London: Jane Fonda, who was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars thanks to 60s films like ‘Cat Ballou’ and ‘Barbarella’, has revealed what she wishes she had known at the age of 18.
The 74-year-old actress, who was a sensation at Cannes film festival last week, was haunted by her secret life.
“I wish I had known at 18 that I did not have to be thin to be happy,” the Sun quoted her as saying.
“My father (acting legend Henry Fonda) was obsessed about weight. I was made to feel that I would not be loved unless I was perfect.
“I feared my father always thought I was fat, even though I never was.
“I found during my research in to family history that all the Fonda men for generations had an obsession with their women being thin.
“All the wives were thin and two of them were bulimic. It was a pressure that made you feel as if you had to look a certain way.
“It is a culture with some men which says women have to be fragile and thin and malleable and perfect. Men have to be manly. I was a victim of it.
“Have I overcome it? You never totally do. I grew up in the 1950s, in a different time with different expectations of women. The strange thing was, my father would rarely tell me his thoughts to my face. He would get one of his wives (he was married five times) to tell me I should not wear a bikini.
“The way a woman looked was so important to him and became important to me.
“The result was that I had bulimia as a teenager. I did what we would now call comfort eating and became addicted to food.
“So I would binge and then purge. It was many years before I could sit at a table without feeling any anxiety. I discovered, certainly by 18, that bulimia is very easy to hide.
“I would say that I am 95 per cent over all that now, but it has taken a lifetime. I wish I had more strength of will.
“If there is anything to be learned, looking back, is that I was not always happy or strong.
“When I was 18, 19 and 20, I was so lonely. I wish I could have forecast that life would change. I have grown happier with age.
“But it is strange to look back, to think how I accepted things I would never accept now.
“Roger Vadim convinced me that morality needed to be abandoned in favour of an open marriage.
“I cannot pretend it was all his fault. I loved him and wanted to please him. I was like a lot of women putting reservations aside to keep a man happy.
“And once I started to get involved in his games, then anything seemed possible.
“It started one night when he brought home a high-class call girl. I did not object.
“In fact, I threw myself into the sex. I know people might find it difficult to understand but I was a good actress and play-acted very well.
“I was as angry and jealous as hell but pretended to myself that I did not suffer from any of the side-effects.
“I then started picking up girls for us. It was threesomes or more. Always women, mostly French, as we were living in Paris at the time.
“They did not go blurting to the newspaper about what had happened. I was discreet and did the hiring through an agency. I thought I was an independent woman.
“But I wish I’d have known that these were not the actions of any truly independent woman. I was doing it to keep a man happy. I would sometimes be left alone with the girls he had hired and it was a remarkable insight into women and what we are prepared to live with.
“Some of them thought sex was their only commodity and did not think too deeply about it.
“But others were very intelligent and would have succeeded in other careers. A few of them are still friends today and have married extremely well. The whole episode taught me that life can be full of surprises.
“My own mother (Frances, who committed suicide when Jane was 12) was sexually abused when she was a child. She’d had nine abortions before I was born. She hated her body and had plastic surgery at a time when it was not common.
“I learned from my study of sexual abuse that the guilt and body hatred is cast over the next generation.
“I do have regrets about not being a good enough mother. (Jane has a daughter, Vanessa, 43, from Vadim and son, Troy, 39, from second husband Tom Hayden). I wish I had a chance to do it again.
“I was not able to deliver, emotionally, with the kind of intimacy you need to be a good parent. I do believe in changing, with life and experience. I am a very different person to how I was 15 years ago, for example.
“So if I met myself at 18 now, it would be like meeting up with a stranger,” she added.