What Was Jane Fonda's Bare-Faced Message?

In stripping off her makeup, was she Grace, Jane, or us?

Posted Feb 01, 2018

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

In the fourth episode of the fourth season of Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda, 80, bared all. She stripped off her false eyelashes and wiped the makeup from under her eyes, the blush from her cheeks, the fillers from her thick hair, and the color from her lips.

She looked like somebody we knew; she looked like me. Okay, she looked way better than me, but for that one brief moment we were at least on the same cosmetic planet. Her makeup looked like mine: nonexistent.

But her skin still was the product of a lifetime of expensive care. She is evasive about what nicks and tucks docs have done to shed years from her famous face, noting that she would rather talk about other things. She has never flatly denied that she has had plastic surgery, though, which is smart, because it is unmistakable that she has had some excellent work done. And that’s fine; she is an actress, her brand is beauty.

In less than a minute of television time, she purposefully washed her glamour away. She had dark circles under and around her eyes, but those eyes were still lively and smart and curious and a bit piercing. The face was a matte beige, with little of the glow we expect from the fiery Fonda and her on-air incarnation, Grace. She looked tired.

But, this being television, everything worked out wonderfully. Grace’s young, obscenely wealthy and lusciously unbelievable lover, played by the 62-year-old Peter Gallagher, kissed her passionately and would have ravished her on the living room floor if not for the fact that’s she’d just had knee surgery. More fantasy salted with just a taste of reality.

Fonda’s openness to looking real rather than like a Hollywood fantasy, if only for the briefest of moments, is consistent with a career that embraces cultural change and bucks social norms. Showing us her tired and true face is like letting friends see our house dirty: they know we can do better, but they also know this is part of who and how we are. If our friendship is solid, none of this matters. In fact, it might make us a bit more comfortable with one another.

Now, when I look at Fonda, no matter how well put together she is, I see the face behind the star. The woman who almost looks her age. And that, I think is her message: Remember, I am just playing a role. Without makeup artists, I look a little like you. So lighten up, you’re ok.

And she was never again seen on the show without her makeup.