Jane Fonda: Working Actress, Working Activist, Working Out
From Academy Awards, to most workout videos sold, to Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund, Fonda has been recognized in every nearly every aspect of her life. The nominations, accolades, and awards for stage and screen alone are impressive, including Oscars for Klute in 1971 and for Coming Home in 1978. My Life So Far (Random House, 2005)—Fonda’s memoirs, quickly became number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Two years ago, Fonda returned to Broadway after a 46-year absence to star in 33 Variations—earning her a Tony Award nomination. Whatever arena of life she is focusing on, Fonda is making both a visible and powerful statement—and helping others do the same.
Some believe Fonda to be the single most influential figure in revolutionizing fitness with her 1982 release of “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” which is still the “top grossing home video of all time.” Her exercise videos are legendary, with over 30 video and audio recordings as well as five books altogether selling over 16 million copies. Her latest fitness DVD’s, such as Prime Time—Fit and Strong, came out last year—geared to those of us looking to age elegantly but with that same robust intensity that Fonda herself possesses. (Who can look this good at seventy-three?)
Whatever Fonda puts her heart into becomes infused and blessed with her powerful energy. As a working actress and workout icon, Fonda is known for having a unique voice, confidence, and fierce enthusiasm that carries over into her activism. Over the decades, her interests have included human rights and environmental issues. She currently focuses much of her energy on empowering women and girls.
Fonda is a member of the Women & Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. She established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at the Emory School of Medicine whose mission is “to advance scientific knowledge about adolescence with an emphasis on adolescent reproductive health.” She also endowed a faculty chair at Emory University School of Medicine in the Gynecology and Obstetrics department
Fonda is a board member and supporter of V-Day, a “global movement to stop violence against women and girls.” Through benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues and other related events, Fonda has traveled on behalf of V-Day to India, Italy, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. Fonda credits her experience of watching Eve Ensler perform the play as the precise moment when her feminism shifted from her head to her body. In speaking of her pride in being a part of V-Day, Fonda says “…she (Ensler) has raised more money than the entire U.S. Government has raised to stop violence against women.”
In 2004, Fonda received the Women in Film Humanitarian Award. According to Women In Film and Television International, recipients of the award “have served to improve the status of and portrayal of women working in screen-based media… (they are) daring, bold and not afraid to go beyond boundaries to provide equal rights and opportunities for women storytellers.”
One year later, Fonda founded Women’s Media Center (WMC) along with Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem to positively impact the role of women in the media. The idea was birthed at an “Equality Now” retreat with its president, Jessica Neuwirth when Fonda and her friends realized that during election time many people were voting for candidates “for the exact opposite of what (his) policies stand for.” Recently, WMC partnered with Political Parity and Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation to form a new national campaign called “Name It. Change It,” a non-partisan project to address sexism in the media and sexism against women candidates.
Fonda received the Elinor Guggenheimer Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 from the New York Women’s Agenda. Fonda was recognized for her extraordinary achievements in social change and activism. One example of a film by Fonda that amplified women’s voices was Generation 2000: Changing Girls’ Realities. Fonda created and narrated the film, which shows interviews with teen girls in Nigeria. The film was showcased at a United Nations reception hosted by the International Women’s Health Coalition (who collaborated with Fonda on the film) and the United Nations Foundation.
Fonda is founder and chair of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP), a program starting in 1995 to eliminate teen pregnancy in Georgia. She advocates addressing the cycle of poverty that often accompanies pregnant and parenting teens. Fonda says, “We need these girls to understand that their bodies belong to them and there is more to them than their sexuality.” Fonda wants Georgia to become the “national role model for investing in our adolescents.” She and G-CAPP believe that young people “deserve the opportunity to complete their education before becoming a parent,” and wants teens to know that becoming a parent during their adolescence is “definitely uncool.”
Her program must be working. This past year, Georgia’s teen birth rate has declined significantly from years past. Georgia moved from having the tenth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country to thirteen for births to teen girls ranging in age from fifteen to nineteen.
Whether through film, fitness, or activism, Fonda continues to inspire. In April, Fonda, along with Oscar-nominated actress Gabby Sidibe (Precious, The Big C), joined forces to raise funds for the G-CAPP. Fonda showed the documentary Jane, a film made when she was twenty-five which she ranks as her least favorite. Why? To show how far we can come. Describing her path from a scared young lady close to having a nervous breakdown to the strong woman she is now, Fonda said “You can get your voice back. You can become something.”
Fonda herself has certainly done just that! In an interview with Marianne Schnall from feminist.com, she humorously comments on how long it can take women to be in touch with their true selves. “I don’t want to minimize the journey. For me, it took until I was sixty-two.”