In today’s world of social media and instant connection, it’s never been easier to peek into the everyday lives of our favorite celebrities. Sometimes we get more than we bargained for, but other times we discover that the rich and famous are just as normal as everyone else. And actress-activist Jane Fonda is more than happy to show the world what her life is like when she’s not at high-profile galas.
Jane Fonda has been a public figure for over half a century. She got her start on the stage in the late 1950s, but it was in the movies that she really made her name. Indeed, films like Sunday in New York and Barefoot in the Park put her firmly on the road to stardom. And it was a road that would lead Fonda to multiple awards, including two Oscars, two BAFTAs and an AFI Life Achievement Award. Then again, looking at the family she came from, that’s not all that surprising.
Jane is the daughter of Henry Fonda, one of the most famous actors of his era. However, the relationship between father and daughter was often a difficult one. In fact, both Jane and her brother Peter felt that their dad was distant and bad-tempered. And Jane would later blame her father for the lifelong issues she had with her body image.
“I was taught by my father that how I looked was all that mattered,” Jane told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. “He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.” And after her mother Frances Ford Seymour committed suicide in 1950, Jane developed bulimia.
Her dad’s attitude, she has revealed in interviews, wasn’t any help. “I grew up being told I was fat by my father,” Jane told The Daily Telegraph in May 2015. “And I wasn’t ever fat. But he had his issues. Only later could I look back and say: it had nothing to do with me.” In fact, the actress ended up fighting her eating disorder until she was 35, at which point she started to get better.
Fonda does a lot of work for feminist organizations and causes and has done all her life. In 2016 she wrote an essay for the feminist website Lenny Letter, which focused on her problems with body image. “When I hit adolescence and the specter of womanhood loomed, all that mattered was how I looked and fit in,” she recalled. “It’s hard to be embodied if you hate your body.”
In fact, in her essay Fonda explained that she picked her romantic partners based on how much they “validated” her. She ended up marrying three times – first to French movie director Roger Vadim in 1965, then to fellow activist Tom Hayden in 1973, and finally to CNN founder Ted Turner. All three marriages ended in divorce.
And in 2015, as her Netflix show Grace and Frankie was taking off, she spoke to W magazine about how she had undergone plastic surgery. Fonda explained that she’d wanted to feel better in her body, but that she now regretted it. “I grew up so defined by my looks. I was taught to think that if I wanted to be loved, I had to be thin and pretty. That leads to a lot of trouble,” she said.
But Jane Fonda is still a stunningly beautiful woman. She might be 80 years old now, but she looks much younger, and the camera loves her. When Fonda appeared at the LACMA Art + Film Gala on November 4, 2017, she was wearing a spectacular lacy black dress and sported impeccable makeup. Lots of famous women attended the event – Kim Kardashian, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Saldana were all on the guest list – but Fonda still drew plenty of attention.
The annual Art + Film Gala draws in lots of celebrities – and lots of money as well. Tickets start from $5,000 each, with all the funds raised going towards education and exhibitions. And as with most Hollywood shindigs, the dresses are always a big talking point. Jane Fonda’s black number was from the Elie Saab 2017 pre-fall collection, and it was considered an excellent choice for her.
Fonda herself seemed to think so, too. On her Instagram, which boasts over 180,000 followers, she posted a glamorous picture of herself in the dress. “Here’s me on the red carpet of LA Museum of Modern Art gala,” she wrote on November 7, 2017. The simple post got more than 11,000 likes, but the brilliant follow-up would get far more…
That’s probably because the next post – a picture of Fonda the morning after – was so defiantly unshowy. Fonda had no makeup on, her hair was a mess, and she was still wearing the lacy black dress she had worn to the gala. “Here’s me the next morning,” she wrote next to it. “I couldn’t get my dress unzipped so I slept in it… never wanted a husband in my life until now.”
A bit mean to her three ex-husbands, some might say, especially since Fonda has actually stayed friends with at least one of them. Indeed, when she celebrated her 80th birthday, Ted Turner was there by her side. But she’s said in interviews that she has no plans to ever tie the knot again. “I’ve been married three times; it will never happen again,” she told the Chicago Tribune on March 28, 2017. Presumably, not even if they can unzip a dress.
Anyway, the witty post quickly racked up in excess of 26,000 likes. It’s fair to say that Fonda fans absolutely loved it, and jokes spread like wildfire across social media. But who had actually taken the photo of Fonda, since it clearly wasn’t a selfie? “Fire department,” cracked one Twitter user. Comedian Katherine Ryan had a thought to share as well. “If Houdini wore Vivienne Westwood, he would have drowned every time,” she tweeted.
Importantly, though, others had quite different reasons to be grateful to Fonda for sharing that particular picture. “Thank you for letting yourself be vulnerable and taking off the mask! I admire your courage. Thank you for being a wonderful role model,” read one comment beneath the post. Meanwhile, yet more people congratulated her for “keeping it real.”
Another comment was more heartfelt – it was a person thanking Fonda for helping her with her own eating disorder. “I have nightmares sometimes where people I think that are thinner and therefore ‘better’ than me judge me,” read the comment. “What you just did is so important. It put my always-racing mind at ease. ‘Am I perfect? Well, I don’t look like THAT’ – I just wanted to deeply thank you for putting my mind at rest.”
That was the point that most people seemed to take away from the post – that even celebrities don’t look like celebrities all the time. Like us, they too can give the glamour a miss, sleeping in clothes they couldn’t work out how to unzip or not feeling the need to wear any makeup. It’s a good starting point when discussing body image issues.
In recent years many famous women have spoken out to highlight an important fact: that much of their image is constructed, not natural. In fact, in 2016 a movement called #NoMakeup spread over social media, spearheaded by singer Alicia Keys. The idea was to encourage women and girls to not feel pressured into wearing makeup if they didn’t want to.
Meanwhile, other celebs have spoken out about how the practice of airbrushing can make young girls feel they’re not pretty or thin enough. Indeed, Kate Winslet, Zendaya and Lady Gaga have all expressed anger in the past at magazines making their bodies look thinner or their skin look smoother. And the collective voices seem to be having an effect. Slowly, brands are taking notice, with some now refusing to retouch images of their models.
Moreover, bearing in mind how Fonda used to feel about her own body, and her long-lasting struggle with eating disorders, it’s good to see her taking photos of herself looking far from perfect. Her career is still going strong – Grace and Frankie premiered its fourth season in January 2017 – so hopefully she will continue to share “morning after” pictures with her fans for many years to come.