Jane Fonda admits it was a long time coming for her to become an "embodied feminist."
The 78-year-old actress opens up about her struggle to be the "perfect" woman in an essay penned for Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter. Fonda says that since childhood, she thought the ideal woman had to be "thin, pretty, having good hair, being nice rather than honest, ready to sacrifice, never smarter than a man, never angry."
"When I hit adolescence and the specter of womanhood loomed, all that mattered was how I looked and fit in. My father would send my stepmother to tell me to lose weight and wear longer skirts," Fonda recalls. "One of my stepmothers told me all the ways I'd have to change physically if I wanted a boyfriend. Meanwhile, I sort of …hollowed out. Almost everything interesting about me scooped itself out and took up residence alongside the empty, disembodied me."
The Oscar winner says it wasn't long before she developed an eating disorder, "probably to fill the emptiness."
"It's hard to be embodied if you hate your body," she writes. "Given that it was, at least partially, an inauthentic me that I presented to the world, I instinctively chose men who would never notice because of their own addictions and 'issues.' Ah, but they were interesting, charismatic, alpha men, and they validated me."
Fonda admits -- in reference to Jennifer Lawrence's Lenny essay on Hollywood's gender wage gap -- that she didn't even think she deserved the same salary as men when she first broke into the business. "I always supported myself," she says. "I want to admit that back then my self-esteem was so low I assumed I was paid less than the men and that I didn't deserve more."
Through all this, Fonda was a self-proclaimed feminist but says that she didn't practice what she preached. "My feminism was theoretical, in my head, not my blood and bones," she explains. "For me to really confront sexism would have required doing something about my relationships with men, and I couldn't. That was too scary."
Fonda says at age 60, she decided to face her demons and embrace feminism as an all-out lifestyle. "I had gone from believing that women's issues were a distraction, mere ancillary problems to be addressed after everything else had been taken care of, to the realization that women are the issue, the core issue," she continues. "We will fail to solve any problem -- poverty, peace, sustainable development, environment, health -- unless we look at it through a gender lens and make sure the solution will be good for women."
The actress concludes her essay with a quip: "It took me 30 years to get it, but it's OK to be a late bloomer as long as you don't miss the flower show."