Working It with Jane FondaPosted: September 10, 2013
I’ve had my eye on Jane Fonda since I was a girl. During the ’80s, she frequently showed up on the big screen, appearing in many of the movies I would go to see with my mother—9 to 5, On Golden Pond, The Electric Horseman—and even at home on the VCR, where, like in the Horseman flick, she starred with Robert Redford in an earlier film, Barefoot in the Park. (My mom liked Jane, but she was an even bigger fan of Robert’s.)
I was more into Michael J. Fox and Molly Ringwald back then, but Jane was definitely a part of the picture while I was growing up. I knew that Henry Fonda was her dad and Peter Fonda her brother, and that Bridget Fonda, Peter’s daughter, was her niece. She was a familiar figure.
I got to know Jane even more the summer after my high school freshman year. I was browsing through the discount sales shelf at the local bookstore when I saw her photograph on the cover of a large paperback book. She was in black tights and a red and black striped shirt, and she was seated on the ground with her legs raised in the air. In bold black letters over her were the words: Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.
I am not sure if it was the discount price that sold me—I seem to recall that the book was selling for $1, but I could be wrong—but I bought the book, despite the fact that I hadn’t had any previous interest in exercising, and I did her workout the day after. And then I did it the day after that, and the day after that one.
I would stand in my bedroom, the book laid open on my bed, jogging in place, bending sideways, lifting my legs, and feeling a ‘hurts-so-good’ physical sensation, which Jane called “the burn.” I would lie down on the ground, raising my butt and squeezing it over and over, religiously following the directions that accompanied the black-and-white photos of her demonstrating the exercises.
I wasn’t working out to lose weight or tone up—even though I did end up shedding 10 pounds. I was simply a 15-year-old experiencing the exhilaration of moving my body for the sheer joy of it—although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. I just knew I wanted to keep working out with Jane.
I wasn’t the only one hooked on Jane. Her workout had become a huge hit on video by that point, and eventually my mom bought me a copy of the tape. Moving along with Jane and her fellow exercisers, I felt like I was part of an actual class.
The Jane Fonda Workout:
I put Jane away when school started and I got busy with homework, making friends, and liking boys. But a couple of years later, when my family moved to Indonesia right before I became a high school senior, I turned to Jane again—she was a friendly face in a foreign land.
By this time, the pages of my workout book had separated from the binding (VHS didn’t work in Indonesia back then), so I kept the individual pages in a blue file folder, and I had to pull them out when I wanted to work out with Jane. I get now that our move to a new country left me feeling unanchored and by working out I was grounding myself in my body.
I saw Jane for real right after getting my first job out of college. She had married my boss—or rather, CNN’s big boss, Ted Turner. Jane and I were now both living in Georgia, and I saw her walk the red carpet at a screening of City Slickers II, which her husband’s production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, had produced. I was far more excited to see Jane than to see Ted, Billy Crystal, or Jon Lovett.
When Jane published her autobiography My Life So Far in 2005, I was struck by her candor about subjects that most people never talk about with close friends, let alone to the public. She discussed growing up with her emotionally unavailable dad, having a mom who committed suicide, her bulimia and possible sex abuse, and how she had lost herself in her relationships with men throughout her life. By putting words to her own experiences, she was giving voice to some of my own.
In one chapter, Jane talked about how during her marriage with Ted when she was supposed to be fly-fishing she would smuggle her laptop under her clothes so she could write. She would stop just so she had enough time to frantically fish so he wouldn’t discover what she had been really doing—almost as if covering up some crime.
I was stunned that a woman of her stature—who also happens to be a feminist—had to resort to such measures just so she could write. But a few years later, when I found myself in a relationship where I had to fight to be able to have my own desk where I could write, I understood how such contradictions could exist simultaneously in one woman. Remembering Jane’s story, I felt less alone. And just like her, I eventually left my relationship and learned to make more self-honoring choices.