“I love being in love and being vulnerable.”
Pamela Anderson. Animal rights activist. Playboy model. Baywatch actress. Mother of two boys. And above all, a woman who has decided to speak up.
Pamela, A Love Story is a Netflix documentary produced by her son Brandon Lee. Based on her archives consisting of diaries and home videos, it is a story of how a girl from British Columbia became the world’s most popular blonde in the 90s.
Sounds simple but in fact it is a multi-layered story that Pamela tells in a low key style, bathed in sunlight and a no-make up look wrapped in soft layers. It’s almost as if she’s taking on the harshness of the world that she endured and the softness of her voice drowns out the ugly chaos that hounded and destroyed her career and life.
The story starts off with the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a baby sitter and how she was raped by an acquaintance at a friend’s house – all of which she suffered before she turned 13. This is where the seeds of disassociation were sown. Shame and self consciousness followed when she became a teenager and yet somehow she managed to get through high school and graduate.
Playboy came next and that was a means to an end – she wanted to take control of her body and harness power through it. “From the first snap of the picture, I felt like I was throwing myself off a bridge,” she recalls. Then came Baywatch where the character CJ Parker was based on Anderson herself. But it catapulted Anderson into a global star.
What strikes one is throughout how she clung to the idea of love. Although the glam life became her reality, upon meeting the ‘love of her life’ Tommy Lee, through her diaries and videos it’s clear the two were just happy in their own world, whatever it may have been.
And that’s where the darkness also seeps in. In a world where celebrities now launch careers based on sex tapes, in Anderson’s case it became the opposite. A stolen home video of the husband and wife went viral. And this was just before the internet came into being. It was the world’s first viral video.
Looking back at it today, Anderson’s story is a foretelling of what the internet’s power was and yet the areas of ethics, copyright and female exploitation were very much unconsidered – they still are.
As she correctly points out for Lee, who was a rockstar, it added to his bad boy image and rock and roll lifestyle. But for her, she was to remain nothing more than a sex symbol, public property, “a caricature” or “a piece of meat.”
Realising she had to own her voice and channel it is when we see Anderson come into her own with her animal rights activism and then her support for Julian Assange and finally, this documentary.
Throughout Anderson’s self awareness is present – she takes the abuse, the exploitation and caricaturisation in her stride for financial survival but also a means of staying relevant in an unforgiving world. No matter what is thrown at her, she owns it. To see a woman take it over and over again – with a smile – means the world kept throwing all that it could at her because she kept surviving.
To tolerate it, accept it takes immense strength and yet she’s clear on what she will tolerate and what she will not. To protect her children she walks out on her husband after an ugly incident and her bond with her boys is crystal clear. When the Hulu show Pammy and Tom was made, she refused to have anything to do with it. So much so, when the sex tape was leaked she refused to see it even when it was streamed online. It’s clear all along she’s had boundaries and maintained self respect when the world did not.
Towards the end she understands that while the world mocked, taunted and made money off her sexuality, it came from seeing her as a woman who had control – especially when all that ugliness came from men. “Their initial attraction to me might be [a] ‘Oh, she’s [in] Playboy’ thing … but I’m not a damsel in distress. But some men hate you for being something else… They start grabbing you by the hair, and throwing you into walls and stripping your clothes off.”
As the documentary comes to the end, it shows Anderson preparing for her Broadway turn as Roxie Hart in the play Chicago.
When Anderson is told that Roxie is obsessed with herself, Anderson sticks to her ground and disagrees. “Her dream isn’t to be famous, it’s to be respected, to be seen and to have freedom. So it’s not just superficial.”
Pamela Anderson has suffered and suffered badly. But today as she tells her story, her story in her own words, she commands respect and she owns her freedom.