Pamela Anderson’s Just A Girl
In her new memoir, Anderson reveals the surprising source of her power and resilience: hyperfeminine fantasies.
Early on in Pamela Anderson’s memoir, Love, Pamela, it becomes clear that the book will challenge some readers’ expectations. It’s less a celebrity tell all (Anderson refused “ghost writers,” “collaborators,” and “book doctors,” working only with an editor) than an exploration of self and spirit, loosely yoked together by the books Anderson has read, the poetry she’s written, the places she’s lived, the people she’s loved. And so the book mirrors its author: what seems at first glance superficial, easily dismissed, is in fact substantial and grounded.
If much of Anderson’s life was spent trying to find meaning despite the superficiality and materialism of her public image, Love, Pamela is the embodiment of what meaning she found. It’s a text that hums with its own redemptive power, mined from a surprising source: the memoir is unabashedly interested in the trappings of girlhood, replete with references to archetypically feminine forces: the ocean, the moon, elves and sprites, the women in Anderson’s family cast as “A collective mermaid society / Living in sandcastles / dreaming under seaweed duvets / oyster shells for dinnerware…” “Don’t doubt me,” she writes of fairies, “I have seen them with my own eyes.”
Womanhood is wisdom, a space to step into and claim — or so the story goes. And girlishness as submissiveness, infantilization, a sort of psychic sexy baby voice, might feel fitting from the beautiful, soft spoken sex icon of the American unconscious. But Love, Pamela delivers something different. Anderson’s dedication to the tenets of girlhood — a time before objectification, a time of the unfettered self — feels radical. It’s the ultimate clap back to the forces of image culture, commerce, and objectification that ended her own girlhood too soon. In Love, Pamela, girlhood and girlish fantasies are both a comfort and an antidote to the poison of patriarchy.
Of her childhood on Ladysmith Island in British Columbia (itself a richly metaphoric character in the text) Anderson writes, “I always felt safer outdoors than in. I loved climbing the three-tiered rock garden behind the house, full of wild poppies, peonies, and blackberry bushes... We slid around in puddles, picking wildflowers and berries, and occasionally stole a few precious ‘don’t touch my’ daffodils from Mom’s garden.” The language is insular, introspective, brimming with the ephemera of childhood, the enmeshment of girlhood, nature, and the animal kingdom, all rendered with romanticism: “Forest” rather than woods, the deep mystery of “Wildness / amongst wilderness,” rumors of lost treasure and the remains of a long dead Hell’s Angels biker buried behind her grandmother’s Auto Court. Gardens are mentioned twenty-nine times in the book, imagined as safe, fertile spaces for Anderson to escape to, a feminine sphere to explore and cultivate. But when Anderson first sees herself on the Jumbotron at the BC Lions game, a moment that would lead to her modeling career and alter the course of her life, she thinks she looks “old and ugly.” It is in nature that she is beautiful, beyond her body. “I wanted to be a wild horse,” she writes. Everywhere else, it’s complicated.
In Love, Pamela, girlhood and girlish fantasies are both a comfort and an antidote to the poison of patriarchy.
The Jumbotron led to Playboy, which led to Baywatch and international superstardom predicated less on Anderson’s acting chops than on her image — a privilege and a danger. During a scheduled appearance on a press trip to Uruguay, she was almost trampled by a crowd of fans screaming, We love you, Pamela. “As far as you could see, there were teenage boys,” she writes. “Thousands of them. They tore down the stage I was meant to stand on. My clothes were torn, too. We were lucky to get out of there.” Then came her marriage to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, the theft and subsequent leak of their now infamous sex tape, and the seemingly endless stream of lurid questions from talk show hosts, journalists, and fans. As Anderson told Bustle in a recent interview. “People would just come up to me in a restaurant and say, ‘Tell me a sex story, Pamela.’"
“I craved a person in my own life who might recognize me as an artist, someone who understood I was a far cry from what people thought of me… How could I expect anyone to love me enough to see through it all?” she asks in Love, Pamela. “They had nothing to go on but this image being flung into the world. No matter how I tried, the image was bigger than me and always won. My life took off without me.”
And this is after having survived a turbulent childhood marked by domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape. Her adolescence was delayed: “I did not start my menstrual cycle till I was eighteen. After high school, I thought I’d never get it… I was definitely stunted. Some say because I was so athletic. Others say because of trauma.” In high school, her romantic relationships ended in jealousy and violence. When she was discovered on that jumbotron, the Labatt beer slogan Enter the Blue Zone emblazoned across her chest, she was engaged to an abusive man she narrowly escaped the day Playboy called and offered to fly her to Los Angeles.
“I was sexualized so young that I skipped past the promiscuity phase,” she writes. “I would only mix sex with love and as I developed and grew slowly into womanhood, I had strong fantasies of true love stories and fairy tales.” Which might seem naive at best, regressive at worst — girlhood fantasies are meant to be grown out of, after all. Or is it that they are meant to be internalized, the inner child incorporated and nurtured? In Anderson’s world, long after she leaves her literal girlhood behind, fantasies of true love and fairy tales become spaces of self-protection and hope everlasting, a sanctuary in which to seek spiritual respite, resilience and growth. How else could she have survived so many divorces (five in total) and emerged a firm believer in true love? How else could she have produced Love, Pamela?
Never in the memoir does Anderson frame herself as a victim. Rather, she is an archetypal heroine, making meaning of both the darkness and the light. Anderson’s penchant for reading Jungian analysis and poetry undergirds her writing. Most of the books and artists she mentions take interest in psychology, advocacy, answers to the question of mortality, how to live a meaningful life and what happens when life ends: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jean Liedloff, Angela Davis, Anaïs Nin, Frida Khalo, Doris Lessing, Djuna Barnes, to name a few.
But of the events that readers might be most curious about, Anderson says little — perhaps she thinks there’s little meaning to be found there, scant substantiality to place in conversation with Jung and Davis and Nïn. To that famous sex tape with Tommy Lee, the subject of the eight-episode long Hulu series which aired without Anderson’s consent and seems to have spurred her memoir, she devotes a mere seven pages, though the event echoes throughout the book, if not literally, than through the failure of her marriage to Lee, who Anderson defines as her one true love. On the subject of her famous breasts, harbingers of so many lurid questions and comments, she writes, “I joked that my breasts had a career of their own and I was just tagging along. Flashing back to the gym at the Playboy Mansion where I agreed to amplify my chest like everyone else then endured years of sordid attention I wasn’t ready for. Then came the complications, the unexpected injuries that led to more surgery, a vicious cycle. I was fine the way I was. Someone once told me that when it comes to surgery it’s a paradox. You may gain something, but you always lose something when you mess with Mother Nature.”
And there it is again, nature. It’s no spoiler to most readers to say that by the final lines of the book, Anderson has found herself back in her girlhood home on Ladysmith Island, her parents close by, the sea outside her door, a desk where she can write, a mountain for her to climb, a garden that’s hers to tend.