Jane Fonda: Still in her prime at 73 and loving it
LIVIN' & LOVIN' - Tetta Matera () - September 28, 2011 - 12:00am


By Jane Fonda

Random House New York, 416 pages

Available at National Book Store

This is Jane Fonda’s third book, fifth if you include the two workout and weight-loss program books she wrote in the ‘80s when “go-for-the-burn” was all the rage. But by far, Prime Time is probably the most important book she has written because with this she comes to terms with the good, the bad and the ugly in her life and how at the end of it all, she has found true insight, well-being, peace, joy and contentment in all aspects of her life. She has finally been able to connect the dots, weave the tapestry of her life into one pu

rposeful and meaningful existence, the one she is living out now, her Third Act.

Work that tricep: Jane Fonda in her Prime Time Exercise Video for boomers and seniors

Jane Fonda has led an exciting, successful as well as colorful life as an actress, activist, three-time wife, mother and health and fitness enthusiast. The daughter of the legendary Henry Fonda, Jane found herself struggling early on in life with her self-image, constantly worried about not being good enough, smart enough, thin enough and talented enough. At age 12, her father insinuated that she was fat; she battled anxiety and depression in her adolescence and suffered from food addiction (both bulimia and anorexia) in her 20s. Deprived of a nurturing and loving relationship with her mother (who eventually committed suicide) and a somewhat indifferent relationship with her famous father, Fonda found intimacy with others difficult and lacking in all three of her marriages. She describes the First Act of her life from birth to age 29 as a “disembodiment”: losing her relationship with herself and becoming obsessed with blending in, being popular, looking right and finding her worth in others. She married Roger Vadim, a French movie director, in her late 20s and had a daughter with him, Vanessa. They divorced after only eight years of marriage.

In the Second Act of her life — from age 30 to 59 — she took some time off from her acting career and entered her second marriage, to politician Tom Hayden, from 1973 to 1990. They had a son, Troy, but while the marriage lasted 17 years, it was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce. In 1991, she married Ted Turner and stayed with him for 10 years. During this Second Act, she went through significant transitions from parenting to empty nesting, grappled with changes in her looks and weight and the dreaded hormonal shift marking the onset of menopause. She went to therapy and took psychopharmacological substances for about a decade to battle depression. Despite finding big success with the Jane Fonda Workout enterprise in her mid-40s and learning to laugh and let go somewhat in her marriage to Ted Turner, she continued to struggle with her personal life, thinking that she had already peaked and everything was downhill from there.

Stretch your hamstring: Jane Fonda still has what it takes to take on the billion-dollar fitness industry.

She divorced Ted Turner in 2001 and went on to seek a different meaning in her life; instead of finding validation and approval of her life from others, her career and marriages, she became more profoundly in touch with herself, her body, mind and spirit. She came to grips with menopause and all the havoc it brought and began to focus on health span and expectancy rather than life span and expectancy. She took the vulnerability that came with this time of her life as a source of tremendous creative ferment and ventured forward with the potential for growth, looking at productivity in a different light.  She founded and became heavily involved with the “Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention,” her way of giving back to the youth and her adopted state. She “exchanged the wish to control life for a willingness to engage in living.” The decision to turn her life around took a lot out of her but she was determined to make the most out of her Third Act. 

Breaking down ‘PRIME TIME’

Power couple: Jane Fonda with media mogul Ted Turner, her third husband.

After she left Ted Turner, Jane Fonda started to feel whole rather than like a half-person waiting to be completed. She went on to seek the truth about her past and went on to repair relationships. She finally got over her guilt following her mother’s suicide and let go of all the negativity weighing her down. She learned to lead a life with a loving heart, empowered with knowledge and wisdom, a complete sense of well-being with less room for ego and more for humility, balance and common sense. With the support of family, friends and professionals, she took hold of her life and leapt into her 60s with renewed purpose and excitement for what was yet to come. More importantly, in her Third Act she succeeded, at age 70, in finding intimacy in her relationship with Richard Perry, a man she had known casually for decades until they met again in 2009.

Prime Time is full of “Aha” moments, quotable quips and plain good advice from playwrights to authors to journalist, philosophers to religious leaders to feminists. It contains a lot of information on notable research and studies from medical experts and professionals plus practical and easy-to-follow guidelines on healthy eating and exercise from fitness advocates and Jane Fonda herself. But what makes the book unique and personal are her own accounts of the events leading up to this particular moment of her life and encounters with real men and women, single, widowed and married, who are living in the prime of their lives well into their 90s and even beyond. She takes inspiration and encouragement from their experiences and draws positive energy from them.

Primetime love: Record producer Richard Perry and Jane Fonda at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party 2011.

 Jane Fonda, who is alternately candid and reflective in the book, reveals how her eyesight has diminished (she now reads a font size of 18 instead of 14); how she now chooses shoes for comfort rather than style; how she watches out for her posture partly for looks but mostly so her back won’t hurt; how she has droopy skin despite having surgery on her jawline and under her eyes at 72 years of age; and how she has slowed down after knee and hip replacement surgery a year or so ago. She adds that she is not happy with her physical problems but will not let them define and dictate her life.

 Whereas the Jane Fonda of before would have panicked and launched into self-doubt (or reinvention), she now embraces everything that comes with her age and faces it with positivity. She views life as a spiral staircase, a circling of circumstances looking both back and ahead and taking the best out of them.

 In the past decade she re-launched her movie career with movies like Monster-in-Law; she has appeared in 33 Variations on Broadway at 71 years of age and last year introduced the Jane Fonda Prime Time Line of Exercise DVDs for boomers and seniors.

Mindful meditation: Jane Fonda learned to meditate at the Upaya Zen Center under Rashi Joan Halifax, one of her best friends.

 In the book, she offers the 11 ingredients for successful living that includes the already familiar “do not smoke or drink, eat well, live active and sleep deep” mantra but also the often-neglected notions of loving and staying connected, encouraging a positive attitude, receiving and reflecting on your own life with mindful meditation, giving of oneself to others, especially the younger generation, and caring about the bigger picture — meaning our community, our nation, and our planet. She espouses a life lived with humor, gratitude, forgiveness, playfulness, creativeness and adaptability.

 On a more elemental level, she breaks down the “good fat/ bad fat” debate, warns us to cut down on sugar, encourages drinking in moderation with meals, avoiding empty calories like those from sodas, candy bars or cakes. She lists the benefits of classifying food by color, with Red being the most nutritious followed by Blue and Purple, Yellow and Orange, Green and White. She cautions and teaches us to read food labels appropriately and not be taken in easily by the “all-natural, all-fresh or organic” mumbo-jumbo mixed in with authentic information. She recommends exercise for basic health level, minimum activity for disease prevention and enhanced fitness level with matching illustrations and how-to guides, whichever your choice may be.

 She touches on anti-aging and stem cell research, biomarkers for aging, hormone therapy, a calorie-restriction diet as you age, and the breakthroughs in SIRT1 (the gene that controls the aging process which may lead to therapies for metabolic disorders like diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s and the like).

Acts I, II and III: Jane Fonda is featured here at age three, then at a rally in 1972 pregnant with son Troy, and at the Golden Globes in 2011.

 On the topic of sex, she shares the experiences of women who found successful relationships via online dating who offer practical suggestions for achieving a more satisfying sex life including the use of certain exercises, medicines, videos and devices even hormone replacement therapy.

 Without sounding morbid, she points out the importance of preparing for the inevitable with proper financial planning, making a will, considering long-term and end-of-life care.

Living the third and final act

In Prime Time, Jane Fonda tells us that her future lies in today, right now, and that there is no time to waste. She is relishing her current relationship with Richard Perry, a music producer who is five years younger than her. She calls him “Honey” because she feels any other title sounds juvenile or too in-your-face. They openly talk about things that they don’t like about each other and their union is stronger for it. Jane Fonda confesses to finally knowing and feeling what intimacy is all about and is past the “If I say what I feel, he’s going to leave me” or “trying to fix a mate” attitude that gripped her in previous relationships. Jane Fonda who has always been open about her plastic surgeries is quoted as saying that “love and sex are the best rejuvenators, better than any facelift.” She is full of joy, stripped of a lot of her fears and involved in relationships beyond the romantic that allow for the expansion of her horizon and her heart.

Rockin’ in her 40s: Jane Fonda launched her workout enterprise in her mid-40s with great success.

 Prime Time is an enjoyable, informative, enlightening must-read; I was not a fan of the “Hanoi Jane” who protested the Vietnam War while others fought it, but I have certainly come to like and respect the wiser, older and more beautiful Jane Fonda of today.

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