Thank You, Pamela
No-makeup revolutionist? Perhaps. But there's more to it.
“If after a show it said, ‘Cindy Crawford wearing this designer…’ [certain designers] didn’t like that,” Crawford recalled in the Apple TV+ miniseries The Super Models, referring to the turning point when the spotlight on the supermodels of the ‘80s and ‘90s began to fade. “Designers inevitably started getting pissed off that their shows were about the models and not about clothes,” fashion journalist Tim Blanks explained. And thus the focus began to shift from the supers to the front rows, making those in attendance (rather than those wearing the clothes) the coveted money shot — much, I’m sure, to certain designers’ chagrin.
These days, the paradigm has transformed entirely, with many (but not all) designers ooh’ing and ah’ing at the opportunity to pad their front row with VIPs wearing their designs. Sometimes, it’s for attention; other times, it’s a distraction. Sometimes, it’s both. Inevitably, though, these are the images that ricochet across the Internet, and press often correlates to a brand’s bottom line. And nobody got more press this past Fashion Month than Pamela Anderson. To quote Julia Roberts in Stepmom (among my favorite go-to’s): “Thank God for that.”
After reading Love, Pamela and watching Pamela: A Love Story, I wondered what became of Pamela Anderson’s public life. Both mediums had given Anderson the opportunity to reclaim her story (“I’m not a victim; I put myself in crazy situations and survived them” she stressed), but I wondered about the unwritten chapters that lay ahead. Would being better understood — in fact really quite beloved — mean her stint as Roxie Hart was more an amuse bouche than dessert? I had high hopes, while of course recognizing that I’ll take whatever she’s willing to give.
Then came the photos from Paris Fashion Week: striking shots of Pamela Anderson with the glow of someone with purpose and poise, someone well rested and hydrated and in control. She also, by no coincidence, was completely makeup-free. My Hand In Yours founder Jamie Lee Curtis remarked that this was the sounding bell of the natural beauty revolution, writing, “Pamela Anderson in the middle of Fashion Week, with so many pressures and postures, and and and, this woman showed up and claimed her seat at the table with nothing on her face. I am so impressed and floored by this act of courage and rebellion.”
Some fellow queens also celebrated Anderson in the comment section of JLC’s post:
Michelle Visage: “And she was GLOWING.”
Selma Blair: “Love this. Beautiful self-assuredness.”
Chelsea Handler: “That’s pretty iconic.”
Kyle Richards: “Beautiful.”
Alyssa Milano: “So gorgeous.”
On October 3rd, while some were celebrating Mean Girls day, I was basking in a 10-minute short film released on Vogue France’s YouTube channel which shadowed Anderson as she got ready for Vivienne Westwood’s runway show (“We related to each other because we used everything we are, and everything we had and have, to try and make a difference in the world,” Anderson said of her friendship with Westwood in 2017). From the outset, Anderson distinguished herself from other “getting ready” videos, which have become oversaturated to the point of parody, by explaining that she had no handlers and no glam team — just an empty hotel room.
It’s almost noon, the show’s at one, and Anderson has just emerged from the bath and is wearing her robe. She let her hair dry naturally and put on some moisturizer, explaining that she’s “not into a makeup look right now.” Her mother always told her that “at some point in your life, you’re not going to want to wear makeup on your skin,” and Anderson reasoned that she was right. “You kinda have to challenge beauty sometimes. If we all chase youth, or are chasing our idea of what beauty is in fashion magazines, we’re only going to be disappointed or maybe a little bit sad.” This was especially pointed given who the video was being made for.
Anderson continued, “Sometimes I feel: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Then I think: ‘What am I worried about?’ Am I worrying about what people think, how I look? Then I thought, ‘Y’know, this is the time for me to be a little rebellious,’ but I also feel as a woman, and as a woman my age, and as a woman in the public eye, I just kind of think it’s also your job to be a model of everything. All sorts of choices. So I’m just being me, who I am… in these great clothes running around Paris.”
“I know it sounds cliche,” she admits after uttering the “beauty comes from within” proverb. “But I love cliches,” she adds, and in doing so highlights her ability to be both the real life Giselle from Enchanted while also containing a rebelliousness and a self awareness. She’s corny, as she says, but her delight in (not just awareness of) her own corniness is a joy to watch. As one person wrote on Twitter: “She’s so immensely likable to the point where if you don’t like her, there’s probably something wrong with you.”
And then she explains her plan, or lack thereof. “I didn’t come to Paris Fashion Week and think, ‘I’m not going to wear any makeup.’ I just thought… I dunno, something just kinda came over me and I was dressing in these beautiful clothes and I thought, ‘I don’t want to compete with the clothes.’”
She continued: “I’m not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room. I feel like it’s just freedom. It’s a relief.” The irony, if you want to call it that, is that she was far and away the prettiest girl in the room. But more impactfully, she carried a glow that makeup simply can’t provide.
There’s obviously a contingency of people hating on the framework of such a non-action being presented as an act of courage or rebellion, but look at every other photo to emerge from Fashion Month and you’ll understand acutely why the beauty industry is valued at nearly $600 billion and how a choice to present beauty in its natural form in such a public way is at least an exciting change-up from the norm.
“I think some people might look at this from the outside and roll their eyes and think this is a person at Fashion Week, she’s trying to make some huge point or garner publicity for themselves, but when I watch the video I’m reminded right away as to why I loved working with her so much: because everything is intuitive, she flies by the seat of her own pants,” says Pamela: A Love Story director Ryan White. “Nothing is contrived or premeditated or calculated in any way. It’s how she’s feeling at the moment. And I think that’s so rare today. There’s really no one like her anymore because it’s hard to be like that where you’re not calculating a move or thinking about your followers, but Pamela, for whatever reason, romanticizes that individualism — but it’s not phony; it’s real.”
There’s actually some important context as to why Anderson stopped wearing makeup. It all has to do with her longtime makeup artist, Alexis Vogel, succumbing to her battle with breast cancer in 2019. “She was the best,” Anderson told Elle earlier this year. “And since then, I just felt, without Alexis, it’s just better for me not to wear makeup.” White even told me that during Anderson’s run in Broadway’s Chicago she did her own makeup. “She wanted to have that feeling of control,” he explains.
Now, we obviously must acknowledge that going makeup-free is undoubtedly a bit of an easier decision when your makeup-free self looks as radiant as Pamela Anderson’s does. But when you add Pamela’s reasoning to the conversation, you start to understand that her decision is less about making some kind of statement about makeup and more about making a statement about how to feel your best, and for Anderson, feeling best happens when she’s wearing no makeup. I, too, think the reaction is rooted in more than just a no-makeup revolution; it’s about the feeling brought on by witnessing someone stepping into their whole selves so easily and with such a lack of restraint.
What happens next? For starters, we need a makeup-free Vogue cover featuring Ms. Anderson. September issue? I don’t know if I can wait that long. But we can discuss. That’s order of business number one. Then I’d love to see her produce and market her rose oil, as seen in the Vogue France video. That, and the love potion scent she first presented in a British Vogue “What’s in my bag?” video. That’s order of business number two.
But mostly, I want less beauty tutorials and skin care routines and more opportunities for conversations about what makes a person feel the most beautiful, as well as the ways they combat moments when their perception of their own beauty veers negative. Across several industries that profit from creating and maintaining unrealistic beauty standards, it’s exciting to not only see Anderson’s quiet act of rebellion, but the fervent response from a large faction of supporters, eager to give her the thumbs up of approval, and, perhaps, follow in her footsteps.
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