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Jane Fonda on Fitness, Feminism, and the Magic of Spanx

Jane Fonda Photo: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Jane Fonda
Photo: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

As an Oscar-winning actress and the first celebrity fitness guru, Jane Fonda occupies a unique space in pop culture. Though Fonda’s career has had its ups and downs, she has endured as an icon of timeless sex appeal, inspiring generations of women and doling out sage advice in the process. Whether detailing the story behind her oft-imitated Klute shag or discussing her role as a L’Oréal ambassador, Fonda is always fascinating, honest, and ready with a bon mot. With a new Netflix series and a spot on the cover of W magazine propelling her back into the spotlight, there’s no better time to look back on Fonda’s words of wisdom.

On plastic surgery:

“People always say, ‘Oh, my God, how do you stay looking so blah blah blah?’ I’ve had plastic surgery. I’ve talked about that. That doesn’t matter. What matters is realizing you can always get better, that you have to keep taking leaps of faith. It gets harder as you get older. You have to stay brave and keep trying to go beyond your comfort zone and see what you need to get to become who you’re supposed to be.”

On her model beginnings:

“Truthfully, my relationship to fashion has always been strained. When I was starting out as an actress in New York, I worked as a model because I needed to pay for acting classes. But I didn’t have what it took to be a model. I hated all the emphasis on how I looked, and I never paid much attention to clothes.”

On the magic of Spanx:

“It’s not hard to understand why—I never go anywhere without at least six or seven different Spanx products. Most women I know (including Tina Fey) wonder how we managed before Spanx. In my view, Spanx are the clothing equivalent of the iPhone: How did we ever get on without them?”

On the impact of her iconic fitness videos:

“This woman wrote me a letter and said she had been doing my original workout for a while, and one morning she was brushing her teeth and looking in the mirror and she saw a muscle in her arm for the first time in her life. It made her feel so powerful that she went to work that day and stood up to her boss. That’s one of the stories that made me realize seeing your body become fit and strong is not just a physical thing, it’s also a psychological thing. It’s very empowering. It’s like saying, ‘I’m here. Deal with me!’ That’s one of the things that makes me the happiest about having done this. It’s not what I thought. It’s an unintended by-product that’s so beautiful.”

On the health benefits of friendship:

“I think that is one reason why women live longer than men. Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years. There are hormones that are released from women to other women that are healthy and do away with the stress hormones…It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine, and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.”

On her divorce from Roger Vadim serving as the impetus for that famous Klute shag:

“Neither of us was acknowledging that the marriage was petering out, but I suddenly knew I didn’t want to imitate Vadim’s other women anymore. I said to my hairdresser, ‘Do something! I want to look like me again.’”

W Magazine Photo: Steven Meisel

W Magazine
Photo: Steven Meisel

On insecurity:

“We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re meant to be complete. But it’s hard to be complete if you’re trying to be perfect, so you kind of become disembodied. And I spent a lot of my life that way. And if you don’t own your strength…Women like me tend to always look over their shoulder to see who—‘Who’s the leader? Who’s the smart one?’—never thinking it might be me. Took a long time for me to get over that.”

On not wanting to be retouched:

“I don’t want my wrinkles taken away. I don’t want to look like everyone else. The long-awaited realization that good enough is good enough liberates the spirit. And, of course, good lighting is important, too.”

On aging:

“We need to revise how we think of aging. The old paradigm was: You’re born, you peak at midlife, and then you decline into decrepitude. Looking at aging as ascending a staircase, you gain well-being, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate, and a life with intention.”

On turning 30:

“I was terrified when I turned 30. I was pregnant and had the mumps and Faye Dunaway was just coming out in Bonnie and Clyde. I thought, Oh, my God, I’ll never work again. I’m old!

On feminism:

“The big breakthrough is that so many women, whether they call themselves feminist or not, have grown up surrounded by the victories of feminism, and it has made an immense difference in their lives. It has made an enormous difference in my own life, and it took me a long time to understand that.”

—Janelle Okwodu,

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