Winner of two Oscars for best actress, four Golden Globes, two BAFTA awards and an Emmy, Jane Fonda is already a legend of the seventh art. A successful writer and activist, her life may seem like a fairy tale to us, but recently the actress spoke about the seriousness of the mental disorder she suffered, a problem that is increasingly common among younger people due to social pressures and unrealistic canons about beauty and perfect bodies.
The illusion of control
The 85-year-old actress told host Alex Cooper that when she was young she was “miserable,” especially since she was forced to play the archetypal perfect girl in many of her roles for a time. She found it particularly difficult to deal with the attention placed on her physical appearance, primarily due to her body image issues.
“I was bulimic, anorexic, and suddenly I became a star, so such an emphasis on appearance became a source of constant tension for me,” she acknowledged. “When I was 20 years old, I was starting to be an actress. I suffered from very bad bulimia. I led a secret life. I was very unhappy. I imagined that I would not live beyond the age of 30”.
Like many other people with bulimia, concerns about body image and social pressures through shared beauty ideals – often unrealistic and almost unattainable – trigger and aggravate the problem.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by repeated episodes of excessive food intake over a very short period of time. This is coupled with an excessive concern about controlling body weight, which often leads people to use inappropriate methods to avoid weight gain, such as making themselves vomit or using laxatives.
The person with bulimia looks fat because he/she has a distorted idea of his/her body. Although he/she has a normal weight, he/she feels dissatisfied and fears that he/she will gain weight, but he/she is unable to control his/her impulses to eat, so he/she ends up suffering from binge eating disorder.
Fonda explained that initially, when she began binge eating and purging, she thought her eating disorder was “innocent.” “Why can’t I eat this ice cream and this cake and then just throw it up?” she wondered. “You don’t realize that it becomes a terrible addiction that takes over your life.” In fact, many people with bulimia think they are in control, but have really lost it. This makes it take them a long time to recognize that they have a disorder and need help.
Bulimia, far beyond food
Jane Fonda suffered from bulimia for 35 years, a disorder that goes far beyond food. In fact, she confessed that the secretive nature of her problem also “Made it impossible for me to maintain a genuine relationship.”
“Your day is organized around getting food and eating it, so you have to be alone and no one can know what you’re doing,” she explained. “It’s a very lonely disorder and you get addicted. I mean, as soon as you eat something, you want to get rid of it.”
Fonda also explained that for most of her life she has had to “Work to get past the judgment, the objectification and the criticism, the fact that I was unconsciously made to feel like I’m not adorable if I’m not skinny.”
The actress acknowledged that it took her decades to understand the impact her eating disorder was having on her body and quality of life. “When you are young you think you can get away with it because your body is so young. As you get older, the cost is increasing. First it takes days and then at least a week to get over a single binge. And it’s not just fatigue, but you get angry and hostile. All the trouble I got into was because of that anger and hostility.”
In fact, bulimia is not only accompanied by emotional hunger and obsessive thoughts related to body weight and shape, but it also generates feelings of guilt that undermine self-esteem, leads to social isolation and often exacerbates anxiety. Some people can even come to cherish ideas of the type “I don’t want to live anymore“ since they can’t find a way out.
Jane Fonda suffered from bulimia for 35 years. However, she says: “Then I reached a point, when I was 40 years old, where I thought: ‘if I continue like this, I am going to die’. I led a full life. I had children, a husband, I was doing politics…I had all those things. And my life was important. But I was less and less able to continue, so I cut it off.”
Fonda was also alone in the recovery process. “I didn’t know there were groups you could join. Nobody talked about it. I didn’t even know there was a word to define what was happening to me, so I just stopped, even though it was very difficult,” she acknowledged.
Finally, she The actress offered an advice that, in her case, helped her deal with bulimia: “The more distance you can put between yourself and the latest binge, the better. It gets easier every time.” Fonda also mentioned that she had to resort to anti-anxiety medications along the way to her recovery, which helped her stop the binge-purge cycle.
His story is marked by suffering, like the lives of many people who suffer from bulimia, but his courage to make such intimate episodes public contributes to making visible a disorder that almost 1% of the population suffers from and that not only affects considerably their well-being but also their health and even their life. Her case is important because it shows that there is a way out: it is possible to overcome bulimia.