There's a strand of feminism that detests the "objectification" of women in entertainment through the "male gaze." They say this patriarchal lens employs masculine desire (think: sex symbol) to diminish the importance of a female character. Pamela Anderson's legendary career as a model, television star, and political activist sends a message to those who see the world that way: Kiss my empowered rack.
Anderson likes to joke that her "breasts had a career of their own and I was just tagging along." So, it might surprise you to learn that the blonde bombshell was a childish tomboy who loved playing with "anything that creeped and crawled." She was a "complete contrast" with her mother, who was cut from a cosmetic cloth. She would tell young Pamela that there was "no excuse not to look good" and "no such thing as natural beauty." Being a looker required hard work and mirror time. This maternal glamour rationale went beyond vanity: "You are more powerful if you're pretty."
Fictitious supermodel Derek Zoolander famously pondered: "I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really good-looking. And I plan on finding out what that is." Anderson's new memoir, Love, Pamela, is a no-holds-barred celebration of "imperfect people living imperfect lives" on her journey to appreciating what those things are.
Anderson grew up in a small Canadian town. Her father was loving but flawed by anger and abuse. At one point she watches in horror as he tosses her kittens in a bag and drowns them. She is molested by a babysitter and raped at 12 years old by a man nearly twice her age. After high school, she gets out of Dodge and moves to Vancouver.
Being good-looking in the "big city" serendipitously paves her professional path. She befriends neighbors who work for Labatt's Brewing Company. They bring her to a professional football game and wisely provide her with a beer-branded half-top to wear. A cameraman locks in on Pamela and broadcasts her onto the Jumbotron. Anderson thinks she looks "old and ugly." But the clamorous crowd triggers an epiphany: "People were screaming… for me?" Labatt's pounces, making her a feature model in television ads and on posters. A hot gal selling cold beer? Pamela "realized that you could actually make a living this way."
Hugh Hefner's scouts could not have called at a better time—Pamela had been arguing with her philandering fiancé, whom she had caught "suspiciously washing his penis in the sink." (What distinguishes a "suspicious" sink scrubbing from an "unsuspicious" one remains unsaid.) When the fiancé learns it's Playboy on the phone, he throws a fit, tossing a set of silverware at her head. She evades his wrath and the flying forks, then runs out the door to chase her cover girl opportunity.
Her first Hefner encounter occurs at a Playboy Mansion party. She's starstruck by the smiling, pipe-in-mouth "mythological" mogul. "Don't worry darling, you're safe here," he assures her sotto voce. She defends the controversial Hefner as a gentleman and a protector. After her first photoshoot, Hef decides he wants to make her an official "playmate" and centerfold. A top staffer informs her that this immediate attention "never happens … you're very special." They ask her to stay in Los Angeles: "There's a life for you here."
For Pamela, Playboy was "an honor and a privilege." It was "empowering" and afforded her a "chance to realize a new life." One cover leads to two, two to three—eventually she appears on the front a record-breaking 14 times. (She shares a sneak peek into the famed mansion parties: the time she walked in on Jack Nicholson having a threesome.) Producers from a new television show about lifeguards pepper her with audition requests. She plays hard to get but eventually relents to take a leading role on Baywatch.
Dramatically jogging in a skimpy red swimsuit, Pamela bounces into international superstardom. She's the face of the most popular show in the world, broadcast in more than 150 countries. Global Baywatch syndication contracts include "Pamela clauses" because they only wanted episodes where she's prominent. Mattel makes her into a best-selling Barbie doll. She's nearly trampled to death in Uruguay by a superfan mob. But the fame feels hollow: "I ached for a purpose … I felt like I had accomplished nothing." She "gets sick of talking about boobs and boyfriends all the time" and yearns to "share the international attention" with "something more meaningful."
La La Land gives the small-town gal "exposure to radical perspectives" that "helped me find my way"—eventually into liberal politicking. Her first adventure into professional activism is with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A traumatic childhood event where she made eye contact with a decapitated deer had transformed her into a vegetarian. "It's not fair, animals have no gun, no voice. Maybe I could be their voice," she thought at the time. Her anti-meat message penetrated—in middle school, I remember learning my crush Pamela was an animal welfare advocate. I briefly considered never eating another chicken finger. Albeit very briefly.
Anderson credits PETA campaigning with teaching her important lessons about politics and diplomacy. Then she greatly expands her advocacy areas: countering deforestation in Central America, saving whales from being sold to Chinese aquariums, doing on-the-ground relief work in Haiti, and visiting orphanages. She lectures the Kremlin on animal cruelty and stops a baby seal hunt. She takes a terminally ill friend to a charitable gala where Bill Clinton is keynoting. Her heavily medicated pal seizes the opportunity to heckle Bubba during his speech before security boots them.
Anderson is a crusader to free Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, with whom she admits to getting "slightly frisky" after a night of drinking mezcal in the Ecuadorian embassy. Sigh. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, she posted a bikini picture as part of her campaign to lobby then-president Trump for a pardon. Her effort generates significant attention, but it's a happy ending for Free Beacon readers: Julian remains jailed. Assange's mother amiably suggests that Anderson "stop posting sexy photos" to be treated as a "stronger and more serious activist."
Now in her 50s, Pamela is a rockstar mother of two dudes who has a unique understanding of how the press works: "Media can be a bitch. A weapon, or used for good." Her memoir includes intimate insights into her high-profile relationships, including her tabloid-frenzied marriage to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (about whom she also reminisces on lustful moments like their admission into the Mile High Club).
Pamela rejects the idea that "being sexy" should "conflict with intelligence." Her own mother impressed on her that being pretty can make you more powerful. She found great success in life leveraging that ethos to further causes she believes in: "If a cartoon image of me was what got me through the door, so be it."
Love, Pamela: A Memoir of Prose, Poetry, and Truth
by Pamela Anderson
Dey Street Books, 256 pp., $30
Rob Lockwood is a media strategist who resides in the Washington, D.C., area.
Published under: Book reviews