The Women's Institute hears Barbarella attack the tyranny of physical perfection

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The Independent Online

She has dodged invective in Hanoi and hecklers in Jerusalem but rarely can Jane Fonda have faced a more implacable audience than the one she faced yesterday in the Royal Albert Hall - the massed ranks of the Women's Institute.

She has dodged invective in Hanoi and hecklers in Jerusalem but rarely can Jane Fonda have faced a more implacable audience than the one she faced yesterday in the Royal Albert Hall - the massed ranks of the Women's Institute.

Five years ago, the conference of the National Federation of WIs showed its appreciation of left-wingers who sported long hair in the 1970s and opposed war in Vietnam by treating Tony Blair to jeers, slow clapping and a walk out.

But the 67-year-old American actress and veteran campaigner on issues from genital mutilation to the Iraq war need not have worried as she stepped up to address the 5,000-strong audience which opened its annual meeting with the traditionally stirring rendition of the hymn "Jerusalem". With themes which ranged from the perils of teenage pregnancy to the paucity of education for women and girls in the developing world, one of the year's more unlikely speaking engagements was met with a rousing ovation.

Ms Fonda, whose career has seen her hailed as a feminist icon and a sex symbol because of the cult sci-fi film Barbarella, used her unscripted speech to rail against the tyranny of physical perfection.

In a 30-minute address which encompassed her three marriages and global poverty, she said: ''I grew up feeling that in order to be loved I had to be perfect, which is terrible, because nobody is perfect.

''You are supposed to be complete, not perfect. And many, many girls feel this, 'I am not good enough'... I hope that all of you like me will come to the realisation that we need to show perfection to the door and that good enough is good enough.''

The WI, which has concentrated in recent years on transforming itself into a national campaigning group, said that it had been approached by Ms Fonda's representatives to give the keynote speech at its annual gathering.

A spokeswoman for the actress insisted that the engagement was not directly linked to her current publicity tour in Britain for her recently published autobiography, My Life So Far.

Instead, Ms Fonda, who continues to attract criticism from some Vietnam veterans despite expressing her regret over a photograph of her on a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun during her infamous visit to Hanoi in 1972, regaled WI members with a heartfelt plea to target aid to women in developing countries and she explained the work of her foundation in Atlanta, which seeks to deter young pregnancy.

After which, it was business as usual for the institution that, this year, celebrates its 90th anniversary. Resolutions committing the WI to campaign on the issues of environmental degradation and the disparity between the retail price of milk and the income received by dairy farmers were passed with votes of 99.2 per cent and 99.4 per cent respectively.

And then it was time for an address from another leading female figure of the 20th century and a long-time member of the Women's Institute branch in Sandringham, Norfolk.

A message read out from the Queen read: "Please convey my warm thanks to the Members of the National Federation of Women's Institutes for their message of loyal greetings."

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