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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KU chapter.


Fear Around Fitness

When I started working out, my biggest fear was that I would stop “looking like a woman.” In retrospect, this anxiety feels a bit ridiculous. But it starts to make sense when you take into account how much fitness media gives young women the idea that “strength” is something only for men. Countless YouTube videos have titles like “How to work out without getting bulky!” or “Need to lose muscle? Try only ever doing cardio!” When I was in middle school, I was already searching for and worrying about these things. And without any visible alternative, I naturally bought into the belief that being or appearing weak is what young women were supposed to do.

I am a far cry from any sort of fitness professional, but the recommendations I’m making to you in this article have nothing to do with the actual act of exercise, and everything to do with your perspective. My own understanding of strength, fitness, and femininity has slowly improved over the years as body-positive movements have made an impact. But it wasn’t until this past summer that I finally saw the light. And it’s all thanks to a bestselling (and super spicy) series called A Court of Thorns and Roses.

A Brief Introduction to the SJM Universe

If your For You page leans even slightly towards the “BookTok” side of the app, odds are you’ve heard of ACOTAR. Earlier this year, Sarah J. Maas’ fantasy/romance series took the world by storm and, from what I could gather, the story followed young human women as they found true love in the form of fairy men. After months of avoiding the books, I was forced to give in as glowing reviews of the plot seemed too good to resist (my fellow ACOTAR fans will note here that “the plot” is code for “Rhysand”). I ended up flying through the first book in a week and had no choice but to devour the others soon after. I’m now nearly finished with the fifth and final book and, I admit, the men in this series do have quite a lot going for them. But what really keeps me coming back is the surprisingly complex and inspiring cast of female characters that Maas has created. I was shocked to find myself deeply impacted by characters like Feyre Archeron, the main protagonist of books one through four. See, Sarah J. Maas writes women with a characteristic that is refreshing and often rare to see in an epic fantasy setting: strength.

Strong Women in ACOTAR

“I think there are many different types of female strength,” Maas says in an interview for 88 Cups of Tea, where she explains that the inspiration for the women in her series comes from her own adolescence, growing up with characters like Buffy and Sailor Moon. “Girly girls who loved feminine things and then turn into these bad*ss warriors,” she explains, noting how important it is that “their feminine qualities don’t cancel out their strengths.”

There’s a pattern in fiction— and real life—where women are often told they can either be pretty or strong. Feminine or powerful. Maas’ female characters turn these expectations on their head. From the second book on, we’re surrounded by characters like Amren, a small and sassy woman who would kill for a beautiful necklace, and who is also the second-in-command of an entire region. Or Morrigan, one of the most feared and revered warriors of her time, who is rarely seen out of the bright red ballgowns she loves so much. Sarah J. Maas is creating a space with these books where beauty is strength and power is feminine.

Define Your Own Strength

So why am I telling you this? Aside from the fact that my friends are tired of hearing me talk about this series, I want as many young women as possible to get the kind of inspiration I got from Sarah J. Maas’ characters. If your gym anxiety in any way resembles mine, it can be helpful to have some reassurance— even if it comes in the form of fantasy characters.

When I started getting to know the characters in this series, I also started going back to the gym. Coincidence? Definitely not. Because not only did I go back, I had a completely different attitude. I care so much less about the scale these days, and more about things like endurance and mobility. I hope the sort of representation Sarah J. Maas provides can help give you the freedom to pursue strength in whatever way you choose.

You don’t necessarily have to read the books— though I do highly recommend them. The ACOTAR series was just one way I found myself re-evaluating the restrictions I put on my own power, and discovering new ways to be strong.

Reece Wohlford is a first-year student writer for the KU chapter of Her Campus. Reece strives to be creative in her approach to researching and writing original articles every week. She is especially interested in the areas of fashion, books, and the arts. Reece is currently an English major at the University of Kansas and is working toward a concentration in Creative Writing. In her free time, Reece enjoys reading, going to the gym, and tweaking her incredibly specific Spotify playlists over and over again. She can often be found obsessively working on (but never quite finishing) her acrylic paintings, learning songs on the piano, or struggling with her personal writing projects. Reece loves spending time outside, going out with friends, and hanging out with her family. Her entire camera roll is either pictures of her cat, Wizard, or the dogs at the doggy daycare where she works part-time.