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Jane Fonda – An Activist for Positive Aging

Jane Fonda – An Activist for Positive Aging

By Dave Price

Although she misses the beginning birth year of the Boomer generation by almost a decade, award-winning actress and activist Jane Fonda, now 79, has certainly lived the life of a composite female Baby Boomer.

In the 1950s, there is Jane Fonda, the dutiful daughter of famous actor Henry Fonda.

As the sexual revolution of the 1960s dawned, Fonda emerged as a sex symbol after portraying sex kitten Barbarella in the science fiction film of the same name.

In the 1970s, Fonda began actively speaking out against the Vietnam War and solidified her activist credentials by starring in such counterculture films as Klute, Coming Home, and The China Syndrome.

Fonda began her fully feminist 1980s by sharing the screen with Lilly Tomlin and Dolly Parton in the classic working women’s film 9 to 5. During that decade, she became recognized as one of the world’s premier originators and promoters of the still-ongoing physical fitness obsession by releasing a series of top-selling workout videos.

Like many career Boomer women, she was married more than once (three times), raised (three) children, lived for periods on her own, and has successfully recovered from breast cancer.

While taking a two-decade break from her acting career, Fonda renewed her activism by becoming outspoken about environmental, civil rights, and feminist causes. Admitting that she was sexually abused as a child, raped, and fired because she wouldn’t sleep with her boss at the time, Fonda has long worked to help abuse and rape victims realize that they aren’t at fault for what happened to them. In 2001, she established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Health in Atlanta, Georgia to help prevent adolescent pregnancy.

But despite her impressive list of accomplishments, Fonda may be doing her most important work now, demonstrating by word and deed how to battle ageism and live an active, healthy, meaningful life in later years.

Along with her friend Lilly Tomlin, she is starring in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Fonda and Tomlin play aging women whose lives are turned upside down when their attorney husbands of decades reveal they are homosexuals, love each other, and leave their wives to establish their own relationship together. Obviously, with its premise, the show, now having completed its third season, deals with all sorts of problems encountered by aging women (and men) in our still-youth-obsessed contemporary society. Both Fonda and Tomlin have been nominated for Emmys for their roles, demonstrating that there is definitely a place in Hollywood for talented older actresses.

In her memoir, My Life So Far, Fonda defined life in terms of three acts: Act I from birth to 29 years, Act II from 30 to 59 years, and Act III from 60 until death. Based on the response to her memoir, Fonda wrote a follow-up book, Prime Time: Love, health, sex, fitness, friendship, spirit; Making the most of all of your life, which focused on her researched findings and thoughts about life’s final act.

In an extremely popular TED Talk available online, Fonda articulated the main points from her Prime Time book.

We’re still living with the old paradigm of age,” Fonda says. “We’re in a longevity revolution and, for the most part, our culture has not come to terms with what that means. Previously, age was viewed as an arch, which after reaching a peak, older folks simply “declined into decrepitude,” Fonda explained.

It was age as pathology,” she added. “But what we’re finding is the new old age is as different from midlife as adolescence is from childhood. How do we use this time? How do we live it successfully?

She says she now views aging, especially for people with healthy brain functions, as a staircase. “It’s the upward ascension of the human spirit,” Fonda contended. “It’s bringing us into wisdom, wholesomeness, and authenticity.”

Fonda freely admits that she was once scared of aging. “I thought I was going to become a crochety old lady,” she noted. “But as I reached the middle of my third act, I realized I’ve never been happier.”

“I’ve discovered that once you’re inside oldness, as opposed to looking at it from the outside, fear subsides,” she said.

She believes the greatest gift of aging is a re-emphasis of what she terms “the human spirit that can continue to evolve upward,” a contention that is supported by new scientific research.

We’re all born with spirit, but sometimes it gets tamped down by the challenges of life,” Fonda said. “Perhaps the task of the third act is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves. It helps us become what we might have been.”

She said that through research she has discovered that “it’s not experiences that make us wise; It’s reflecting on the experiences that we had that makes us wise and helps us become whole.”

Fonda maintains that the new longevity revolution now underway may actually create a positive seismic shift in our chaotic, contemporary world.

It may be possible for us (the aging) to circle back to where we started and know it for the first time,” she maintains.

And, if we can do that, it will not just be for ourselves. Older women are the largest demographic in the world and if we can go back and redefine ourselves and become whole, this will create a cultural shift in the world. And it will give an example to younger generations so they can reconsider their own lifespans.”

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.