When People magazine decided to profile Pamela Anderson’s recent photoshoot for Coco De Mer this week, its article began like this:
“Pamela Anderson still has her Baywatch body at 49…”
As if that’s what we wanted to know most. As if that’s the most important thing about the unassuming small-town Canadian girl who became an international bombshell, an influential political activist and reliable grist for a thousand talk shows and grimy tabloids.
Forget about her decades of activism on animal welfare, safe sex, human trafficking, domestic violence, vegetarianism and countless other causes (she’s still fighting to get Leonard Peltier freed), or her rebounds from numerous crumbled relationships and health crises, or the fact that through it all she raised her two kids mostly on her own.
What People wants to assure you, first and foremost, is that despite the toll of nearly five decades, Pamela Anderson’s boobs are holding up just fine.
Almost all of the press surrounding her latest work for Britain’s button-pushing, sex-positive lingerie retailer took the same approach and tone as People’s ageist claptrap — Let’s all take one more approving look at those world-famous jugs.
Media objectification has dogged Pam her entire life, just as most of the commercial endorsements that she’s done have seemed exploitative, with companies lining up to capitalize on the drawing power of her enhanced assets. And she’s not blameless, either. Pam has always had more agency than most stars when it comes to profiting from her bodacious bod, but she often turns the tables by using her sexpot typecasting in the service of PETA and other causes (remember those famous “body parts” photos?)
Coco De Mer and fashion photographer Rankin are also making good use of Pam’s prized moneymakers in these polished pictures, but that’s incidental to the overall point and purpose of this campaign.
The company obviously saw something more than just boobs when they named Pam as their international brand ambassador in February. In fact, if you look closely, many of the images in the Icon campaign draw attention to Pam’s ferocious stare, not her bust. In that regard, only a couple of Rankin’s shots give the people (and People) what they came for.
Coco is using Pam to promote their premium, bondage-esque Icons range which features erotic styles named for female figures from ancient myth, including Persephone, the Greek queen of the underworld; Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom; and the terrifying Medusa, whose gaze turned men to stone. To give the whole project some heft, Coco anointed Pam an icon, too.
It was an inspired choice, but not an obvious one.
Pamela Anderson is not anyone’s idea of a fashion muse (too many trashy swimsuits and Playboy spreads) and she’s not a very convincing standard-bearer for contemporary feminism, as her blog post this week called ‘Celebrating Femininity’ illustrated. It was a lengthy and slightly incoherent ramble that blends Neanderthal sexual politics (“I need a real MAN so I can be a WOMAN”) with familiar women’s rights issues like pay equity and reproductive health.
And Pam has had the kind of life — messy, complicated, full of questionable choices — that typically repels major brands looking for celebrities to pitch their wares. That’s the thing about icons: too many people prefer them to be selfless and superior, leading tidy lives that validate our fantasies without reminding us of life’s inevitable failings and disappointments.
But for Coco De Mer, which above all else promotes lifelong sexual exploration, Pam was an appropriate muse. CEO Lucy Litwack called her “the perfect icon for our Icons range” and described their collab as “a really special partnership.”
What Coco saw, and what Rankin has captured, is more than just the sum of Pam’s body parts. These are portraits of a complete woman, someone who has been through the wars and emerged unashamed.
She looks strong, healthy and focused, confronting Rankin’s lens like someone staring down her own legacy and the misjudgments of her detractors.
Even more important, she continues to embrace, celebrate and talk about sexuality in her middle years — something that’s undeniably healthy and still all too rare. She’s the icon of aging pleasurably.
Pamela Anderson was born on Canada’s 100th birthday and this year will turn 50 on the day we celebrate the country’s sesquicentennial. There will be parades, performances, speeches and awards ceremonies across the land and much talk of Canada’s future.
But for Pam, it also means she’s entering that sixth decade when women are routinely viewed through the lens of ageism (just ask Cher, Madonna, Halle Berry and others), and all the approving remarks and media drooling will be tinged with condescension and surprise.
When her legacy is determined in years ahead, she will probably be best remembered for her sex tape, her battle with Hep-C, her Playboy pictorials, all those sketchy dudes she nested with, her comic turn as Borat’s muse and, of course, that Baywatch body.
But give this complicated icon credit for something bigger … for setting her own terms and for shrugging off the stereotypes that clung to her. As Coco De Mer and Rankin show, she’s more than all that.
Here’s a snippet from her ‘Celebrating Femininity’ journal entry (we’ve cleaned up some of her brutal punctuation):
“I am not a conformist, or an airhead.
I don’t share everyone’s views.
Just because some people have strong views it doesn’t make them an authority.
I think for myself.
I don’t expect people to agree with me.
I’m aware it’s a risky perspective.
I am a woman who is learning all I can, every day,
Assimilating information which transcends into my priorities …
How to be a better woman — softer, sexier, forgiving, loving.
That’s my goal, and it is a pleasurable pursuit.”