Happy Birthday, Jane Fonda: 73 and Fabulous!

Jane Fonda/Barbarella

 Jane Fonda is celebrating her 73rd birthday today (December 21).  Her parents named her Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda after an ancestor who was the third wife of Henry VIII.

She’s just finished filming a movie, is releasing several fitness DVDs, is finishing up a new book, and is getting ready to star on Broadway.  Whew!  You can follow her on her blog.  She shares dozens of candid photos which she takes herself.

In her 2005 autobiography My Life So Far, she divided her life into three 30-year segments:  Gathering, Seeking, and Beginning.  She dedicated it to her mother, Frances Ford Seymour Fonda:
You did the best you could.
You gave me life; you gave me wounds;
you also gave me part of what I needed to grow stronger at the broken places.
She spent her early years in California’s Santa Monica Mountains before moving to Greenwich, Connecticut after World War II.  Her mother was ill, and her father, actor Henry Jaynes Fonda, had black moods.  She tried to ease the tension by winning her father’s approval:
I’d gotten into the habit of leaving myself behind in order to win Dad’s approval.  Make things better.  I know I can make things better.
In the confines of our home, Dad’s darker side would emerge.  We, his intimates, lived in constant awareness of the minefield we had to tread so as not to trigger his rage.  This enviornment of perpetual tension sent me a message that danger lies in intimacy, that far away is where it is safe. . .
I saw [my mother] through my father’s judgmental eyes. . .it said to me. . .unless you were perfect and very careful, it was not safe being a woman.  Side with the man if you want to be a survivor. . .Be better than perfect if you want to be loved.
Her parents divorced, and her mother committed suicide in 1950.  Her father told her that she’d had a fatal coronary:
Dad didn’t know how to deal with feelings or to process pain.  He knew only how to cover it up.  Or maybe he’d grown numb, like me. . .
You don’t really feel what you feel; you didn’t really hear what you heard. . .I’d been doing it for so long that I had begun to live that way. . .I would become whatever I felt the people whose love and attention I needed wanted me to be.  I would try to be perfect.  It was safer there.  It was a survival mechanism that served me well ~ back then. . .
The kudos I received for appearing strong satisfied a need for approval and locked me into a modus vivendi:  Jane the strong one. . .it solidified both my superficiality and my independence. . .
My feelings of imperfection centered on my body. . .I wasn’t thin enough. . .Dad had an obsession with women being thin. . .I was never fat. . .what mattered was how I saw myself ~ how I‘d learned to see myself:  through others’ judgmental, objectifying eyes. . .wanting to be perfect is to want the impossible. . .I had learned to equate the perfection of a woman’s body with power and success.
 What Jane Fonda Has Learned About Abuse
It appears that as part of her healing process, Ms. Fonda researched her parents’ childhood histories and studied the impacts of abuse as well as healthy ways to heal:
  • Childhood sexual abuse:  a child, developmentally unable to blame the adult perpetrator, internalizes the trauma as her own fault. . .blame herself for anything that goes wrong and hate her body and feel the need to make it perfect in order to compensate. . .A sexually abused child will feel that her sexuality is the only thing about her that has value, and this frequently results in adolescent promiscuity. . .my mother was. . .a beautiful but damaged butterfly, unable to give me what I needed ~ to be loved, seen ~ because she could not give it to herself. . .deep wounds. . .fragility. . .intensified by the men she chose.
  • Forgiveness:  forgiving before you’ve faced why forgiveness is needed is like sewing up a wound and leaving the bullet inside.
  • Alice Miller:  “Emotional access to the truth is the indispensable precondition of healing.”  “Only by knowing the truth can we be set free.”  Only then can we see that it wasn’t about us.  Parents were cruel. . .neglectful. . .wasn’t because we weren’t lovable.  It’s because they knew no other way or because they weren’t mentally well.
  • Tyranny of perfection:  forced me to confuse spiritual hunger with physical hunger.  This toxic striving for perfection is a female thing. . .For men, generally, good enough is good enough.
  • Addiction from Marion Woodman:  “Addiction is anything we do to avoid hearing the messages that body and soul are trying to send us.”  The body is our “chalice for Spirit” and if there is no Spirit, we may try to fill its emptiness with addictions.
  • Anorexia and bulimia:  diseases of denial. . .My disease would invariably overcome me whenever I was being inauthentic in a relationship, pretending something that I didn’t really feel, betraying myself on some level. . .as I grew into womanhood, in order to not be alone I assumed a façade so as to be loved by my father and boyfriends.  . .Sustaining inauthentic relationships and the self-abandonment it required placed me in a state of perpetual anxiety.
  • Self-esteem:  even an essentially smart and good girl, if she lacks self-esteem and believes a woman is supposed to “go along,” will allow herself to get into some inexplicable situations.

 Jane Fonda’s Passion for Fitness

Horses were Ms. Fonda’s solace when she was a child.  Ballet was another haven.  She discovered aerobics after fracturing her foot.  Her classes with Leni Cazden were replicated in Ms. Fonda’s video Workout Challenge.  Ms. Fonda opened a studio to offer classes in ballet, jazz, and stretch to generate funding for CED.

Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP)
Ms. Fonda and Oprah Winfrey have connected over the issue of the sexual abuse of children.  Ms. Fonda  has learned:
  • Small things ~ like being rocked, held, and gazed at ~ can enable a child to remain resilient even in the face of unspeakable abuse and neglect.
  • A child who has received this kind of nurture will. . .be less likely to become a parent too soon. . .these skills don’t always come naturally but they can be learned.
  • Child sexual abuse. . .is very much connected to adolescent pregnancy and parenthood.
  • Four in ten women who have sex before age fifteen report that their first sexual experience was coerced.  Sexual abuse survivors often begin voluntary sexual relationships earlier and are more likely to become pregnant before the age of eighteen.
  • Sexual abuse is more than physical:  It is a form of brainwashing.  The message emblazoned on the mind of an abuse victim is that her only worth is her sex. . .her body doesn’t  belong to her. . .saying no means nothing.


Jane Fonda and Richard Perry


Until age sixty I never had enough self-confidence to feel validated unless I was with a man.

– Jane Fonda

The dress in this photo with Ms. Fonda’s current love, Richard Perry, dates back to when they first met 30 years ago.  It still fits!

She claims she has no plans to marry again.

Courage is the manifestation of character.

– Jane Fonda

Ms. Fonda was accepted to Vassar College in 1955 where she spent two years.  She went to Paris to avoid going back to Vassar and met her first husband, Roger Vadim, at Maxim’s.

She studied acting with Lee Strasberg and was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency.

In 1963, she moved to Paris and stayed six years.  She met Mr. Vadim again at a party on her birthday.  The couple married after living together for three years and had a daughter, Vanessa, on September 28, 1968:

I could write one version of my marriage to Vadim. . .cruel, misogynistic, irresponsible wastrel. . .the most charming, lyrical, poetic, tender of men.  Both versions would be true.

Mr. Vadim was a compulsive gambler who gambled away most of her $150,000 inheritance from her mother:

In my public life, I am a strong, can-do woman.  How is it then, that behind closed doors. . .I could voluntarily betray myself?  The answer is this:  If a woman has become disembodied from lack of self-worth ~ I’m not good enough ~ or from abuse, she will neglect her own voice of desire and hear only the man’s.  . .compartmentalizing ~ disconnecting head and heart, body and soul.  Overlay her silence with a man’s sense of entitlement and inability (or unwillingness) to read his partner’s subtle body signals, and you have the makings of a very angry woman, who will stuff her anger for the same reasons she silences her sexual voice.

Ms. Fonda returned to Hollywood to star in Cat Ballou with Steve Martin.  Dino DeLaurentis asked her to play the title role in BarbarellaBarefoot in the Park with Robert Redford was her first hit; they’ve made three films together.  She went on to star in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (nominated for an Oscar) and Klute (won the Oscar).

In 1970, she became a political activist.  She met Tom Hayden, and took her infamous trip to Hanoi:

That two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until I die.

Ms. Fonda recently told Jay Leno that the 10 years she spent with Ted Turner were the happiest of her life.

She divorced Roger Vadim and married Tom Hayden on January 19, 1973.  Their son Troy was born.  Ms. Fonda won her second Oscar for Coming Home.  The couple bought 200 acres north of Santa Barbara and started Laurel Springs, a summer camp.  One-fourth of the girls who came to the camp had been sexually abused.  Lulu, one of the campers suffering from PTSD, became a member of Ms. Fonda’s family.

Mr. Hayden was elected to the California State Assembly.  The marriage started to fall apart after the success of her workout videos:

When I fell in love with Tom, I thought he was someone whose sense of himself was so secure that my celebrity would pose no threat; someone who could be gentle. . .I could begin to unwind and open up.  I was wrong. . .Tom’s emotional coldness reflected my father’s, and Tom also played on my insecurities, making me feel stupid and superficial. . .still assuming that whatever was wrong was my fault.

. . .I postponed the pain. . .pain and anger stay there and accumulate. . .fester and create distance. . .under the bell jar of compliance, the only thing that blooms is rage. . .

Tom constantly put me down.  In her autobiography, the late Katherine Graham writes how after her husband, Phil Graham, had left her, women friends told her how shocked they had been at the nasty way he often treated her. . .It was oddly comforting to learn that even a woman as bright and successful as Kay Graham ~ the publisher of The Washington Post ~ could choose not to see what her friends saw. . .By choosing denial, I had permitted inferiority. . .I still needed a man to validate me.

Ms. Fonda had an affair.  She filmed On Golden Pond with her frather and Katherine Hepburn on Squam Lake in New Hampshire.  After her father’s dismissive words cut Ms. Fonda to the core, Ms. Hepburn served as her enlightened witness to the pain:

I know just how you feel, Jane.  Spence [Spencer Tracy] used to do things like that to me all the time. . .Your dad has no idea that his words hurt you. . .He’s just like Spence.

Ms. Hepburn and Mr. Fonda won Oscars for the movie, and Mr. Fonda died a few months later. 

On her 51st birthday, Mr. Hayden announced he was in love with another woman.  The day after her divorce was announced, she got a call from Ted Turner.  They had met at a screening of a TBS documentary about child abuse.  They were married on her 54th birthday in 1991.  On her 60th birthday, Mr. Turner gave her a $10 million family foundation.  The couple separated in 2000.

V-Day 10th Anniversary

V-Day’s 10th Anniversary

The traumas and anxieties I experienced as a girl are not unique to me.

Jane Fonda

Collaboration with Eve Ensler

Pat Mitchell asked Ms. Fonda to perform in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues:

. . .as I sat there listening to Eve enact the monologues. . .I felt something happening to me.  I don’t remember ever laughing so hard or crying so hard in the theater. . .my feminist consciousness slipped out of my head and took up residence in my body ~ where it has lived ever since. . .

Eve Ensler has remained a beloved presence in my life ever since that night.  Beaten and subjected to incest for years by her father, she is a force of nature, a person who with lots of work has risen, burnished and purified, from the fires of violence and pain, and her vision of ending violence against women is contagious.

In 2001, Ms. Fonda was part of The Vagina Monologues cast at Madison Square Garden.  She recalled her 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters when she said:

“If penises could do half of what vaginas can do, there’d be postage stamps honoring them and a twelve-foot-tall bronze statue of a penis in the Rotunda of our nation’s Capitol.”  Instead, because vaginas belong to the other gender, they have been raped, pried, cut, sewn up, objectified, and generally denigrated down through the centuries. . .objects of fear that men have so often needed to dominate.

Ms. Fonda remains a staunch supporter of V-Day.

Eve Ensler and Jane Fonda

As I read My Life So Far again tonight, I was astonished to discover the many references to the healing paths of other prominent survivors of abuse from Gloria Steinem to Alice Miller and Eve Ensler.  I also found a new survivor to add to my list:  former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur who wrote Miss America by Day.  I also missed the fact that one of her step-daughters started a domestic violence shelter in Maine. 

Ms. Fonda, I hope you’ve had a wonderful birthday!  You are an inspiration and a very bright star to guide those following in your path.