Jane Fonda and What We Celebrate As Beautiful At Age 83
The accomplished actor looks ageless and flawless, but is that really what aging looks like?
The Golden Globes took place last night and while I didn’t watch the show, I got caught up in some of the commentary on Twitter about how great some of the older women looked. Notably, Jane Fonda, who won the Cecil B. DeMille Award and whose beauty at age 83 is undeniable.
Then I came upon this tweet, about Fonda looking “like this at 83”:
I have been a fan of Fonda for her activism and acting, and you bet she looks beautiful at 83. That said, it’s a very narrow version of beauty. Her skin looks flawless — no wrinkles, no age spots, no sagging — and let’s be honest, that’s not what 83 really looks like. She’s also a White, thin and abled woman, and that is often how society defines what’s beautiful. That excludes a lot of women.
Beyond her excellent makeup job for the awards show, Fonda has had years of “work,” and has been honest about it. It is, no doubt, why people talk about how great she looks at 83, or any age actually. I’m younger than she is and I don’t look as good as she does now and have never looked as good as she did when she was younger, even before all the cosmetic surgery. Fonda was born with the gift of physical beauty; most of us were not. That’s OK, that’s just how it is.
But in 2020, she said she was finally done with it:
“I can’t pretend that I’m not vain, but there isn’t going to be any more plastic surgery — I’m not going to cut myself up anymore. I have to work every day to be self-accepting; it doesn’t come easy to me. … All these issues are universal among women: I’m not good enough; I have to please, starting with Daddy; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not thin enough; I’m not smart enough.”
Recently, she decided she was also done with coloring her gray hair, and appeared on the awards show with her stunning gray hair. As she said to Ellen DeGeneres:
“I’ll tell you, I’m so happy I let it go gray. Enough already with so much time wasted, so much money spent, so many chemicals. I’m through with that.”
I’m not quite done with coloring my hair; there isn’t enough gray for me to actually go gray, just a lot of mousey brown. So, I’m no purist when it comes to doing things to make ourselves feel good in our own skin. And I don’t fault or judge anyone for choosing to get cosmetic surgery, Botox or any of the other procedures available in at attempt to look younger than we actually are. It’s just not anything I want to do.
A lot more women around my age are Team Fonda, however.
Women make up 92% of all cosmetic procedures, both surgically and minimally invasive, according to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons. Considering $16.5 billion was spent on cosmetic procedures in the United States in 2018, women are almost single-handily keeping the industry alive. Well, not all women — White women. They account for an astounding 12 million procedures, whereas Hispanics have a mere 1.9 million procedures followed by African Americans at 1.6 million and Asian Americans at 1.2 million. Nearly half are middle-aged, 40 to 55 years old.
Any idea why White women have so much anxiety about their looks and aging? Well, if only a certain look is considered the epitome of beauty — kind of like what Jane Fonda looks like — then of course many White women are going to agonize over what will happen to us if we don’t look like that at 83. There will be nothing to celebrate or praise, we will be invisible and irrelevant.
In 2018, the Royal Society for Public Health — the world’s oldest public health body according to its website — issued a statement recommending that, among other things, the media start featuring older people more frequently so wrinkles, dark spots and other visible signs of aging will be seen as “normal.” Because it is normal! That’s what aging skin looks like — not Fonda’s — and there’s nothing horrible about it or anything to fear about getting it.
In fact, all of us probably love, respect and treasure people whose skin looks just like that. I have and still do; my grandparents and parents when they were alive, and now my dear friends who, like me, are slouching toward an age that my generation proclaimed we’d hope we’d be dead before we ever got there — old age.
Will we ever call a woman with wrinkles, dark spots and other visible signs of aging, a woman who actually looks like what we generally experience an 83-year-old woman to look like, beautiful? Maybe, but we’re going to see it normalized in Hollywood, in ads, on TV, in magazines, online — everywhere — first.
Fonda’s words stick with me. She was born beautiful in a privileged but very complicated family, yet struggles to accept herself. And she sees her struggles as not uniquely hers, but universal among women — “I’m not good enough; I have to please, starting with Daddy; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not thin enough; I’m not smart enough.”
Does that sound familiar? Women are never enough. How and when do we stop that damaging narrative?
It could start with women believing that we actually are enough as is. To put an asterisk on all the comments praising a narrow version of beauty that historically has excluded Black women and other women of color, disabled women, big women, that says: *this is only one small version of beauty; there are many others.
In her acceptance speech, Fonda urged people in the movie industry to think about “which voices we respect and elevate — and which we tune out.” It was a call to honor and include diverse voices of all kinds — hopefully that includes older women, wrinkled, sagging skin and all.
What makes Jane Fonda beautiful to me is her talent, spirit, activism, humanity and compassion. And honestly, no amount of cosmetic surgery can add anything to that, or cover it up.
Hey, I’m working on a book on changing the narrative about middle-aged and older women. Interested? Follow me here, on Medium, and on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and let’s do this. Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.