Jane Fonda is living a life without shame.
The actress and activist, 84, opened up to Glennon Doyle on her podcast We Can Do Hard Things about her decades-long search for wholeness — and how it's shaped her views on life, spirituality and death.
"My big fear is getting to the end of my life and having a lot of regrets," Fonda said, noting that her famous father, actor Henry Fonda, "died with a lot of regrets."
"Oh my god, I don’t want that," she explained. "We never know how we’re gonna die but it’s important to envision how you want it to be. I want to be in a bed — I hope in my home — with people around me that love me. I have to earn that, deserve that. And I want to feel that I’ve done my very best, and so that’s what I try to do."
Fonda's life has been full of lessons, many of which she learned after years of soul-searching. Perhaps the biggest one of all, she notes, is the importance of living an authentic life.
"If we lived authentically as embodied men and women, there would be no climate crisis, there would be no racism, there would be no patriarchy," she explained. "That's all part of a poison that’s been in our species for thousands of years. But I’m hopeful. I think we can change it."
Fonda describes feeling "disassociated" from her body after being sexually abused as a child. Decades later, in her 60s, she said she felt a sense of being "reborn" at last.
"I think sexual trauma and abuse causes women — it happens to men, too, but mostly women — to become disassociated from their bodies," said Fonda. "I went through a whole lot of my early life wanting to be perfect because I thought nobody is gonna love me unless I’m perfect. And so, all the interesting, complicated parts of myself moved out."
"It was kinda like a double image," she explained, describing the experience of suppressing her true self to please others. "Every now and then, there’d be somebody … along the way who seemed to see the Jane Fonda that was over here, and get interested in that. And it was like, who [are they] talking to? It’s not me. I’m not smart. But [they] saw that other part."
Fonda eventually learned to embrace that other part, too, after separating from her third husband Ted Turner in 2000, after nine years of marriage. She was also married to Tom Hayden, from 1973 to 1990, and to Roger Vadim from 1965 to 1973.
"I look at pictures of me through the various marriages and boyfriends, and I look like a different person in each one," explained Fonda, who is currently single.
"We knew about a year in advance that the marriage was gonna end and I had a lot of time to prepare," she said of Turner. During that time, she did a lot of research on herself (which, later, became the premise of her 2018 HBO documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts).
"One of the things I discovered in doing [the research] was that I'm brave, and that I’ve always been brave," she said. That was put to the test on the day she left Turner's Atlanta estate on his plane — only to turn around and notice a mistress boarding immediately after.
"My seat was still warm," she remembers of that day. Fonda would eventually move in with her daughter Vanessa and 1-year-old grandchild.
"I asked if I could stay at her house [in Paris]," she recalls asking Vanessa. "I've left so many properties, vast visas [in the past]. Such a magnificent huge life. To move into my daughter’s house in a little room with no closet. I had my golden retriever with me. There was such silence. I remember standing in the middle of the room and I could feel myself moving back into myself. And I said, 'This is God.' I know that. This is God."
"I could feel myself becoming re-embodied. Even though my heart was broken because I loved Ted so much, I knew I made the right decision," she said of that moment. "I’m being reborn, and it’s appropriate that I get [to be] reborn at the home of my firstborn. It was the most beautiful time of my life. I was 62."
Reminding ourselves that "we're all connected" has become part of Fonda's mantra, and one of the things that keeps her going today.
"We’ve forgotten that we’re all part of the same dust, molecules from the stars," she said. "We’re part of the animals and the rocks and the trees. That’s the reality. It’s hard for people to grasp that."
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