Pamela Anderson: the exploitation of a 1990s sex symbol

Former Baywatch star is the subject of a new Netflix documentary

Pamela Anderson backstage during The Fashion Awards
Pamela Anderson backstage during The Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017
(Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images for BFC)

Pamela Anderson was a fresh-faced 22-year-old when a photograph of her modelling in her native Canada found its way to the desk of Playboy’s picture editor – who got straight on the phone.

For her first shoot, says Charlotte Edwardes in The Guardian, she had to be “coaxed out of her underwear” for an outfit that consisted of a boater, a school tie, a blazer – and nothing else. Afterwards, she threw up.

She was, she admits, naive; yet she refuses to condemn Playboy’s owner Hugh Hefner as an old pervert. He was the first “gentleman” she ever met, with his smoking jackets and black tie; and he did at least pay her properly: he offered her $15,000 to be the centrefold in February 1990.

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Anderson and Hugh Hefner celebrating Playboy’s 50th in New York City in 2003

Anderson and Hugh Hefner celebrating Playboy’s 50th anniversary in New York City in 2003
(Image credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

By contrast, when stolen footage of her having sex with her then-husband, the rock star Tommy Lee, was posted on the internet in 1996, it netted £50m in a year for its illegal distributors, and she didn’t get a penny.

Instead, her marriage fell apart, her acting career nosedived, and she became a target for every TV comic in the land.

Anderson and Tommy Lee at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas grand opening party in 1995

Anderson and Tommy Lee at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas grand opening party in 1995
(Image credit: S. Granitz/WireImage)

This painful episode was recently “regurgitated” for a TV miniseries. Pam & Tommy raked over some of the most intimate details of her private life, yet its makers didn’t even consult her, let alone pay her. Now Lily James, who played her, is up for an Emmy.

Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy

Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy

“It’s not her fault; it’s a job,” she says. “But whoever created it – well, it just feels like something else stolen.”

Pamela, A Love Story is on Netflix now

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