Jane Fonda: My Father Henry Fonda Made Me Bulimic

At 78 years old, Jane Fonda is the picture of health. But she hasn’t always been. The ‘80s fitness icon battled eating disorders for much of her adult life — and believes her emotionally abusive dad, the late, legendary actor Henry Fonda, planted the seed. “When I hit adolescence and the specter of womanhood loomed, all that mattered was how I looked and fit in,” the Grace and Frankie actress wrote in the March 23 Lenny newsletter. “My father would send my stepmother to tell me to lose weight and wear longer skirts. One of my stepmothers told me all the ways I’d have to change physically if I wanted a boyfriend.”

Jane Fonda poses during a photocall for the film
Jane Fonda poses during a photocall for the film "Youth" at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southeastern France, on May 20, 2015. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images

Fonda was 12 when her mother, Frances Ford Seymour, committed suicide. Soon after, Fonda began struggling with bulimia — sometimes purging up to 20 times a day. This went on until she was 35. “Like three of my father’s five wives, I developed an eating disorder (probably to fill the emptiness),” she explained. 

The Oscar winner previously opened up about her unhappy childhood to Harpers Bazaar in 2011. “I was raised in the ‘50s,” she said. “I was taught by my father that how I looked was all that mattered. He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.” 

Jane Fonda with father Henry Fonda circa 1979 in New York City.
Jane Fonda with father Henry Fonda circa 1979 in New York City. Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images

Fonda has also addressed her plastic surgery. “I’m not proud of that fact that I’ve had it,” she admitted to W Magazine in 2015. “But I grew up so defined by my looks. I was taught to think if I wanted to be loved, I had to be thin and pretty. That leads to a lot of trouble.”

After three failed marriages to screenwriter Roger Vadim, political activist Tom Hayden and media mogul Ted Turner, Fonda (who has three children) is finally comfortable in her skin.“When I turned 60 and entered my third and final act, I decided that no matter how scary it was, I needed to heal the wounds that patriarchy had dealt me,” she wrote in the Lenny newsletter. “I didn’t want to come to the end of my life without doing all I could to become a whole, full-voiced woman.”

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