Pamela Anderson’s Documentary Shows How We’re Still Objectifying Women
The actress constantly had to defend herself (and her body parts) in TV interviews with male hosts... and that struggle persists.
Disclaimer: This essay contains the opinions of its writer.
With current and important social movements like body positivity and #MeToo, it’s hard to imagine a time when male TV hosts could openly confront a female celebrity about her breast implants on national TV with no fear of consequences.
But, that was the case time after time for actress Pamela Anderson, as she reveals in her new Netflix documentary Pamela Anderson, A Love Story.
The 55-year-old Baywatch star appears sans makeup in most of the two-hour movie and cracks jokes about how she decided to skip the lashes and lipstick for the filming because “everyone has seen her naked” anyway. This is perhaps a defense mechanism for the star, who’s had to consistently and publicly face a barrage of questions pertaining to her breasts over the course of several decades.
The documentary, which was released on Jan. 31 to coincide with Anderson’s first memoir with Harper Collins, shows a cringe-worthy montage of TV interviews in which male hosts — including Matt Lauer, Larry King, and Jay Leno — ask Anderson about her breast implants.
Even though breast augmentation was not as prevalent or openly discussed in the ’90s and early 2000s as it is now (today, more than 300,000 breast implant surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. alone), Anderson never once denied she had work done.
The actress says in her new doc: “I didn’t know to lie or withhold anything in interviews, so when people would ask me if I had surgery or anything like that, then I would just answer.”
In the clips shown, Anderson can be seen laughing off the male hosts’ questions. In others, you can see that she’s visibly uncomfortable with the line of questioning.
The audience laughs along with (or is it at?) her, and she takes it all in stride. While Anderson doesn’t claim she was sexually harassed during her media appearances, one could presume that perhaps she felt that way while fielding invasive and uncomfortable questions about her body parts (especially given what we know now about misogyny and the abuse of power in Hollywood and how that has made women feel).
And, it shouldn’t matter if Anderson was wearing a tight dress for the interview or even a bathing suit. To me, this kind of reasoning reeks of rape culture and victim blaming, a la the “she asked for it!” mentality that can be so harmful and unfair.
“The Woman As Boob” is an unfortunate mainstay,” explains Dr. Kathleen Lawrence, professor of communication and media studies, popular culture, and women’s and gender studies at State University of New York at Cortland.
“Our pop culture is littered with boobs. Boobs are put on pedestals and boobs are ridiculed. Oddly, and ironically—boobs, and the preoccupation with breasts in our society, still make it a decidedly man’s world,” attests Dr. Lawrence.
Case in point: Today, many female celebrities are veritably open about discussing their bodies and any surgical enhancements they’ve had, much like Pamela did, in order to take the power into their own hands. In many cases, they are applauded for doing so, but that doesn’t change the media and society’s hankering to exploit them.
One quick Internet search brings up stories such as “The 42 Best Celebrity Boobs in Hollywood, Both Fake and Real,” and “33 Celebrities with Really, Really Big Boobs. How Big are We Talking?”
The former even goes as far to proclaim: “Having a big round butt, tiny waist, big lips, and large breasts is believed to be the benchmark of beauty in the U.S.,” while the latter called out female celebs specifically, including actress Christina Hendricks and Kim Kardashian, brazenly stating “these celebrities all have amazing boobs. Amazingly large. Who knew 36H was even a real size?”
Britney Spears recently shared a (now deleted) Instagram post in which she discusses how she relates to Anderson’s plight as a female performer in a society that objectifies and embarrasses women —especially those who are moms. Both women have two sons, who were perhaps also embarrassed to witness what their famous moms had to endure in the public eye.
Even the non-famous can relate. Recently, a Boston woman discovered male colleagues were discussing her appearance in a Zoom chat during a business meeting. This story made national headlines when the 28-year-old woman outed the men on TikTok, referring to it as “locker room talk.”
“I was horrified because I have worked so hard to get to the point where I’m at in my career,” Whitney Sharpe told BuzzFeed News. “I’m a vice president at my company and I’m one of the highest-up women at my company. And I feel like I have to work so much harder to prove that I am smart because of the way that I look.”
Personally, I also had to field questions about my decision to get breast implants as a 21-year-old working professional in the early 2000s. They mainly came from creepy male colleagues and former male high school acquaintances who felt it was fair game to ask. If they weren’t asking to my face, they were chattering behind my back… and not at all attempting to hide it.
In a way, I felt ashamed. If this was so scandalous, surely I had done something wrong in their eyes? I felt the need to explain I’d opted to have the surgery because I’d developed as a teenager with a breast deformity. I even went as far as to write about it in a (now) bestselling book —literally spilling all in an effort to appease and prove to these people that it was OK what I did to MY OWN BODY. Oversharing to overcompensate.
It is damaging. Simply, damaging. I can only imagine how Pamela Anderson has felt.
Not to spoil the documentary if you haven’t watched it yet, but it turns out, Anderson’s “love story” ends with herself — finally unmarried and “alone,” she’s forced to come face-to-face with who she really is as a person.
It’s been a long journey to self-love, despite what everyone else was and is still saying about her.
Anderson recently told Ronan Farrow in Interview Magazine, that in a post-#MeToo world, “things have changed and people are much more careful and respectful.” But there’s no doubt the same objectification still happens on the regular.
Although we see Anderson successfully performing on Broadway in Chicago as the film ends, the camera also shows glimpses of behind-the-scenes where she’s rehearsing and flexing a self-deprecating sense of humor, lightening the mood by cracking jokes about herself.
She’s still using the same defense and coping mechanisms that she used back in the day with those male TV hosts. Shrugging everything off with a laugh, even if, truly, she’s uncomfortable.
It’s a reminder that we still have a long way to go when it comes to objectifying women.
Continuing to ask about and discuss our body parts and breasts perpetuates the notion that we are simply objects to ogle and fantasize about. In 2023, it’s high time we do better.