What was the Impact of Jane Fonda on Pop Culture?

Jane Fonda is a very famous name in American pop culture. Her name is known throughout the world in several contexts. She has worked as an actress, environmentalist, fashion model, and political activist. Even recently, Fonda has just finished the production of a TV series ‘Grace and Frankie’ in November 2021. She has had a successful run of seven seasons as one of the leads in this show. 

Award-Winning Career

Fonda has also won multiple awards, including a Primetime Emmy, seven Golden Gloves, two Academy Awards, and the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. She started her career young, with her first recognized projects being several comedies in the 1960s. 

Substantial Roles

Starting from the late 60s with ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’, Fonda’s films became more substantial and socially conscious. In 1980, Fonda teamed up with famous names Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton to make an empowering comedy ‘9 to 5’. This was a comedy where audiences saw three women get together to take revenge on their misogynistic boss. 

Movies like these had a great impact on pop culture due to the then-innovative way they portrayed women. They showed strong women taking control of their own lives, without the need for a male hero to swoop in and save the day. It was a much more realistic portrayal of females on the screen and one that inspired anyone who was downtrodden by the system to act for their rights. 

Exercise Tapes

Along with a successful acting career, Jane Fonda is also known to many of her fans as being among the first stars to make and release exercise tapes. 

Her first exercise video came out in 1982, titled ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout’. This soon saw record sales, making the record of being the best-selling VHS tape ever. 

Fonda would go on to release around 22 videotapes in the coming 13 years. Put together, the total sales of these videos will sell more than 17 million copies. 

At this time, Fonda’s acting career wasn’t very successful, as she released one flop film after another. However, her influence on the exercise and workout industry was very influential. To this date, many celebrities who want to get some spark out of their career try to release exercise videos. While the practise hasn’t been a sure-fire way to success, it’s still known as a method inspired by Jane Fonda. 

Political Activism

Fonda has gained a lot of controversy, criticism, and praise for her political activism. She was part of the counterculture against the Vietnam War and was also a vocal opponent of the Iraq War. In 1972, Fonda earned the name ‘Hanoi Jane’ after a photograph of her sitting on an anti-aircraft North Vietnamese gun in Hanoi was released. She had travelled to Hanoi in order to denounce the bombings there by the United States. At this point, she was a blacklisted name in Hollywood, but eventually gained back her footing. 

Other issues of interest for Jane Fonda included the problems of violence and cruelty against women. She labels herself as an environmentalist activist as well as a feminist. 

One of her efforts in this direction included the founding of the Women’s Media center with co-founders Gloria Steinam and Robin Morgan. This organization aims to enhance female voices within the media through the use of leadership training, media training, and advocacy. 

Inspiring Change Through Exercise Videos

Jane Fonda’s exercise videos weren’t just for making her money or advancing her career. They were also instrumental in helping housewives and teenagers learn to exercise in an easy and convenient fashion. Her Workout video almost single handedly invented the concept of at-home workouts led by celebrities. Today, we can find several workout videos on YouTube and TikTok that are led by celebrities. The celeb factor serves to inspire people to work out more, as they already know and somewhat idealize the person leading the workouts. For those who are interested in finding out more about fitness workouts, check out Justin Gelband’s secret for dropping body fat

In a 1984 interview, Fonda actually revealed that she didn’t personally benefit from all the millions that her video workouts or bestselling books made. She said that all these proceeds went towards environmental causes. The income was for the Campaign for Economic Democracy, an organization Fonda founded with Tom Hayden, also an activist and her then-husband. The C.E.D mainly aimed at promoting candidates from the Liberal party for local office. They also supported candidates who are interested in establishing policies for protecting the environment. 

The Impact of Fonda’s Fitness Goals

Jane Fonda struggled with an eating disorder, and was often branded as an air-headed blonde when she first started making successful movies. However, she soon proved all her critics wrong when she started taking control of her own life and was successful with her passion. When starting her exercise videos, Fonda developed an obsession with fitness. Her devotion led her to over several aerobics studios in the state of California. In the Beverly Hills studio, she herself would teach some of the classes in the early morning. In an interview in 2014, Fonda recalls how back then, there were mostly gyms for men but not for women. 

However, this is not to say that women weren’t present in the American exercise and fitness industry before that. Fonda might have taken some inspiration from Debbie Drake, who was a female fitness pioneer with her own exercise show airing on a daily basis. However, it was the VHS tape format that really took the workout by Jane Fonda off the round.   

With the Jane Fonda Workout released in 1982, Fonda managed to get women and girls into the zeal for exercise, fitness, and building up strength. Her videos weren’t about acting masculine either–she would appear on the videos wearing pink stripes, purple tights and her hair fluffed up in the iconic style of the 80s. At the start of it all, Fonda considered herself optimistic by hoping that 25,000 copies of the video tape will be sold. As it turned out, the tape would be an icon and the start of a whole new industry and genre. In fact, it even boosted the sales of VCRs at the time. 

After the first major hit and a lot more videos along with her books, Fonda would experience women coming up to her and tell her how the workouts have made a major change in their lives. One woman developed new muscles, which made her gather enough strength to confront her boss about his bad behaviour. Another woman found it easier to fall asleep after the workouts and no longer felt the need to resort to sleeping pills. It’s probably safe to say that the workout tapes by Jane Fonda were among the highlights of the major pop culture trends of the 1980s in America. 

Fonda’s Eating Disorder


Jane Fonda’s life was not without struggles, even though her achievements make it seem like she had it all. She struggles with bulimia for many years. The workouts she created were a lifesaver for her as well; she says that the exercise helped in normalizing the concept of food for her. She was eventually able to break the cycle of binge eating and throwing up by quitting it cold turkey. 

Again, this part of Jane Fonda’s life has also shaped pop culture as we know it. By being open and honest about her eating disorder, Fonda managed to make people more aware of such issues. Females are especially susceptible to such eating disorders, and might not even have known that they need immediate help if it weren’t for celebrities like Fonda speaking up. 


The more we learn about Jane Fonda, the more we realize that she was a master at multitasking. Not only is she an ultra-successful actress, but she inspires her fans by taking on several different commendable projects. Yes, Fonda, has had her share of controversy, bad politics, and has often been misunderstood by the media. However, she still remains one of the most legendary names in the Hollywood industry. Without her innovations and efforts, we might have lost out on many valuable impacts on pop culture, feminism, politics, fitness, and many other aspects.