When Pamela Anderson Lee bounced her way to Baywatch babedom, cosmetic surgeons everywhere rejoiced.
Now that the show is jiggling off into the sunset, the face-lift and tummy tuck industry is bidding a fond farewell to the TV show that revolutionized the industry.
Last year, The Wolf Files celebrated Baywatch's 10th anniversary with cosmetic surgeons who just gushed over the show. With the final episode slated to run in May, doctors raised their scalpels in a crisp salute.
"We were blessed with Baywatch," plastic surgeon Dr. Leonard Grossman said. "It is the most vivid form of advertising. It's like an hourlong plastic-surgery commercial."
When the show was at its height in the early 1990s, prospective patients would bring in pictures of Anderson in her Speedo grandeur and ask to be lifted, sculpted and lipo-sucked to perfection, Grossman recalled.
"Baywatch may have slipped out of the public eye in recent years. Now people are looking at Britney and others stars," the doctor said. "But Baywatch and Pam Anderson brought our business to a whole new level."
Americans went through some 4.6 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in 1999, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Breast augmentation alone is up 51 percent over last year, and 500 percent since 1992, when Americans still worried about the dangers of leaky silicone pouches.
A Deflated Legend
Even though Anderson removed her implants in 1999, she became the benchmark of all boob jobs, at least to some doctors.
"Pamela Anderson Lee became a reference point," said Dr. Mark Berman of Santa Monica, Calif. "Some people want to look exactly like her. Others want to make sure they don't get that artificial look."
Of course, other Baywatch alumnae have inspired many a scalpel. Surgeons say many women pay for eyebrow lifts to mimic the deep-set eyes of Yasmine Bleeth, or cheek implants so they can look like Nicole Eggert.
Knowing this, Dr. Daniel Man of Boca Raton, Fla., said he has to warn patients against unrealistic expectations. "If you want to have a face-lift to become a star and you don't have potential, it is not the right attitude," he said.
Man is the author of The Art of Man: The Faces of Plastic Surgery, a guidebook with real-life before and after shots. "I think some of the stars of Baywatch have really shown what cosmetic surgery can do," he said. "Of course, these stars are very nice-looking to start with."
Discovered on the Jumbotron
But one must remember Anderson's own humble start. As a high school student in Vancouver, British Columbia, she wanted nothing more than "to be a beach bum," according to her yearbook.
Then, at a football game in 1989, a cameraman flashed Pam in a dangerously overstretched Labatt's T-shirt on the stadium Jumbotron. The brewer soon hired her to do commercials. Playboy called. Then, somewhere in there, she opted for that world famous anti-gravity chest.
Suddenly, she was wearing a white thong bikini at a surfside wedding to Motley Crew drummer Tommy Lee.
"Pam was very frank. She made strides in taking plastic surgery out of the closet," said Dr. Robert Ersek of Austin, Texas, who says he's operated on just about every part of the human body.
"I've even performed toe-liposuction," he boasts.
Nowadays, you can even watch plastic surgery live on the Internet on sites like celebritydoctor.com, where comedian John Byner's May 1999 face-lift was broadcast into cyberspace.