When did lying by a pool on vacation become so much effing work?!

By By Leslie Goldman
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Photos: Leslie Goldman

On a recent vacation in Playa del Carmen with my husband, we landed ourselves a sweet cabana with guaranteed shade (great for my skin) and an endless stream of guac (even better for my stomach). Relaxing on our comfy daybed, I let myself splay out, Savasana-style, as I read magazines, scrolled through my phone, and napped.

Every hour or so, I'd get up to take a dip in the water, then dry off on a lounge chair in the sun. Did I stretch out, Savasana-style, outside the confines of our private little haven?

I did not.

Instead, I automatically assumed The Position. You know what I'm talking about: One leg is extended straight out, the other is strategically bent at a 45-degree angle to make the thigh appear slim. The back is ever-so-slightly arched, and a certain degree of tightening is going on in the tummy, even though the whole point of lying out is to ~relax~. (Related: These Body-Positive Women Will Inspire You to Wear a Bikini with Confidence)

The fact that I defaulted to this pose so effortlessly is proof of how indoctrinated we as women have become. I am 42 years old, a happily married mom of two young girls. I have no interest in attracting suitors. I'm a women's health writer with a body-confidence book under my belt. A few times a year, I travel to colleges and universities to deliver empowering, love-your-shape talks to auditoriums full of young women. Shouldn't I be letting it all hang out, allowing my thighs to spread out and smush together, forgetting about any semblance of abs?

I should, but I didn't.

I was hardly the only bikini-clad sunbather there preening when I should have been zoning out. A quick panoramic glance of the pool area proved to me that nearly all of the ladies there had some degree of body consciousness going on. In addition to The Position, there were women modeling for their iPhones, striking all sorts of inane #bikinigram poses-belly down, propped up on their elbows, perched precariously on the edge of the pool as they faux-stared into the ocean; sitting cross-legged on a lounge chair, stomach sucked in, one hand holding a champagne glass; kneeling, thighs resting on calves, butt popped (aka "The Bambi").

So it seems we were divided into two camps: Those who felt self-conscious and those who felt the need to rack up Likes on Insta. What we all had in common: We were afraid to just wear a bathing suit and, crazy as it sounds, relax while relaxing.

Look, the bikini exploded onto the beach scene 70+ years ago, and women have been sucking in their stomachs ever since. I'm sure the inventor wasn't trying to create more work for women, but research shows that even just imagining trying on a bathing suit makes women feel worse about their bodies. (Related: This Mom Came to the Best Realization After Trying On Bikinis with Her Daughter)

Prepping for a vacation often involves an uptick in workouts; sunless tanning so as not to appear too pale on Day 1; a trip to the waxing salon; a no-chip mani/pedi; and the list goes on and on. Nearly every week, publicists pitch me "bikini season" stories with absurd subject lines like "Tip-Top Tush Booty Facial," "Turn Your Outtie to an Innie in 15 Minutes," and "Non-Invasive Ways to Make Your Breasts Prettier for Bikini Season."

Here's the thing: We don't need local anesthesia or strategic fat transfer to hit the beach. Nobody really cares if you have a "Toblerone tunnel"-the triangular-shaped space that is apparently supposed to appear where a woman's inner thighs meet her crotch-because they're all too freaked out about other people judging them. (Also, Swiss chocolate bars go in your mouth, not between your legs-add that to the list of things you should never put near your vagina.)

Also, every picture you see on social is doctored or fake, anyway. Amsterdam-based fitness model Imre Çeçen gave her 328,000+ Insta followers a thrilling jolt of reality in June of last year when she posted a picture showing side-by-side photos of herself dangling her feet in a pool. In the photo on the left, labeled, "INSTAGRAM," Çeçen has hot dog legs, a thigh gap, and the kind of flat-even-when-slouching tummy that defies human physiology. In the photo on the right, labeled, "REALITY," she's allowed her legs to relax so her thighs spread out like actual flesh-and-bone body parts, not encased meat products. Her stomach is no longer concave, #becausebreathing. Ironman competitor Chi Pham has posted a similar keepin'-it-real pooside thigh pic, much to the relieved delight of her 178,000 Instagram followers.

Attempting to take the hot dog thigh pic nearly gave Çeçen a hernia, she quipped, because she "had to arch my back like crazy, hold my legs up (serious ab work was involved) and had to sit on the edge of the pool which caused me to almost fall. Both my camera & I [nearly] drowned in the sadness of insta perfection."

Indeed, that sounds like a depressing way to die. Let's stop trying to look a certain way in our cell phone shots and focus on the way the sun feels on our skin, the deliciousness of the first sip of your cold beverage of choice. The next time you find yourself in a bathing suit in public, dare yourself to let your guard down. It's insane that we even have to think this way, but try not bending your leg, or better yet don't sit strategically at all. Don't bash yourself because you don't have a thigh gap or thigh brow. The world is stressful enough as it is these days, so can't we just delight in the fact that we are lucky enough to have sand between our toes without worrying if our pedicure game is strong? On our deathbeds, none of us will be wishing our thighs had looked thinner at the pool, but we will wish we'd taken more time to relax...and enjoyed ourselves while doing it.

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