How Pamela Anderson Took The Pain Of “Pam & Tommy” And Totally Reinvented Her Image

In 2022, Pamela’s deepest trauma was dug up and scattered back into the public realm. In 2023, she reclaimed every part of it.

In January 2022, Pamela Anderson was thrust back into the spotlight against her will as Hulu geared up to retell the story of her and Tommy Lee’s infamous sex tape, which was stolen from their home by a construction worker named Rand Gauthier in 1995.

Pam & Tommy — which premiered on Hulu in February and aired through March 2022 — starred Lily James and Sebastian Stan as the subjects, and was produced by Seth Rogen, who also played Rand. 

Being that the show looked set to chronicle one of the most traumatic periods of Pamela’s life, fans had welcomed the buzzy trailers under the assumption that the real duo at the heart of the story had been involved in its production. 

However, it soon became clear that this was not the case at all. It was claimed that neither of the subjects had given prior approval for it to go ahead — namely Pamela, who felt “violated” by the unsolicited retelling of her trauma according to reports at the time.

The sheer irony in documenting the nonconsensual distribution of a stolen sex tape without the approval of the woman who was most deeply impacted by the crime in the first place certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the public. In fact, legions of fans called for a complete boycott of the Hulu show before the first episode had been released.

“This show coming out without her approval is the sex tape all over again,” one person wrote on X at the time, noting that it seemed like history was repeating itself. “People are profiting off the exploitation of her once again,” they added.

Around the time the show premiered, the cast and creators of Pam & Tommy responded to the controversy by sharing their version of events, claiming that they reached out to Pamela but that she’d “chosen not to engage.” 

Needless to say, they'd decided to go ahead with making the show anyway, and “respected her desire not to be involved,” co-showrunner Robert Siegel told Variety.

The team attempted to counteract any backlash to this decision by emphasizing that they hoped to “do right” by Pamela. With the show, they intended to shine a light on how she was wronged by society by centering in the script the patriarchal double standards that defined the public response to the tape in the ‘90s.

“With Pamela Anderson, what I always come back to is that [she and Tommy] were doing the exact same thing. And filmed doing the exact same thing together,” executive producer D.V. DeVincentis said in the same Variety interview. “One of them was slut-shamed and virtually drummed out of the business and turned into an unserious person. The other was given a new act and turned into this sex god. And the only difference between these two people [was] their gender. That’s it.”

In light of this, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Tommy, for his part, was “stoked” by the prospect of seeing their history come back to life in the show, telling Entertainment Tonight ahead of its release: “It's a cool story and people need to know. It's cool.”

The series ultimately streamed to widespread critical acclaim, but as accolades rolled in and her trauma was repackaged for a new generation to marvel at, Pamela remained silent. That was, right up until the day the penultimate episode was set to air.

On March 2, Pamela wiped her Instagram page of all its previous posts, and returned with a heartfelt yet pointed statement teasing an upcoming Netflix documentary — Pamela, A Love Story — which looked set to reclaim the narrative.

“My life. A thousand imperfections. A million misperceptions. Wicked, wild and lost. Nothing to live up to. I can only surprise you,” read a handwritten note emblazoned with the Netflix logo at the top of the page.

Signed off with her name, the statement concluded with the words: “Not a victim, but a survivor. And alive to tell the real story.” It flawlessly set the tone for how she’d take matters into her own hands in 2023.

For several months after Pamela shared her note, fans heard very little from her. But, behind the scenes, she was watching intently as interest in her exploded.

Pam & Tommy sought the attention of a new generation of eyes, resulting in Gen Z viewers rediscovering Pamela’s most iconic looks from the ‘90s and attempting to replicate them with a modern twist.

And while TikTok algorithms were filled with tousled up-dos and pencil thin brows, it wasn’t just fans who fed into the resurgence of Pam’s image. The Halloween period of 2022 saw numerous celebrities dress up as the Baywatch star, which ultimately made Pamela and Tommy become one of the most popular couples’ costumes of that year — in spite of their tumultuous history.

This renewed position in the public consciousness only increased interest in Pamela's return — and she was able to start capitalizing on the exploitation of her story to elevate her burgeoning reinvention.

The Year of Pam truly began with an exclusive CBS News special on Jan. 15, where she reintroduced herself to the masses in a new era of her identity. 

After previously living a quiet life in France, Pamela decided in 2019 to move back to her hometown of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island in hopes of “rewriting [her] own history,” both with regard to the sexual abuse and trauma she experienced there as a child, and her identity as a celebrity.

“This full circle thing was very therapeutic,” she told CBS of her decision to “retrace” her steps and come back to her roots. “There was a lot of anger. I felt volcanic, just this rage was coming out of me. Whoa, where's that coming from? Just little by little, I started getting stronger and stronger.”

In the same way she recalled posing for Playboy as a way to reclaim her sexuality with “a vengeance” in her 20s, Pamela said her documentary and accompanying memoir, Love, Pamela, were created on a mission to start afresh in her 50s.

“Then, I can put all of this behind me,” she said, reclaiming what Pam & Tommy brought to the forefront, as well as her own trauma. “The whole point is not keeping those secrets, or those things, buried.”

In the CBS interview, Pamela didn’t explicitly reference the Pam & Tommy controversy, although she did place emphasis on the actual crime at the heart of the scandal, describing the viral tapes simply as “stolen property,” from which she made no money whatsoever.

It wasn’t until another interview with the New York Times that she weighed in on the show and revealed that she ignored Lily James’s attempts to reach out to discuss her lead role in the series, which later earned her an Emmy nomination.

“It was already hurtful enough the first time,” Pamela said, making it clear that just like the tapes themselves, she’d not watched the show and never plans to. “It’s like one of those things where you’re going, ‘Really? People are still capitalizing off that thing?’”

And while her comments here were relatively measured, her true feelings were laid bare later that month during a profile for Variety, in which she slammed the “assholes” involved in exploiting her story under the guise of empowering entertainment.

“Salt on the wound… You still owe me a public apology,” she said, going on to add that seeing Lily and Sebastian dressed as herself and Tommy reminded her of a “Halloween costume.” “It was just shocking,” she said.

Addressing her counterpart, Pamela said she thought Tommy probably found the show “funny,” and said that he wrote her a letter willing her not to let the uprooting of the trauma “hurt [her] like it did the first time.” 

When the release of her documentary and memoir rolled around on Jan. 31, the new insight did exactly what Pamela promised in the announcement back in 2022.

Co-produced by her and Tommy’s eldest son, Brandon, the documentary retraced what we already knew about the worldwide star — her rise to fame, the stolen tape, the high profile relationships. But it also provided a new understanding of Pamela “the person,” separate from “the celebrity,” by interspersing previously unheard excerpts from her private diaries from these times in her life.

And in turn, what was made most clear through the documentary and book was how prevalent the theme of consent has been throughout Pamela's life — the consent she never gave when she was raped and sexually abused as a child, or much later when her and Tommy’s sex tape was distributed. Or when a streaming giant made a hit show out of it more than 20 years later.

Interestingly though, it seems to have taken people decades to consider this when it comes to Pamela. In a post-Me Too era, it may be easier for the world to understand the concept of consent — that just because a woman chooses to pose naked on her own terms, it does not mean her right to privacy is eternally void. But this was the exact legal argument used against Pamela when she sued Rand Gauthier and those involved in the distribution of the tape in the '90s.

“It made me feel like I was such a horrible woman,” Pamela said in the documentary, recalling the lawyers’ ruling that because she was a famous Playboy star, she should have no issue with footage of her naked body being seen by the world, even against her will. The moment she decided to reclaim her sexuality and pose naked, she had apparently forfeited her right to privacy for the rest of her life.

“I’m just a piece of meat. That this should mean nothing to me because I’m such a whore, basically,” she remembered of the suit, which was subsequently dropped.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first or only time Pamela was met with this logic. In her memoir, she lays bare several purported instances of sexual abuse and harassment, both from her childhood and later in life, and recalls one alleged encounter with her Home Improvement costar, Tim Allen. 

Appearing on the sitcom at 23, Pamela had yet to star in Baywatch, but had already become known for her work as a Playboy model. Reflective of the way she would be treated throughout her career, her older costar allegedly took it upon himself to flash his “completely naked” body at her on set, saying it was “only fair,” because he’d seen her naked too.

After the claims made headlines, Tim vehemently denied ever doing such a thing, describing his former costar as a “fun girl” with a “weird memory.” However, Pamela stood firm in her accusations, saying: “A lot of these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.”

As well as reexamining the past, the documentary and book felt equally focused on setting the stage for what was to come, making clear that the next chapter of Pamela’s life is one focused on authenticity, self-acceptance, and the right kind of love. 

And one of the most notable ways she’s embodying this new era is with a stripped back new look. 

A huge part of Pamela’s celebrity has always been, for better or worse, her appearance. And now, after decades of being simultaneously hailed and chastised for her sexuality, Pamela has ditched the iconic glam that Gen Z users across TikTok were recently attempting to recreate.

Though she’s been makeup free for quite some time now, her natural look sparked a wave of praise when she appeared at Paris Fashion Week in September. After sitting front row at numerous shows, her bare face beaming from ear to ear, she told Vogue France that the decision to stop wearing makeup came as a natural transition.

“I don't know, something just kind of came over me, and I was dressing in these beautiful clothes, and I thought, ‘I don't want to compete with the clothes,’” she said. “I'm not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room. I feel like it's just freedom. It's a release.”

Garnering praise from fellow A-listers like Jamie Lee Curtis and Scarlett Johansson, Pamela has inadvertently become the face of an authenticity movement among celebrities — one that seems to correspond with this new liberated stage of her life.

“I call it life-ing, not aging. Chasing youth is futile,” she recently told People magazine. “I don't have to be cool anymore. I can just be me. It's very freeing to be comfortable in your own skin.”

Throughout her career, Pamela has been exploited and dehumanized to the highest degree. And in the era where women like Britney Spears are finally coming forward and turning people’s attention towards the way they were publicly wronged, Pam & Tommy served to prove that attempting to correct the record on behalf of someone else is far less effective than allowing that person to tell their own story.

“During long periods in my life, I felt resigned to ‘Oh, this is just what people think of me’, and it seems like you can’t tell your story, but the documentary changed that,” she said in an interview in November.

“People come up to me on the street and say, ‘I love you, but I never liked you before’, and even though it sounds strange, I know that’s a compliment,” she said. “For the first time, I feel rooted for.”

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