Megyn Kelly Picked the Wrong Fight with the Wrong Woman

Photo by Michael Loccisano/ Getty Images

On this morning's Megyn Kelly Today, Kelly locked herself into vengeance mode, steely sights set on Jane Fonda, and went on a blistering three-minute attack. But to fully understand it, you have to go back to a mini-feud that Kelly unwittingly started back in September 2017. During an interview with Fonda and Robert Redford, Kelly asked Fonda about her history with plastic surgery. Fonda was visibly startled to be asked this within the context of a promotional appearance, pooh-poohed the topic, and pivoted back to talking about Our Souls at Night, the movie she and Redford just made. Skip to 1:39 if you want to see the almighty awkwardness:

Following the interview, ET Canada asked Fonda about the incident, and the actress explained: "Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of time, and Bob is right here, it was a weird thing to bring up, whether I’ve had plastic surgery or not. I have, and I’ve talked about it, but it just seemed like the wrong time and place to raise that question.”

Then last week, Fonda's Grace and Frankie co-star Lily Tomlin made a crack about the incident when the two appeared on The Today Show. Commenting that she and Fonda had been friends for a long time, Tomlin said: "I think before your first facelift..."
Fonda quipped back: "Who are you? Megyn Kelly?"
Hoda Kotb loved it so much, she almost fell off her chair.

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It's worth noting that Fonda changed the topic even in this jokey context, just as she had in the Kelly interview, and just as she did at the beginning of the Today interview, when a change in her usual appearance was brought up. "I had a little cancer," Fonda said, literally waving away the subject. With that in mind, maybe Jane Fonda is just sick to death of talking about her face, period.

A few days after Today, Variety asked Fonda if she'd ever agree to be interviewed by Kelly again and she replied, "Sure... It wasn't like I was 'Agh!' upset, I was just stunned. It was so inappropriate. It showed that she's not that good an interviewer. But, you know, if she comes around and learns her stuff? Sure."

It was this last statement that apparently hit a major Megyn Kelly nerve. The ex-Fox News anchor's response to Fonda was so extreme and disparate, it was a little bit like responding to a slap in the face with a dirty bomb. Kelly started out talking about the recent events, then somehow worked herself up into basically calling Fonda an American traitor:

Twitter was quick to respond, and Kelly did not fare well:

It was Kelly's criticism of Fonda for her anti-Vietnam activism four decades ago that got the nation riled up, but the thing that's somehow not come under much scrutiny, is whether or not Kelly's arguments about plastic surgery actually carry some merit.

In recent years, Fonda has been going out of her way to positively represent mature women in her roles. In Grace and Frankie's third season, Fonda and Lily Tomlin's characters are seen turning down a lucrative business opportunity because it would involve airbrushing their faces and bodies in promotional materials, and they want to look their own age. In Our Souls at Night, Fonda is seen taking control of her life in her twilight years, seeking out romance with her handsome neighbor, while rocking a grey hairdo that Fonda herself would probably never sport.

Kelly argued that: "For years, [Fonda] has spoken openly about her joy in giving a cultural face to older women. Well, the truth is, most older women look nothing like Fonda... If Fonda really wants to have a discussion about older women's cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore."

Truthfully, on closer examination though, that's not really true. We, as a culture, ignore plastic surgery all the time -- especially when it's as well done as Fonda's. Going under the knife is standard practice for most celebrities past a certain age, because they exist in a profession where job opportunities are likely to disappear if they don't play the game. Fonda's entire career has been spent in an industry where only the thinnest and prettiest survive.

Fonda has done what she had to do to keep working, and yes, she looks amazing. But what Megyn Kelly seems to have forgotten is that Jane Fonda has always looked amazing. She is not an exceptional beauty at 80 because of surgery, she is an exceptional beauty at 80 because she started from a genetically blessed vantage point (see: literally any scene in Barbarella). She worked extremely hard to stay in optimum health her entire life, which is how she built her aerobics empire in the 1980s, and why she is still able to share new, expertly-curated workouts with the world.

The other point that Kelly has missed is that most women of Fonda's age don't need or want to hear discussions about plastic surgery. Women who have been alive for a half century or longer are well aware of what normal aging looks like and, in turn, what it looks like when someone has paid for an aesthetic boost. They also know that, actually, stars aren't like us; they have more time and money for beautification, they have more pressure on them to look a certain way, and they have far less fun with food.

Studies have shown a shift in focus can take place in senior years for women. In one 2016 study, titled Body Image, Aging, and Identity in Women Over 50, one 73-year-old participant said: "Believe that women my age desire to be useful to others, hope to be consulted or heard about what it means to be in the final decade(s) of life, and hope to be thought of as valued mentors, loving and caring friends, associates, and sources of good company to others." A 68-year-old shared: "We often find ourselves literally invisible to younger folks and men."

With that in mind, it is doubtful many older women are even vaguely concerned about what changes Jane Fonda has made to her face, as long as she's representing them. She is a visible and enduring symbol of success, independence, and sexiness at any age -- and we live in a culture that desperately needs more of that. When stars like Fonda, Anjelica Huston, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton fly the flag for senior women, eradicating outdated ideas about what it means to be over 60 and female, it is almost impossible to care if any of them have had work done or not.

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Sure, it's right to question industries that peddle youth as the only form of beauty. And it's right to criticize a system that all but forces its biggest stars into surgery as a means to stay in business. But picking on individual women who have gone to great lengths to stay flawless in an industry and culture that demands it is totally counterproductive. Megyn Kelly picked the wrong fight with the wrong woman.

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