Jane Fonda on the challenges of growing older

Despite a hip and knee operation, actress Jane Fonda has no intention of kicking back as she approaches her 80th birthday, says Margaret Jennings.

SHE regularly grabs the spotlight on the red carpet, in versions of designer outfits that were worn on the catwalk by models less than a third her age.

As recently as last month, at the Grammy Awards, Hollywood icon Jane Fonda had the fashion police largely on her side, when she stepped out in a figure-hugging, emerald green Balmain jumpsuit that shouted ‘look at me!’

Although it is normal for actresses to use the red carpet for camera-hogging self-promotion, Fonda will be 80 in three years. So when she emphasises her waist with a large black belt and wears an overall colour that could light up in the dark, we know she is proud of her body and her age.

Fonda has a main role in a new sitcom, Grace and Frankie, to be released by Netflix in May, so it seems that she has the vitality to accompany that trim, toned body.

But the two-time Oscar winner and fitness queen is no ordinary woman — she has the millions to look a million dollars.

But it might be a surprise to learn that, like many women of her age, she has had a hip and knee operation and has had to adapt accordingly.

“It would have been easy to stop exercising after my hip surgery, or because my knees sometimes hurt due to osteoarthritis,” she says.

“But when — mostly for vanity reasons — I started up again, I soon discovered that moving, walking, swimming, lifting light weights and stretching made my muscles and joints feel much better. It was when I was inactive that the arthritis got worse — and so did my mood.”

Her attitude, to adapt but not give in to the challenges of growing older, is explained in her book, Prime Time: Making The Most of Your Life, which was published three years ago. It is a personal account and guidebook on ageing.

The book chronicles her determination to face her demons — including ageing — and how that has coloured her ability to stand on the red carpet in all her glory.

An aspect of that is how at the age of 59, realising she would soon be 60, she decided to begin what she terms a ‘life review’.

“Frankly, as I faced the looming six-oh I felt a knot in my stomach,” she says.

“It struck me that it was the beginning of my last act — the final three decades of my life”.

Throughout her life, she says, whenever she was confronted by something she feared, she tried to make it “my best friend, stare it in the face and get to know its ins and outs.”

In the theatre, she says, the third act is when everything that has happened in acts one and two must pay off, if the play is to be memorable.

“So, one of the ways I tried to overcome my fears of ageing involved rehearsing for it. I believe this rehearsal for the future [along with doing a life review of the past] is part of why I have been able — so far — to live act three with relative equanimity.”

It was not the idea of death itself that frightened her, as the notion of being “faced with regrets” — the “what-if’s and the if- only’s when there is no time left to do anything about them.”

So she did a psychological check-in: “I had a lot of experiences to learn from,” she says. “I had known failures of all kinds: career failures, wrong paths taken, time wasted, relationships spoiled.

“Those failures that I ran from taught me nothing; those that I confronted and understood were the ones that permitted me quantum leaps forward.”

Fonda says she still feels the pressure to be physically attractive, because, from early girlhood, she was judged by how her face and body looked.

“This became what I thought determined whether I would be loved. I’ve tempered my anxiety around these surface issues, but I cannot deny that they still lurk.

“I have not hidden the fact that I have succumbed to wanting to look good in the mechanistic sense. Yes, at 72 I had plastic surgery on my jawline and under my eyes.”

She says: “I still have plenty of cherished lines and I don’t think I look like someone else, but my face is less droopy and that makes me feel better.”

However, though vanity might be closely linked to her self-esteem — and drives her to look amazing in front of the camera — the fact that Fonda even still cares is the real story.


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