Pamela Anderson said going without makeup is “freedom.”
She made a getting ready video with Vogue France ahead of the Vivienne Westwood runway show in Paris, where she rocked several different natural beauty looks to different shows last week. Anderson explained she was working without a glam team, she didn’t style her hair out of the bathtub and on her face was DIY rose oil moisturizer and a swipe of mascara. She wanted a natural look to let her outfits shine.
“I’m not into the makeup look right now,” said the 56-year-old model and actress, who’s spent the last year-plus reclaiming her life narrative which was was laid bare in a Netflix doc and best-selling memoir.
Anderson — who reigned as the ultimate sex symbol after being put on the cover of Playboy and donning the iconic red swimsuit on Baywatch before having her privacy violated in the most shocking (and illegal) of ways — said she’s “vintage now.” Being in her 50s has led the mom of two to challenge beauty standards, explaining, “If we all chase youth or we’re chasing our idea of what beauty is in fashion magazines and everything, we’re only going to be disappointed.”
Her bold beauty statement is “a little rebellious,” she said, but also what feels right to her right now. “I think I’m happiest I’ve ever been in my own skin … I’m not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room. I feel like it’s just freedom. It’s like a relief.”
‘The natural beauty revolution has begun’ — or has it?
Jamie Lee Curtis saw photos of Anderson, at Paris Fashion Week and declared, “THE NATURAL BEAUTY REVOLUTION HAS OFFICIALLY BEGUN!”
The 64-year-old Oscar winner, who has long criticized unrealistic beauty standards, wrote on Instagram, “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.”
Curtis’s recognition of Anderson was both applauded and criticized, but no matter your stance, it’s notable in the world of celebrity. It also comes this week as we see Isabella Rossellini, 71, without retouching on Vogue Italia. There’s also Hilarie Burton, 41, talking about the “relief” she felt letting her hair go gray.
Recently, Christy Turlington, 54, said she’s staying away from plastic surgery because, “I love seeing a real face… I am one of those faces.” Justine Bateman, 57, has been drumming that message too, talking about the societal fear women are conditioned to have about aging. The gray locks of Andie MacDowell, 65, have spawned countless headlines, as have the makeup free looks of 50-year-old Tracee Ellis Ross.
But whether this is a natural beauty revolution — versus a few exceptions to the Hollywood norm — is another thing.
“The cynical side of me thinks they’re going to be one-offs,” Vanderbilt University’s associate professor of communication studies and chair of the cinema and media arts program Claire Sisco King told Yahoo.
“You just think about on TikTok, the ubiquity of those ‘get ready with me’ videos, and how popular that makeup culture has become, which of course has the backing of cosmetic companies to support it,” she continued. “I think the natural beauty, the no-makeup look is something that older women feel empowered to embrace. The sort of sense that they’ve been in some ways discarded or considered no longer in their prime, I suspect that that itself feels freeing and it gives them a certain sense of agency, but I think our culture is still so deeply steeped in youth culture and beauty culture and the way those things are articulated that I don’t really see it becoming the norm.”
The ‘imagined expiration date for women’
Anderson’s transformation actually began after the 2019 death of her longtime makeup artist, Alexis Vogel. She told Elle in August that without Vogel, whom she had been working with since 1993, she felt it was best not to wear makeup. Her make under coincided with Anderson selling her Malibu, Calif., home of two decades to move back to her Ladysmith, British Columbia hometown. She’s documented her low-key life there and being single for the first time after five failed marriages.
Out of all the women noted as pushing beauty boundaries, it’s not lost on us that Anderson is perhaps the most famous so-called “sex symbol” of them all.
“One way to think about it is that Pamela Anderson, through much of her career, was complicit in perpetuating these very sort of narrow, largely unattainable beauty norms,” King said. “There is something refreshing and powerful about seeing her rebuff them.”
She continued, “One of the other things that’s part and parcel with our obsession with youth is that our culture is really not good at thinking about older people as sexual or as still having desire. In the context of The Golden Bachelor, many of my undergrads have been watching the series and a lot of them expressed an initial discomfort about seeing older people on television in this romantic setting. So I think this is a reminder of the ways in which our culture disavows aging and really thinks about people past a certain age as no longer worthy of our interest or no longer worthy of taking up space in culture or on screens.”
King added, “That, of course, is the thing that people like Debra Winger, Geena Davis — women actors who’ve had these really long careers — have talked about so openly. That women often just get tossed aside when they reach a certain age, which is shockingly young. The sort of imagined expiration date for women.”
Natural beauty revolution vs. enhancement revolution
The photos of Anderson’s no-makeup look have been everywhere, but so are stories about stars, including Sia and Julie Chen, touting their facelifts. For them — and others — there’s power in enhancement.
“I think the pandemic was such an interesting example,” King said. “Dermatologists and plastic surgeons saw these these upticks and people wanting more invasive forms of work done. I think it was a confluence of Zoom culture, where they were seeing themselves on screens all day and becoming hyper-fixated on their appearance. Then also that people were still staying at home or restricting their social interactions that gave them more time for recovery. So the emphasis on screens in our culture, I think, drives some of this impulse to have people’s faces perfected.”
That said, we’re also in an era in which it’s expected that celebrities are open about it.
“It’s become normalized to a degree for people to talk about the procedures they’ve had done,” King said.
While some of it stems from it being the digital era — where we have so much access to celebrities on social media — King explained that “it’s also the case that this marriage between fame and youth and beauty and ‘self-improvement’ culture around makeup and cosmetics, that’s been part … of celebrity as long as it’s been an institution.
“If you look at magazines from the 1910s and 1920s, Hollywood starlets are on the cover. These images, first of all, were illustrated and drawn or painted in keeping with very Victorian sensibilities, but all of them presented these women with the most idealized, perfect faces. Then if you look through the pages, they’re filled with features about these early stars’ makeup routines and their fashion and beauty regimens. They’re also filled with advertisements of celebrities selling face powders, night creams and all of that. So this has been a part of celebrity culture really as long as there’s been celebrity culture.”
Talking about procedures is an improvement from the era of people pretending they just woke up looking perfect; that they miraculously don’t have wrinkles at 50 or a single gray hair. Worse, that people just dropped a tremendous amount of weight naturally — with the perfect, no stretch marks bikini body to go with it.
“People have agency to make decisions about what they do and they should have autonomy over their bodies,” King says. “Of course, it’s impossible to separate out an individual woman’s feeling of autonomy and agency from these larger cultural norms that tell her she should look a certain way. So it’s a constrained form of agency that someone like Sia might have to get this work done. It’s also a function of economic privilege. People who have access to money also have access to doctors, procedures and products that are that are going to enable this kind of look.”
She continues, “So being able to say to their audiences, ‘This is what a real face looks like,’ or ‘This is what it takes to get a face to look like this’ can demystify some of what is the very hard and very expensive work of keeping up with these particular norms about what women should look like.”
As for Anderson, it remains to be seen if this is something that she’ll continue — or if it’s a fleeting fancy. It also remains to be seen if her new look catches on. No matter how it shakes out, the “freedom” she’s feeling from it — during what she has dubbed her chapter of “self-acceptance” — looks good on her.
Carol Dennis is an entertainment aficionado with an eye for all things pop culture. She dives into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, from movie premieres to music festivals. Carol’s passion for storytelling extends beyond her reporting, as she’s an aspiring screenwriter in her free time.