Anderson was born in Ladysmith, British Columbia, the daughter of Barry Anderson, a furnace repairman, and Carol (nee Grosco), a waitress. Her great-grandfather, Juho Hyytiainen, was Finnish, a native of Saarijarvi, and left the Grand Duchy of Finland (which was a part of the Russian Empire at the time) in 1908, changing his name to Anderson when he arrived as an immigrant. Anderson also has Russian ancestry on her mother's side.
After graduating from Highland Secondary School in 1985, Anderson moved to Vancouver and worked as a fitness instructor. During the summer of 1989, Anderson went with her friends to a BC Lions game at BC Place; during the game she was shown on the stadium screen wearing a Labatt's t-shirt, causing the crowd to cheer for the 21-year-old Anderson. She was taken down to the field to receive an ovation from the crowd.
Labatt's had the opportunity to hire Canadian model Pamela Anderson as a Labatt's Blue Zone Girl after she was picked out of the crowd by a TV camera man at a BC Lions football game wearing a Blue Zone crop-top. Photographer and boyfriend Dan Ilicic produced the Blue Zone Girl poster on his own. In October 1989 she appeared as the cover girl on Playboy magazine. At this stage in her modeling career, she had decided to live in Los Angeles to further pursue her career ambitions. She became a centerfold for Playboy when the magazine chose her to be their Playmate of the Month for their February 1990 issue. She then chose to get breast implants. Anderson has since appeared in Playboy several times in the 1990s and 2000s.
A sex tape of Anderson and Tommy Lee on their honeymoon was stolen from their home, and made a huge stir on the Internet. Anderson sued the video distribution company, Internet Entertainment Group. Ultimately, the Lees entered into a confidential settlement agreement with IEG. Thereafter, the company began making the tape available to subscribers to its Web sites again, resulting in triple the normal traffic on the site.
Anderson and Kid Rock in 2003. A second tape, which was made before the Tommy Lee tape, involving Anderson and musician Bret Michaels from Poison was later announced, and an abridged version of less than 60 seconds appeared on the internet. Frames of the video first appeared in Penthouse magazine in March 1998. The tape was successfully blocked by Michaels, but a four-minute sex tape is still available on the Internet.