us pine over — i.e., Common and Drake.) She has become our “#goals” more now than ever thanks to her hard work and hard body, reminding us that she is “a full woman, and I’m strong and I’m powerful and I’m beautiful at the same time. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” I’m hoping that as we can embrace her beauty and strength as a sinewy woman, we will also do so for everyday women who choose to be both powerful and pretty.

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