Jane Fonda Opens Up About Her Father's Role in Lifelong Body Issues

By McCarton Ackerman 04/12/16

"I continued to try to be perfect on whatever level the man I was with wanted."

Jane Fonda Opens Up About Her Father's Role in Lifelong Body Issues
photo via Shutterstock/Jaguar PS

In a telling new essay, actor and activist Jane Fonda revealed the origins of her lifetime of body image issues—her family, particularly her father.

Fonda, who penned the essay "My Convoluted Journey to Feminism" for Lenny Letter, wrote about how her father, the late actor Henry Fonda, would constantly pressure her to lose weight. His insistence that she live up to conventional standards of weight and beauty was exacerbated by the fact that he looped her stepmother into encouraging similar standards as well.

“My father would send my stepmother to tell me to lose weight and wear longer skirts. One of my stepmothers told me all the ways I'd have to change physically if I wanted a boyfriend,” Fonda recalled. “The culture that incubated in me since childhood insists that to be loved, a female has to be perfect: thin, pretty, having good hair, being nice rather than honest, ready to sacrifice, never smarter than a man, never angry ... when I hit adolescence and the specter of womanhood loomed, all that mattered was how I looked and fit in."

Those issues carried over well into her adult years. Fonda, now 78, sees her anorexia and bulimia as a response to try “to fill the emptiness” in her life, which she lived as her "inauthentic" self for a long time, she wrote, molding herself into the perfect woman for the men in her life.

“I continued to try to be perfect on whatever level the man I was with wanted, willing to forgo emotional intimacy and betray my own body and soul if honestly speaking with my true voice might mean losing him,” she wrote. “It wasn't even that I depended on any of them financially, as many women do who turn themselves into pretzels for their men. I always supported myself."

But after a series of highly public romances and divorces, Fonda finally decided at age 60 to learn how to love herself without a man. Now in her late 70s, Fonda said she is more comfortable in her own skin than ever before.

“When I turned 60 and entered my third and final act, I decided that, no matter how scary it was, I needed to heal the wounds patriarchy had dealt me. I didn’t want to come to the end of my life without doing all I could to become a whole, full-voiced woman,” wrote Fonda. “It took me 30 years to get it, but it’s okay to be a late bloomer as long as you don’t miss the flower show.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.