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Jane Fonda, 85, Shares Advice She Would Give Herself at 21: ‘ “No” Is a Complete Sentence’

Julia Louis-Dreyfus interviews the actor on the premiere episode of her podcast, ‘Wiser Than Me’

spinner image Jane Fonda attends the Los Angeles premiere screening of the film 80 for Brady and Julia Louis-Dreyfus attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival You Hurt My Feelings Premiere
(Left to right) Jane Fonda and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images; Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is looking to learn a thing or two from those who paved the way before her — starting with none other than Jane Fonda.

​In the series premiere of Louis-Dreyfus’ new podcast, Wiser Than Me, from Lemonada Media, the Emmy Award–winning Seinfeld actor chats up Fonda, who dishes on everything from body image to plastic surgery to regrets.

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​“We just don’t hear enough about the lives of older women,” says Louis-Dreyfus, 62. “When women get older, they become less visible, less heard, less seen, in a way that, really, it just doesn’t happen with men. We are ignoring the wisdom of, like, more than half the population.”

​And wisdom is something the 85-year-old Fonda is full of. “Spiritually and mentally and psychologically, I’m way younger,” says Fonda, sporting a top by Lululemon. “One of the things that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten into serious old age is when you’re inside it as opposed to looking at it from the outside, it’s not nearly as scary.”

​Fonda, who chatted with AARP The Magazine in February ahead of the release of her latest comedy, 80 for Brady, says to “stay fit. I move a lot. I just finished a workout.” The “operative word,” says the aerobics pioneer, is “ ‘slow.’ … I do kind of the same moves, but slowly and with less weight.

​“I appreciate my body,” says Fonda. “I don’t criticize it and hate on it anymore, but I live alone. … I don’t have to show it to anybody. I’m vain enough so that it would be hard for me to get naked in front of [someone]. Not if I lived with somebody for 50 years — which I wish that had been my fate — but, you know, I wouldn’t be able to get undressed in front of a new lover. No. I’ve got too many nicks and, you know, scars and holes and all kinds of things. I mean, I’ve got two fake hips, and a fake knee and a fake shoulder, and even a fake thumb.”

​As for plastic surgery, Fonda says she is “sorry to say” she has had it. “I wish that I had been able to grow old at peace with my face, but I wasn’t able to. I don’t feel good about it, it’s not real, but I can’t do anything about it now.”

​Women, she notes, are held to much different standards than men when it comes to aging: “Their jowls are hanging, and nobody cares!”

​Speaking of men, you won’t find Fonda coupled up anytime soon — or ever again, for that matter. “I, unfortunately, don’t think that I can totally be myself in a romantic relationship with a man,” she says. “I’m not willing to try again. … I don’t have it in me.” Fonda has been married three times, most recently to Ted Turner.​​

Female friendships, however, are something she has in no short supply. “I never knew it,” she says about the importance of having close girlfriends. “It was only when I was older. … From the very beginning of my life, as far as I was concerned, if I’m going to make it through life, I’m going to hitch my wagon to my father’s star, or some other man’s star.”

​Fonda said it wasn’t until she gave birth to her daughter that she “very tentatively” had female friends. Getting started in the world of activism opened her eyes further. “It was the women activists that were the most responsible for my new consciousness and transformation. Being with them was like looking … through a keyhole at the world that we’re trying to create. They behaved like what we should all behave like, with kindness and generosity and humanity. … I thought, Men have never treated me this way before.”

​​Any regrets? “I was not a very good parent,” she says, admitting that she has not forgiven herself for it. “I talk to my kids about it, or I try to, and I try to understand why I did the things that I did, and I try to show up for them now in ways that I didn’t back then. That’s the main way that I deal with regret.”

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​Fonda says right before she turned 60, she put a lot of effort into “researching” herself, a “life review,” as she calls it. “As you get older, you realize the importance of being intentional. That’s why doing a life review is important — understanding what things have meant in your life. That’s how you become wise.

​“What I discovered as I prepared for my third act was you spend your life exploring, as I have,” says Fonda. “You go back to your girlhood, and you become all the things that she was supposed to be, that you never knew at the time was really who she was, because you were trying to be what other people thought she should be.

​“It’s really, really hard to be young,” says Fonda. “I personally think that it’s important to let young people know that it’s not you, honey. It’s just really hard!”

​The piece of advice she would give herself at 21? “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

​The legendary actress has lived life to the fullest, and when it comes to dying, Fonda is not afraid. “I kind of look forward to it,” she says. “It’s like a new adventure!”

​Louis-Dreyfus’ 10-part podcast series, with new episodes released weekly, features conversations with women over 70, including Carol Burnett, Amy Tan, Diane von Furstenberg, Isabel Allende and Fran Lebowitz. “I’m going to talk to old ladies,” she says. “I want to know how they do it, how they did it, how do they navigate aging and life. Give us some tips from the front lines!”

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