Jane Fonda: An ‘80s Icon Who Still Looks Great in a Leotard (at 81!)

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There are few personalities who have made as much of an impact on their world as Jane Fonda. She has had a rich life and has reinvented herself more than once. She has been a fashion model, a film star, a political activist, and a philanthropist.

Jane has found success in all of these roles. But it was her creation of a single VHS videotape in 1982 that helped to define a decade.


The Fitness Guru

Who doesn’t remember Jane with her forty-something body in spandex leotards, looking better than most 20-year-olds? She ignited a flame of fitness awareness that spread into a conflagration.

According to Wikipedia, her first fitness video, “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” became the best-selling VHS title of all time. She went on to create over 20 fitness videos.

When she launched what was to become a full-blown culture shift with that first fitness tape in 1982, no one could have predicted the phenomenon that it would become or the longevity that it would have. The fitness craze she inspired is as vibrant as ever 37 years later.

Two years before she made that video, Jane bought an exercise studio and was teaching classes. In 1981, she wrote her first book, “Jane Fonda’s Workout Book,” which became a bestseller.

When the video came out (at a price of $59.98!), it changed the face of fitness for women.

The gyms that existed in those days were designed for men, and women rarely used them. They did not have a place where they could work out and feel comfortable.

Jane made it possible for women to exercise in an environment that felt safe. They began exercising at home and going to group classes for the first time, at Jane’s own studio and all over the country.

Not only did she spark the fitness craze of the ‘80s, but she also inspired a whole new industry. “Jane Fonda’s Workout” was the first videotape produced for home use. Until then, VCRs were brand new and used mostly for watching home recordings.

This was not, however, Jane’s first time in front of a camera.


The Movie Star

Jane was 45 when she made that first video. Although “fitness guru” was a new role for her, she was anything but unknown at that time.

The daughter of actor (and icon in his own right) Henry Fonda, Jane followed his lead to Broadway and acted in her first play at age 17. She made 46 films and won 2 Oscars (for “Klute” in 1971 and “Coming Home” in 1978) and numerous other awards for her film work.

The Activist

But Jane has said more than once that being an actress was what she did, not who she was.

She has always been outspoken and has a long history of political activism. (Remember Hanoi Jane?) She was active in the civil rights movement in the ‘60s. She fought for Native American rights in 1969. She protested the Vietnam war and white privilege in the ‘70s (and today). She opposed the Iraq war in the 2000s.

She is a torchbearer for environmental and feminist issues to this day.

The Philanthropist

And the money she has earned from her fitness empire? She gave it away. The way she tells the story is that she only agreed to make that first video because the political organization founded by her then-husband Ted Turner—The Center for Economic Development—needed capital.

These days, she supports several feminist, environmental, and adolescent causes through two charitable foundations, one of which she founded with one million dollars of her own money. She also donates 10 hours a week of her time to the foundation.

Retirement? Really?

In 1991, at the age of 54, Jane announced that she was retiring from acting. In 2005, she was back. She made two movies in the next few years and returned to Broadway in 2009.


Since then, she has made 10 more films. She has recently been the subject of an HBO documentary film called “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.”

And she is currently starring with Lily Tomlin in the Netflix original “Grace and Frankie.”

The show is now in its fifth season. It has attracted a wide audience and created a whole new generation of fans, Millennials who were not yet born when Jane started her long career.

And if all that’s not enough, Jane has another iron in the fire: As if Nov 2018, there are plans to do a remake of “9 to 5,” the hit movie Jane made with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in 1980.

But Once a Fitness Guru…

…always a fitness guru? As rich and successful as her life and career have been, it is obvious that Jane has never lost that passion for fitness that launched the craze in the ‘80s.

In 2010, she began creating a series of workout DVDs called “Prime Time” (not to be confused with a video she released in 1984 with the same name). It’s the “Jane Fonda Workout” for seniors and Baby Boomers.

Incredibly, Jane was in her 70s at the time, and she was still in front of the class, leading the workout. Clearly, she is not content to grow old gracefully.

With the release of this video series, she’s lighting a fire under the rest of us to get out of our rocking chairs and get going.

And whether you love her for it or hate her for it, you have to admit it. She DOES look great in that leotard!

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Paula Clark


Paula lives in Maine with her significant other, Gary; their dog, Jackson; and their cat, Isabelle. She’s still waiting for the trickle-down effect to kick in, and she’s crazy about cheesy ‘80s movies...but shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!