If you are a millennial, you grew up during a time when Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton dominated tabloid coverage. While all three women would go on to face personal demons as they matured, each has gone through a rebranding of late. Hilton’s, however, might be the most surprising.
Paris Hilton was and is the icon of Y2K. As the rich New York socialite and heir to the Hilton Hotel money train, people either loved her or loved to hate her. She was the epitome of the dumb blond with her fake tan, bleached hair and Juicy Couture tracksuits. She spent her days shopping and was paid to attend events — turning her enormous popularity into a business. She even did a reality show with friend Nicole Richie, which saw the pair working a minimum wage job in Arkansas.
Hilton was a huge influencer, but her influence was organic. She wore what she wanted to, not what she was paid to. The trends she helped start found their way into the dreams of tweens everywhere.
Limited Too was the go-to shop to buy sticky lip gloss, low rise denim, sickly fruity perfumes and anything pink.
Not everything was smooth sailing for Hilton. And now, at 42, Hilton is finally ready to talk about it. She recently released Paris: The Memoir, which details her experience at so-called behavior-modification facilities. That perfectly constructed Barbie-doll façade was her trauma response — one she has only recently learned to drop.
THE DUMB BLONDE
The dumb blonde stereotype was popularized when Anita Loos published Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1925. Loos wrote the story after noticing that men in general were more eager to help blonde women than they were brunettes. Marilyn Monroe later popularized the notion when she played the dumb blonde in a screen adaptation of the story. While Monroe was considered a blonde bombshell, she both used and suffered from the idea of the dumb blonde. Monroe both perpetuated the stereotype and defied it. Those on the outside saw a dumb blonde; those on the inside saw little Norma Jean, eager to please and have her own family.
Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon also plays with the concept of the dumb blonde. While Witherspoon’s character ends up winning the day through unconventional means, you do get the sense that her studies are second to her desire to keep up her image via clothing, make-up and bleach blond hair.
Hilton admits to reading Monroe’s autobiography before embarking on her own memoir. “She had horrible things happen to her, and she kept that all hidden and portrayed this fantasy life. And I definitely did that as a coping mechanism for all the trauma I went through. I didn’t even know who I was.”
Monroe is a type of hero to her, while also doubling as a kindred spirit. Hilton has both benefited and been exploited by her dumb blonde act. But you can’t help but love her Hilton Hotel commercials with her chihuahua Diamond Baby in tow.
But in Paris: The Memoir, Hilton says her public persona was a “dumb blonde with a sweet but sassy edge: I made sure I never had a quiet moment to figure out who I was without her. I was afraid of that moment because I didn’t know what I’d find.”
When Hilton was in eighth grade at a Catholic school, her male teacher (she refers to him as Mr. Abercrombie) took a special interest in her. They would talk on the phone for long periods and one day Hilton’s parents caught the pair kissing in a car outside their home. They didn’t know he was a teacher. And they didn’t really ask about the situation at all.
When they moved to New York, they left Hilton with her grandmother in California. While living with her grandmother, she was drugged by a man she met at a mall. It is highly likely she was raped, as well.
Eventually, Hilton’s parents brought her to New York. She would go out partying at night and skip school. (She suffered from undiagnosed ADHD.) At a loss about what to do, Hilton’s parents sent her to a “behavior modification” facility.
The introduction to these facilities was terrifying enough in itself. Two men grabbed her from her bedroom in the middle of the night, handcuffed her and flew her to California. At CEDU, the adolescents were encouraged to degrade each other in something called “attack therapy.” This included all the children being encouraged to verbally abuse each other for their behavior.
She kept escaping and was sent to other facilities. The fourth and last facility was in Utah. Provo Canyon School was the worst place for Hilton. She couldn’t go outside for almost a year. If you didn’t do as you were told, you would be sent naked into solitary confinement. Hilton described it as “a cold room. There’s blood on the walls and just a drain in the middle of the room. I had no idea what time it was; there’s no clock. You’re just going crazy.”
Hilton was finally reunited with her family shortly before her 18th birthday. Her family remained unaware of what she had gone through. “The moment I got out of there, it was the happiest day in my life. I was so grateful, and I just made a promise to myself that I was never going to talk about this. This is not part of my story. I would never mention this again. I would pretend it never happened…” Hilton told Zoe Williams with The Guardian.
Now that Hilton was finally free, she was going to live it up and not allow anyone to control her again. The Paris era had started.
THE REAL PARIS
Hilton began her journey to healing when she made the documentary This Is Paris. Released in 2020, the documentary was the first time she told people what had happened during her teenage years.
She has since advocated for shutting down institutions similar to the ones she attended. She testified in front of the Utah State Legislature in 2021 about the treatment she received at Provo. A bill was passed that would require the government to oversee these facilities more closely. Hilton is now on a campaign to pass a bill nationally. The bill would be called the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act.
And with the revival of Y2K style, Hilton and Kim Kardashian (Hilton’s former assistant) paired up to release a Skims collection based on those famous Juicy Couture tracksuits. The collection dropped in 2020 with ads featuring the two stars.
And Hilton met her future husband, Carter Reum. She said she would’ve never been able to marry if she hadn’t started being honest about her past. And it helps that Reum isn’t a celebrity. “He’s not famous. He’s smart. He comes from a nice family. He’s a good person.”
Now, at 42, Hilton is beginning her own family. Her son, Phoenix, was recently born via surrogate.
She is still an entrepreneur, now heavily immersed in the metaverse. She even has two Pomeranians named Ether Reum and Crypto Hilton. And her Instagram is a carefully curated marketing tool for Hilton’s personal projects, including her memoir.
Hilton’s experiences show that money doesn’t always make life easier, although, of course, it does give you a bit of advantage over the average person. But with the help of Hilton’s honesty and large platform, she might be able to make life easier for someone else.
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