Jane Fonda admits she didn't think she 'deserved' the same salary as men: 'My self-esteem was so low'

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Jane Fonda Admits She Once Believed She Deserved to Make Less Than Men

Jane Fonda admits it was a long time coming for her to become an "embodied feminist."

The 78-year-old actress opens up about her struggle to be the "perfect" woman in an essay penned for Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter. Fonda says that since childhood, she thought the ideal woman had to be "thin, pretty, having good hair, being nice rather than honest, ready to sacrifice, never smarter than a man, never angry."

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"When I hit adolescence and the specter of womanhood loomed, all that mattered was how I looked and fit in. My father would send my stepmother to tell me to lose weight and wear longer skirts," Fonda recalls. "One of my stepmothers told me all the ways I'd have to change physically if I wanted a boyfriend. Meanwhile, I sort of ...hollowed out. Almost everything interesting about me scooped itself out and took up residence alongside the empty, disembodied me."

The Oscar winner says it wasn't long before she developed an eating disorder, "probably to fill the emptiness."

See photos of Jane Fonda through the years:

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Jane Fonda through the years
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Jane Fonda admits she didn't think she 'deserved' the same salary as men: 'My self-esteem was so low'
Jane Fonda poses for photographers upon arrival for the screening of the film The Sea of Trees at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda arrive at the LA Premiere of "Grace and Frankie" at the Regal LA LIVE on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Jane Fonda attends The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Jane Fonda attends the Pre-GRAMMY Gala And Salute To Industry Icons Honoring Martin Bandier at The Beverly Hilton on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 18: Jane Fonda attends 'Che Tempo Che Fa' TV Show on January 18, 2015 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 11: 72nd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Actress Jane Fonda arrives to the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015. (Photo by: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 7: Singer Al Green; actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks; ballerina Patricia McBride; singer-songwriter Sting; and comedienne Lily Tomlin will receive honors for 2014 on THE 37TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, to be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured L-R: Jane Lynch, Reba McEntire, Jane Fonda, and Kate McKinnon (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 7: Singer Al Green; actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks; ballerina Patricia McBride; singer-songwriter Sting; and comedienne Lily Tomlin will receive honors for 2014 on THE 37TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, to be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Jane Fonda (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 07: Jane Fonda, Jane Lynch and Reba McEntire attend the 37th Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on December 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 05: Actress Jane Fonda attends the Captain Planet Foundation Gala at Intercontinental Buckhead on December 5, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: Jane Fonda attends the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors Gala Dinner at the U.S. Department of State on December 6, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
Actress and event host Jane Fonda poses at The Rape Foundation's Annual Brunch at Greenacres on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)
Actress and event host Jane Fonda poses at The Rape Foundation's Annual Brunch at Greenacres on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)
Tina Fey, and from left, Abigail Spencer, Jane Fonda and Kathryn Hahn arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "This Is Where I Leave You" at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Jane Fonda arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'This Is Where I Leave You' at TCL Chinese Theatre on September 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Jane Fonda arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'This Is Where I Leave You' at TCL Chinese Theatre on September 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Jane Fonda arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'This Is Where I Leave You' at TCL Chinese Theatre on September 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 08: Jane Fonda attends the Guess Portrait Studio during 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Aaron Harris/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Jane Fonda (dress & hair detail) attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'This Is Where I Leave You' at the TCL Chinese Theatre on September 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
Actress Jane Fonda makes a point during one of the high points of her speech on Monday, Nov. 17, 1970 at the University of Miami. Miss Fonda told a crowd of some 2,000 students that they must find a new way to express dissent against the war and racism, that the American political system is closed to young people. (AP Photo)
Jane Fonda, seen July 1967, plays the title role in the movie "Barbarella," about an earth girl on an unknown planet in the year 40,000. (AP Photo)
This is a May 1978 photo of actress Jane Fonda at the Cannes International Film Festival in Cannes, France. (AP Photo)
TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 08: Tina Fey and Jane Fonda attend the Guess Portrait Studio during 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Aaron Harris/WireImage)
TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 08: Jane Fonda attends the Guess Portrait Studio during 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Aaron Harris/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 27: Jane Fonda and Viva Vadim attend actress Jane Fonda's Handprint/Footprint Ceremony during the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 27, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: (USA SALES ONLY) (L-R) Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, Jude Law and Jane Fonda attend the Diamonds Are Girls Best Friend event during the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival held at Hotel Martinez on May 16, 2011 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Eric Ryan/Getty Images)
BOMBAY, INDIA: US actress Jane Fonda (C) gestures along side playwright, Eve Ensler (L) and Dr. Armida Fernandez (R) as they talk to the press at the Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action (SNEHA) for Women and Children in Bombay, 09 March 2004. Fonda and Ensler along with other celebrities who are in town to perform in a Poor-Box production of the provocative play 'Vagina Monologues', did a tour of a part of the SNEHA Mecial Centre to lend support to the great work being done there. AFP PHOTO/Rob ELLIOTT (Photo credit should read ROB ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Jane Fonda during Children's Aid Celebrates 20 Years of Teen Pregnancy Prevention at Harvard Club of New York in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage)
Actress Jane Fonda does a stretching exercise to music during a reception to benefit the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Sunday, January 6, 1980 at her fitness studio "Workout" in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
US actress Jane Fonda presents her 'Golden Hart' for lifetime achievement during the charity TV show 'Ein Herz fuer Kinder' (A heart for children) made to raise funds and donations for needy children, 15 December 2007 in Berlin. AFP PHOTO DDP/MICHAEL KAPPELER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 20: (L-R) Actor Keenan Ivory Wayans, director Gregory Nava, actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, manager Benny Medina, actress Jane Fonda, singer Pitbull, Lopez's children Emme (front, left and Max pose as Lopez is honored with the 2500th star on June 20, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/WireImage)
U.S. actress and activist Jane Fonda embraces Sarah Vokes, 16, left, and Reshma Pattni, 11, both of Duluth, Minnesota, after they participated in a UN Women's Conference press conference with Fonda in Beijing Thursday September 7, 1995. The girls are from New Moon Magazine, a magazine put together by girls aged 8 to 14 and published bi-monthly for distribution to young girls in 41 countries. Fonda asked the girls if she could subscribe, and paid them on the spot when she was told yes. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
Actress Jane Fonda makes a point during one of the high points of her speech on Monday, Nov. 17, 1970 at the University of Miami. Miss Fonda told a crowd of some 2,000 students that they must find a new way to express dissent against the war and racism, that the American political system is closed to young people. (AP Photo)
Actress Jane Fonda makes a fist while talking about issues pertaining to the Vietnam War during an on-stage interview at Boston University, in Boston, Monday, May 9, 2005. Fonda also spoke about her book "My Life So Far" during the interview that was conducted by National Public Radio's Robin Young. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Jane Fonda as a young woman in 1965. (AP Photo)
Jane Fonda, 1965. (AP Photo)
Andrew Young, right, dances as Jane Fonda looks on during a gala celebrating his 75th birthday Sunday, May 6, 2007, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
002 06/24/98 Washington Dc Jane Fonda Addresses A National Press Club Luncheon In Washington, D.C. Where She Talked About Teen Pregnancy And Offered Tips To Parents For Guiding Their Children. (Photo By Karin Cooper/Getty Images)
Media mogul Ted Turner and his wife actress Jane Fonda arrive 04 October 2003 in Washington at the premiere of 'Guettysburg' a new four-hour motion picture chronicling the three-day battle of the U.S. Civil War. Turner's production company Turner Pictures presents the movie based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel 'The Killer Angels' by Michael Shaara. AFP PHOTO JENNIFER YOUNG (Photo credit should read JENNIFER YOUNG/AFP/GettyImages)
Actor Henry Fonda (centre) with his children, actors Jane and Peter, attending a tribute to Henry by the American Film Institute, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, California, circa 1975. (Photo by Frank Edwards/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
The US actors Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda are sat close, at the races, in a scene of the film 'Sunday in New York'. New York, 1963. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
A scene of 'Sunday in New York', with Cliff Robertson comforting Jane Fonda, his sister in the film. New York, 1963. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
A scene of the film 'Sunday in New York', with Cliff Robertson introducing Jane Fonda (on the right) to Jo Morrow (on the left), who are his sister and his girlfriend respectively in the film. New York, 1963. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Jane Fonda snuggles with a child in a scene from the film 'Hurry Sundown', 1966. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
Jane Fonda as a young woman in 1965. (AP Photo)
Jane Fonda at the Cannes Film Festival, May, 1978 during a news conference.(AP Photo/Jean Jacques Levy)
Jane Fonda (right) is shown in a scene from the movie "Julia" with Vanessa Redgrave. (AP Photo)
American actress and political activist Jane Fonda leads Soviet women on a fitness run as they pass the Kremlin, left, and St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 18, 1990. Fonda is in the U.S.S.R. to promote physical fitness. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing)
Jane Fonda appears in a scene from the film "The Morning After," 1986. (AP Photo)
Actress Jane Fonda speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 1984 at the Burdine?s department store in North Miami Beach, promoting her new line of workout clothing. Fonda was scheduled to appear this week at two stores in the area until a bomb threat prompted company officials to cancel the visits. She arrived without the knowledge of store management to speak with customers and newsperson before leaving for New York on a promotion trip. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Jane Fonda jogs in place as she joins an early morning exercise class at her Jane Fonda Workout Studio in Beverly Hills, Calif., December 15, 1983. She joined in on the exercises to put to rest recent rumors that she had been suffering from heart problems. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Actress Jane Fonda is shown in 1967 as she appeared in character in the film, "Barbarella," directed by her husband Roger Vadim at the Dino DeLaurentis Studios in Rome, Italy. Fonda plays the title role as a space nymph in the futuristic adventure film. (AP Photo)
Actress Jane Fonda is shown in 1962. (AP Photo)
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WATCH: Jane Fonda Admits She Smokes Pot 'Every Now and Then'

"It's hard to be embodied if you hate your body," she writes. "Given that it was, at least partially, an inauthentic me that I presented to the world, I instinctively chose men who would never notice because of their own addictions and 'issues.' Ah, but they were interesting, charismatic, alpha men, and they validated me."

Fonda admits -- in reference to Jennifer Lawrence's Lenny essay on Hollywood's gender wage gap -- that she didn't even think she deserved the same salary as men when she first broke into the business. "I always supported myself," she says. "I want to admit that back then my self-esteem was so low I assumed I was paid less than the men and that I didn't deserve more."

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Through all this, Fonda was a self-proclaimed feminist but says that she didn't practice what she preached. "My feminism was theoretical, in my head, not my blood and bones," she explains. "For me to really confront sexism would have required doing something about my relationships with men, and I couldn't. That was too scary."

Fonda says at age 60, she decided to face her demons and embrace feminism as an all-out lifestyle. "I had gone from believing that women's issues were a distraction, mere ancillary problems to be addressed after everything else had been taken care of, to the realization that women are the issue, the core issue," she continues. "We will fail to solve any problem -- poverty, peace, sustainable development, environment, health -- unless we look at it through a gender lens and make sure the solution will be good for women."

The actress concludes her essay with a quip: "It took me 30 years to get it, but it's OK to be a late bloomer as long as you don't miss the flower show."

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