In an article about Pamela Anderson, the actress wears a black suit and stands on a white carpet that reads "Baywatch Fall 2023 Campaign."

Pamela Anderson Takes Charge: ‘Baywatch’ and Female Exploitation in the Nineties

Pamela Anderson, like many other actresses, was valued exclusively for her good looks in the 1990s. Today, she has moved past appearances and is establishing herself as a powerful, intelligent woman.
September 9, 2023
8 mins read

I was a child in the 90s — a time of grunge, CDs, VHS and cable TV.  Dial-up internet was just beginning to take the suburbs by storm, and the most popular syndicated show on TV was Baywatch. Those red-suited bodies running down the beach were world-famous, and none were more well-known than Pamela Anderson. I idolized the blonde actress, who always came across as kind and relatable in interviews. And though she became known more for her physical measurements and romantic relationships rather than her talent, he was the peak of beauty to me. Pamela Anderson was both celebrated and publicly shamed for her beauty, a victim of the 1990s’ exploitative double standards for femininity. Now, in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and the rise of OnlyFans, women have rebelled against the abuse from the public and media, brazenly taking control of their own lives, images and reputations. They call out those who attempt to shame them for being feminine and sexy or enjoying their bodies. The woman I admired as a girl is rebelling right alongside them. Today, Pamela Anderson is taking control.

Pamela Anderson first found popularity as a model at the age of 22 after being discovered while attending a football game in Vancouver, Canada. Soon, she was being exploited as a model and actress for Playboy. Pamela Anderson graced the magazine’s cover 14 times during her career, but those appearances did not earn her much money or managerial power over her career. She most likely earned around $20,000 for her first appearance. Between her first and second appearances in “Playboy,” Pamela Anderson had her famous breast augmentation, attaining the physical appearance she was known for. The timing of her plastic surgery gives weight to the theory that her physical transformation was due to pressure from “Playboy” to augment her body after her first pictorial appearance, rather than personal choice. She has since openly stated that she regrets the breast augmentation she had done “in the name of beauty.”

After acting in a small role on “Home Improvement,” Pamela Anderson went on to become a huge star in “Baywatch,” which was by far the most popular show in the ‘90s. It was so culturally important during that time that other popular TV shows referenced it — such as Joey and Chandler in “Friends” claiming to be avid followers of the series. “Baywatch” is the most popular American TV show of all time. It was broadcast in 142 countries, and it is estimated that over one billion people have seen at least one episode of Baywatch. The show became a syndicated hit and was valued at over one billion dollars at the time it was canceled. Pamela Anderson made $1500 for each episode she acted in, and currently earns $1000 a year from residuals. Comparing her earnings to that of the other famous star of the show, David Hasselhoff, who made $60,000 an episode and has made over 100 million dollars from the residuals, makes it glaringly obvious how unequally women were treated. Even the doll produced in Anderson’s image, with her face on the box, earned her no money, which is very unusual. Actors typically get paid a percentage of profits from products that feature their face.

One of the reasons Pamela Anderson was not paid for the value of her work during this time was that she did not have an agent. Rather, anyone wanting to hire her was required to work through “Playboy,” who acted as her manager. The exploitative power dynamic was never recognized as unfair or predatory, even though it was in “Playboy’s” interest that Pamela Anderson earned as little money as possible as it allowed them to extend their control over her body. Because of this incredibly unfair arrangement, Pamela Anderson consistently earned very little from her Hollywood career. As a culture, we have evolved a long way from the belief that women do not deserve to earn money or respect from showing off their bodies, but the morality of the ‘90s was much harsher in its judgments about women selling their bodies. Back then, the overriding idea was that if a woman was taken advantage of while posing naked, she deserved it. That idea was difficult for me to accept as a girl, even as it was garishly splashed across all the tabloid covers. That’s one of the reasons why Pamela Anderson taking control of her narrative in the 2020s is so important to me.

The most exploitative film Pamela Anderson ever starred in began as something meant for her and her husband’s eyes only. Pamela Anderson’s victimization came to a head after her home was burgled and her sex tape was stolen, sold to a video publisher and released worldwide. Tommy Lee was a hero and a stud in many people’s eyes. His stock only went up. For Anderson, the public’s reaction was vastly different. It didn’t matter that she was a victim of a sex crime, that she was only making a private tape with her husband or that she never consented to have her intimate moment put up for sale to the public: she was immediately painted with a crimson A for having made the film at all. Her tape was one of the first celebrity sex tapes to hit the market, and the public was ravenous to have it. Later, sex tapes would launch careers, as in the case of Kim Kardashian. But in the ‘90s, a sex tape meant the end of respect for a woman. Her trauma from the tape’s release was immense and lasting. Sadly, that trauma would resurface in 2023 with Hulu’s release of Pam & Tommy, a dramatization of her most famous romantic relationship directed by Robert Siegel. Hulu never contacted Anderson for her opinion on the documentary, choosing to violate and victimize her again by not asking for her consent to tell her story. But today, the exploitation of Anderson is being called out by media outlets and on Twitter, illustrating just how much values have evolved since the ‘90s.

Moving back to her hometown in Canada seems to have helped Anderson connect to and express her authentic self, which is beautiful to see. Exploring her true self has led to Anderson being proudly make-up-free as a rebellion against the pressure of people telling her what to do. I made the same choice to stop wearing makeup during the pandemic and have chosen to keep it as my permanent look. At first, it was simply too hard to wear makeup because of masks, but since I made the change I have found my bare face to be extremely freeing and authentic. The makeup-free trend is catching on amongst more women today than ever before.

Professionally, she is successfully headlining Aritiza’s Fall campaign, which includes an intimate look into her beach home. As a fan of both Anderson and Aritiza, I was so happy to see her starring in the new promotions. She also recently opened Hugo Boss’ Spring/Summer 2023 show in Miami and starred in Marc Jacobs’ 2022 Fall collection. This cozy aesthetic speaks to Anderson’s depths — more than just a beautiful face, it speaks to her beautiful and kind character.

This intimacy is a far cry from the buxom blonde box Anderson was forced into in the past. Reclaiming her narrative includes exploring her past exploitation in the documentary “Pamela, A Love Story.” The documentary, directed by Ryan White and produced by Anderson’s son Brandon Lee, is a clever response to the exploitive Pam & Tommy mini-series. “Pamela, A Love Story” emphasizes the industry mistreatment Anderson faced for so long, the exploitation she endured and how she rose above her trauma to find happiness. As Pamela Anderson takes control of her narrative and career, I feel as though she is a phoenix in the midst of a brilliant rebirth.


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