That Time Jane Fonda Sculpted Abs to Save the Planet

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop-cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our March 1984 cover story, featuring everyone’s favorite jazzerciser-turned-jailbird, Jane Fonda, to find out how one good at-home workout can help save the world.

As both BAFTA and the Metropolitan Police Department can now tell you, based on first-hand experience, Jane Fonda is a multi-tasker. This has always been the case. Long before she taught Ted Danson how to get arrested, and after she provided tired-of-it secretaries everywhere with a roadmap for corporate revenge in 9 to 5, Jane Fonda was instructing discontent housewives and bored teen girls everywhere on how to do the perfect sit-up on their shag-carpeted floor. And somehow, at the same time, saving the world. 

If you were a woman with a living room big enough to bend-and-snap in in the ’80s, you knew Jane Fonda’s Workout. (Even if you were just a woman with a comfortable chair in which to read a book, you knew it.) Both a New York Times nonfiction hardback bestseller and later an exercise video, Workout didn’t monopolize the celebrity-led-at-home-work-out-routine trend so much as entirely invent it.

The videos and books, of course, made millions, but Fonda herself … did not? Talking to Interview‘s Maura Moynihan in 1984, Fonda revealed that all the proceeds she made from teaching ladies how to “Go for the burn!” and “Sweat!” didn’t purchase Fonda any new coats, but rather tried to buy the earth a little more time. That is to say, all the income belonged to a little organization Fonda and her then-husband, activist Tom Hayden, liked to call the Campaign for Economic Democracy, or the C.E.D, which promoted liberal candidates for local office and invested in protective environmental policies. That’s right: Your mom’s hard-earned sculpted abs funded Jane Fonda’s environmental activism, and therefore, the continued existence of the world. 

MAURA MOYNIHAN: What is the C.E.D platform?

JANE FONDA: The issue that we’re mainly working on now is environmental cancer. We have in California some toxic chemical dumps that are second only two what was happening in Love Canal and other places where over the years chemical companies have dumped highly dangerous dioxin and other chemicals and where the health impact on our community is quite evident.

MM: Has funding for the C.E.D come mostly from private sources?

JF: From the Workout, for one thing. The three Workout studios plus my first Workout book, plus the videotape and record. 

MM: Do you know how much you’ve made from the Workout thus far?

JF: Millions, millions. Those [the Workout products] are all owned by the Campaign for Economic Democracy. I don’t own them. 

MM: So you don’t take any of the profits, it all goes right to the C.E.D?

JF: Yes it does. You know, I’m 46 years old and I said to myself about four years ago, if you look at the history of aging actresses, it’s not exactly a bright future. I intend, of course, to change that. Hollywood is not forgiving of gray hair and wrinkles on the big screen. You can make a big comeback as an aging character actress, but I thought something might happen to me, I might not be able to work as much; I won’t make such a big salary anymore. And while I’m not the only source of funding for the organization, we needed a more stable funding base as the economy got worse and our liberal source of funds began to shrink. So I realized that the only business I knew anything about besides acting was exercise. The profits go in regular dividends to the organization. They do not go to any political campaigns—that’s why we had to do so much fundraising for our candidates—rather it goes to the issues that we work on. 

MM: Did you ever imagine that the Workout would be so successful?

JF: Nope. There was no master plan or anything. 

So there you have it. Jane Fonda is in such great shape because she’s been bench pressing the weight of our entirely uncertain environmental future since 1984. There is simply nothing to do with this information but break out the bike shorts and, in true Workout style, follow her lead. It is time to sculpt ass, stop burning gas, and save the planet.