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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jane Fonda Says We Should View Aging as "Potential" Rather Than "Pathology"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Jane Fonda and friend (1964) - NORMAN PARKINSON
  • Norman Parkinson
  • Jane Fonda and friend (1964)

As a species, we're living longer than ever -- so long that lots of us can expect to have three acts in our lives, the final one from ages 60 to 90. Yet society at large still discriminates against older people in a lot of ways, and clings to youth as though growing old is a disease in itself. Jane Fonda, who'll turn 74 in December, reflects on this and other aspects of aging in her new book, Prime Time. She believes we should approach aging not as a decline, but as an opportunity to learn and grow in new ways.

We communicated with the actress, author, fitness guru, and political activist via e-mail before her two Bay Area appearances Thursday.

Fonda explains that one impetus for writing the book comes from the changed physical and medical reality of aging.

"Over the last century, because of improved nutrition and medicine, lower maternal death in childbirth, and better sanitation, the average life span has been extended by 34 years," she says. "That's an entire second adult lifetime."

She also notes, however, that ageism is ever-present despite increased longevity. "The cultural perception of aging has not changed very much, in my opinion. We still tend to view age as pathology rather than potential."

prime_time_love_health_sex_fitness_friendship_spirit_jane_fonda_hardcover_cover_.jpg

In Prime Time, Fonda tells readers she wants them to live happy, healthy, enriching third acts. She describes in great detail the discoveries she has made in her own life that have helped her nurture the things listed in the book's subtitle: love, health, sex, fitness, friendship, and spirit.

When superstars turn into life coaches, their advice is often met with opposing responses of appreciation and ridicule. On the one hand, Prime Time unquestionably contains good information within its covers. Fonda contextualizes her own experiences with input from doctors, researchers, and other experts, who are quoted at length in chapters focusing on exercise, diet, brain development, and the specialized sensual experiences available to older people.

Nonetheless, there is a temptation to view books such as Fonda's with skepticism. That skepticism is borne of the great unspoken first piece of advice that should always -- but never does -- precede celebrity wisdom: "First, amass millions of dollars ... "

jane_fonda.jpg

That aside, Fonda's central thesis characterizes aging as a "staircase" rather than an "arch." In other words, our lives are a continual process of ascent, growth, learning, and maturity (a staircase), rather than the traditional view that as we age, we deteriorate after peaking in midlife (an arch). If we embrace the promise of the staircase, we are ensured a more productive, robust third act.

In the book, Fonda suggests conducting a "life review," as she did, examining "my life in Acts I and II as carefully and honestly as I could, as a way toward wholeness and to prepare for a good Act III." The methodology is not clearly specified, but Fonda describes thinking about the past; analyzing relationships with friends, relatives, and romantic partners; looking at family photographs; facing demons; and working through guilt and personal failures.

Fonda at a recent promotional appearance in New York
  • Fonda at a recent promotional appearance in New York

Facing her own physical, mental, and spiritual issues formed the personal process that prompted Prime Time.

"I have age-related physical challenges like osteoarthritis, which has necessitated my having hip and knee replacements," Fonda told us. "But these things don't define me. I feel that I am becoming what I have meant to be all along. It didn't just happen. I have intentionally cultivated my ability to grow and deepen."

Jane Fonda makes two Bay Area appearances on Thursday, Aug. 18. She appears at 9 a.m. at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Admission is $55 and includes breakfast and a signed copy of Prime Time. She appears at 7 p.m. at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. Admission is $30-$35 and includes a signed copy of the book.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Casey Burchby

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