Pamela Anderson has worn many masks. She’s been the Playmate gracing Playboy centerfolds, the tomboy lifeguard patrolling the Malibu beach on Baywatch, one half of a wild ‘90s tabloid couple, the involuntary star of a stolen sex tape and the animal rights activist fighting for change. “[I lived] alongside this cartoon-y image that I co-created, but I was not an innocent bystander. I fed it, too — I fed the monster,” Anderson tells Bustle. “As long as I could do some good with it, then it all made sense to me.” Now 55, Anderson’s finally letting the mask slip.
These days, Anderson spends most of her time immersed in her own romantic, cottage core fantasy. Back in her beachside hometown of Ladysmith, Canada, she pickles vegetables, walks the rocky beaches and lets her bare feet feel the grass beneath her. Surrounded by candles, she spends her days soaking in baths with rose petals, listening to audiobook biographies of Angela Davis and James Baldwin, writing, walking her dogs and picking flowers in her silk pajamas. She writes a stream-of-consciousness newsletter called Arcady, offering readers glimpses into her eco-friendly life. (“I was sustainable and vegan before it was fashionable,” she says.) Speaking over the phone from the Plaza Hotel in New York, Anderson purrs, “I’m living the most romantic part of my life now. I have freedom.”
It’s something she’s had to fight for. The blonde bombshell spent most of the ‘90s and early aughts as a headline, her story littered with assumptions and intimate, invasive details of her personal life. Following the release of the controversial Hulu series Pam & Tommy, Anderson has decided to tell her own story, her way. “I’m not a fan of people exploiting stolen property and not considering the fallout of the actual human beings involved in the feelings,” she says.
Last week, she released a memoir (Love, Pamela) and a Netflix documentary (Pamela, a Love Story) about her life, documenting her tumultuous childhood, sexual assault, her storied career and her relationships. While there are a handful of salacious details sprinkled into both projects, Anderson’s tale is less about trauma and more about resilience — and finding peace.
Peace is exactly what she’s reveling in right now, after a chilly, early morning walk in Central Park. Below, Anderson reflects on surviving media scrutiny, finding love, and what it means to really be punk.
You talk a lot about the sexual assault you endured as a child in your book and documentary. How did writing this book and doing this documentary help you heal?
It’s been hard writing my book over the last few years, just revisiting each chapter of my life, revisiting those feelings and painting the picture. Going home for me was hard, too, to retrace those steps of my childhood and remember the trees that have known me since birth. A lot of us harbor this anger inside because we don’t think about it. I think it will save democracy as we all just look back and look through our childhoods, and make sure that we don’t have this misdirected anger at people. A lot of times, we need to get that anger out. It would be good to address those things within ourselves. [The world] would be a much better place.
Women’s bodies were especially scrutinized during the time that you were coming up. You dealt with every major male media host asking inappropriate questions that you had to laugh off or deflect.
Yeah, I’ve spent a lifetime kind of laughing things off and smiling through it. Yeah, I get it. It was awkward, but it’s nice that times have changed.
What were some of the most invasive questions that you’ve had to field?
There were so many. Because I’d done Playboy, because I was on Baywatch, I wasn’t really reaching my full potential as an artist or an actress. That it was just part of the way to get through it, to make amends. I felt like I was paying my dues — a superficial part of my career, [and] I always was going to do something maybe better. People were asking me specific things about my breasts, about sex, sexual stories. People would just come up to me in a restaurant and say, “Tell me a sex story, Pamela.” I was just in Playboy and I was in an elevator [and] a man walked in and said, “Show me.” I said, “Show you what?” He goes, “Well, I just seen it in the magazine. Show me your boobs.” I’m trying to get out of the elevator, thinking, “This is getting really scary.” I didn’t realize what I was getting into. I remember being in a hotel room, and waking up at 3 a.m. with somebody at the end of my bed that worked in the hotel saying, “Do you need anything?”
A lot of really strange things like that happened. Somehow, I got through it all safely, and I’m still here.
If your sex tape came out in today’s world, do you think the public would have been more or less respectful of your privacy?
Well, I don’t think there’s as many secrets these days. Everything’s so saturated, everybody’s famous, everyone has Instagram. The novelty isn’t the same. People [are] embracing their bodies, embracing their sexuality. Since the #MeToo movement, people are more vocal about the abuse they’ve experienced in their lives. There’s more of a camaraderie among women and feminism. Yes it’s changed a lot, but my kind of feminism was learned from my mother who learned from her mother. There were always these things that you don’t talk about, or that you put to the side, laugh off, don’t tell anybody, get through, suck up and keep going. “This is just how men are.” We learn all that from our mother.
I have always considered myself a feminist, but sometimes I used to say, I want to save “feminism from feminists,” because third-wave feminism felt like it went too far. I feel like I’ve been in so many of these situations, I wanted to speak as a real person. You kind of get in trouble for things like that, but I’d rather be in trouble and be honest.
What do you think of the recent trend of rehabilitating women who were ripped to shreds by the media in the ‘90s and early aughts? What was it like for you to watch Tonya Harding or Britney Spears’ stories being revisited?
I saw the Tonya Harding movie. I didn’t see anything to do with the Britney Spears stuff. I think people are fascinated by the ‘90s. We were all just trying to be such individuals and not like anybody else. More people are blending into each other these days. Authentic stories are fun to connect to because I can imagine Britney Spears — her whole life and the hardships, it’s fascinating to see how people get through things. It’s not just generational, it’s not just an era. Stories about one person, I have always found fascinating. I read a lot of biographies about women from the past. It’s nice when you get an authentic fresh view of it, because I don’t think anyone has an easy life. I love looking at documentaries. I love Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe.
We are always just fascinated with the past, but it’s nice to still be alive and to be able to tell my story. It’s scary, because when you do tell your story, you have to involve other people. When you are alive, you deal with other people in your life. It’s all these things going through your head: “Should I say that? I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to upset anybody. I don’t want anyone to feel hurt.” I was really thinking, “I just need to tell it.” Those things that I feel scared to tell are the things I need to tell.
I think something that’s interesting is the way that we’ve reclaimed a lot of terms that were once used to deride women. What do you think about how young women on TikTok have reclaimed the term bimbo?
I’ve never been on TikTok. I wouldn’t even know what TikTok does. I know that people are in control of the narrative, and they’re curating their own lives and what they want people to see about them. It can be empowering, but it also is a dangerous playground. As we get older, we change the way we view ourselves. In the future, you really don’t want to have regrets about those things that are out there when you’re really, really young. It’s hard to parent children right now on these apps. I think it’s causing a lot of social distress and anguish over body image. That’s what was really important to me in the documentary, to pare it all down, that’s what I look like. I’m 55 years old and that’s okay. I don’t need a filter. I’ve gone through things obviously where I didn’t feel good enough, and I’ve done things, too. I’m not saying I’m any different. It’s just nice to come to a point in your life where you feel, “I’m okay just the way I am,” with or without makeup, with or without a filter. Getting old, being young, being different than anybody else, all those things are really great to embrace. That’s very cool. It’s very punk. I think it’s really wild to be able to just be yourself.
If you could do fame all over again, how would you approach it differently?
Well, I don’t think fame is really something to aspire to. Why would you want to be famous? Do you want to be a poet, a writer, an actor, a musician? Along with that comes fame. I don’t think pursuing fame alone is ever gratifying. It was never my goal. I didn’t even realize the popularity of Baywatch or of Playboy and how they were in so many countries until I started traveling. I was just living and experiencing it in real-time, doing the best I can. I don’t know if I would do it any differently.
You obviously weren’t a fan of the Hulu series Pam & Tommy, in which Lily James played you. Do you have someone in mind you wish would play you on screen one day?
No, I don’t. I have nothing against Lily James. I actually invited her to the premiere of the documentary. I’m sure she’s a wonderful girl and a great actress, but my concern was with the producers and the people that put it all together. I thought it was a little bit shallow and uninteresting ,because the great part of being able to do the documentary is being able to tell the whole story — where I’ve come from, what I have gone through — and to portray Tommy in a light that is real and honest, too, not just someone’s fantasy of who they think we are.
At the end of the documentary, you come to this realization that you should perhaps be alone. Is that still a priority for you?
I think the capacity to be in love is the capacity to be alone. You never make somebody else responsible for your happiness. If they come and go, you’re still the same person. That’s what I’ve been working on. I live such a romantic life. I still have flowers, candles and rose petals in my bathtub, and I really look after myself. I’m living the most romantic part of my life now. It’s really bizarre… because we can just do that. I have freedom. My kids are grown, beautiful and getting on with their lives. I’m with my dogs, and I can walk around in my silk pajamas and pick flowers. It’s really fun, it feels like success. I tell my kids all the time, money is not success. That’s just a symptom of some success. I don’t think anyone that’s really, really wealthy is usually interesting. The people that work really hard are the sexiest. Look, nature is free. I just walked in Central Park. That didn’t cost anything. It’s something that I think is a perspective. We’re all wealthy when we’re healthy and happy.
You’ve been married quite a few times throughout your life. Are there any of your marriages you regret?
Most of them. I’ve learned from everybody in my life, and I’ve got to keep trying. I got married quickly in some cases, but I think with my heart, not my head. In the end, life is just what happens. It’s already done, so I can’t really waste time regretting it, just [make] better decisions in the future.
Even though you’re enjoying this time alone, would you ever get married again?
Maybe. I don’t say “no” too much. I always have this thought that something really great is around the corner. But I’m not going to be able to be one of those people that are looking online for anything. I want to be the one who catches someone’s glance across the way on the subway, or my dog’s leashes get tangled up with someone in Central Park, and we fall in love. That’s the kind of love I like. I like this really romantic, meant-to-be stuff. That’s what will happen — or not. If it doesn’t, it’s okay, too.
What piece of advice would you give to the version of Pamela who was leaving LA for the first time?
Just be safe, protect yourself, be wise, and be careful who you surround yourself with. We share our souls with anybody we let in our intimate lives. I think it’s important to be cautious of that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.