Fonda, 67, vs model, 23: There could only be one winner, says editor

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The Independent Online

At 67, the actress and activist is the oldest cover model to have appeared on a mainstream magazine in the UK. What is even more unusual, in an era when much younger women are routinely airbrushed before their face is splashed across the magazine racks, Fonda insisted her picture should not be retouched.

Older male stars have long lent their gravitas to the covers of mainstream magazines - think Jack Nicholson, Vanity Fair, April 1994 - it is rare for women of a certain age to appear solo on the front of a glossy.

When Sophia Loren appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair at 67 displaying ample decolletage, she was accompanied by 11 much younger actresses - collectively celebrated as "Legends of Hollywood" - watering down the effect of an older woman in sensual pose.

Good Housekeeping has already started to buck this trend, by selecting women in their sixth and seventh decades as cover models, including Sandra Howard, 62, in May 2004 and Lulu, 57, this month. At 49, the magazine's average reader is more mature than devotees of Vogue, Marie Claire or Elle, but women as young as 30, less than half Fonda's age, read the title. Lindsay Nicholson, the editor of Good Housekeeping, said: "We were all ready to go with a model picture, a lovely girl, then we got the pictures of Jane Fonda and I just thought, 'Wow, she's so stunning' and she was better than the 23-year-old model. She's inspirational in what she says and interesting in the way she always seems to reflect what a lot of women are going through in a particular era. She was Barbarella in the 1960s, a liberated woman in the 1970s and in the 1980s and 1990s, she was Ted Turner's power wife."

She added: "Some models are so neurotic that if they are turning their head, they want the wrinkles airbrushed out of their neck. We clean up rather than retouch, but she refused even to let us do that."

The decision to put a sexagenarian on the cover was not taken lightly by the publisher, the National Magazine Company, with Nicholson forced to fight her corner in board meetings. "It was quite a controversial decision within the company," she said. "The discussion became quite heated at times. It's lifting a lid. Ageing can be very painful for women if they are judged by their appearance. It's about questioning what we regard as beautiful. Size 10 and age 22 has become boring."

Fonda, who has admitted having cosmetic surgery to remove the fat around her eyes as well as breast implants, says in the magazine: "The pressures to look good are enormous. You go shopping in Beverly Hills and everyone looks alike. People change any irregularity; there's no personality in the faces any more... But I don't want my wrinkles to be taken away; I don't want to look like everyone else."

She adds: "I never envy people looking younger, I wouldn't want to go back for anything, the pressures are huge. At the other end of the age scale there are too many women - and men - who are frightened of getting older and are in total denial. They do everything they can to stay young and end up falling between the cracks and really being nothing."

Marcelle D'Argy Smith, the former Cosmopolitan editor, does not believe Fonda's appearance on the cover of a magazine heralds a genuine shift in attitudes towards ageing. "She doesn't look like your average 67-year-old. In your brain she isn't 67, she's somebody young, she's sort of ageless.

"I think attitudes are exactly where they were, particularly where women are concerned. When women of sixty-something can get jobs and are seen on television then I will believe attitudes to ageing are changing." Janice Turner, the former editor of Real magazine, agrees. "I think being old is OK so long as you look right. I don't think there is any greater acceptance of wrinkles. Putting Sandra Howard on the cover was a braver choice, because she hasn't had any surgery. She looked like a very beautiful woman who is now 60 and she looked natural."

The cult of celebrity has helped to gain greater acceptance for older women. Madonna recently appeared on the cover of Grazia magazine although she has just turned 47. Turner said: "Ten years ago it was all models [on the fronts], so they were all 20. Now it's a matter of how famous you are rather than how old you are. No one would sniff at Madonna."

It is not the first time that a title from the National Magazine Company stable has had a high-risk cover strategy. Peter Howarth, the former editor of the men's magazine Esquire, dropped scantily clad female models from the front of the title in an attempt to attract more upmarket, cerebral male readers.

Circulation initially dipped, but Howarth won critical acclaim for featuring the black Hollywood actors Samuel L Jackson and Will Smith instead of the nubile C-list celebrities used by rivals.

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