I’ve always been a fan of Paris Hilton. Even when she was at her height of reality tv fame, I always thought she was hilarious and had a feeling there was more to her than what she showed on camera.
In her recent YouTube documentary, This Is Paris, she shows that she’s far more than the ditzy blonde who appeared on The Simple Life 17 years ago. She’s also a savvy businesswoman and an abuse survivor.
Hilton’s “Dumb Blonde” Mask
Paris, 39, is the eldest daughter of Richard and Kathy Hilton. Richard is the co-founder of Hilton & Hyland and the grandson of Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton hotel chain. Kathy comes from a family of child actresses, including her two half-sisters Kim and Kyle Richards. To say that Paris had pressure to be perfect is an understatement. When she began her starring role alongside Nicole Richie in The Simple Life in 2003, she created the dumb blonde persona.
On The Simple Life, Hilton and Richie put away their designer duds and got their hands dirty by working low-paying jobs in various parts of the service industry. The schtick of the show was two wealthy, spoiled, and ditzy young women from Beverly Hills taking on normal jobs, and it was one of the funniest reality shows of the early 2000s. The show aired for five seasons, and it helped launch Hilton’s dumb blonde persona.
She quickly became a pop-culture and fashion icon, trademarking her catchphrase "that's hot" and inspiring fictional characters like London Tipton from Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She also helped to popularize early 2000s fashion trends like the Juicy Couture tracksuit.
After The Simple Life wrapped, she starred in the MTV reality show Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, and then left reality TV to focus on her businesses. She’s most famous for her 27 fragrances and has 19 product lines in total.
One reason she wanted to focus on her businesses was to shed her ditzy persona, as she told Dujour, “I was playing a character on The Simple Life, so I don’t blame people for thinking I was ditzy. People assumed that’s who I really was. Now they meet me and realize I’m completely different. But it doesn’t bother me that people thought I was dumb. Playing that character made life easier—I do have a certain amount of shyness, which I’m sure is a surprise to people. And I’ve never cared what people think about me—I know the truth. I’ve always known what I was capable of.”
Paris the Businesswoman
The documentary shows that she is much more than her persona. She comes off as incredibly genuine and sweet, as well as very smart and business savvy. You can’t be as successful as she is without brains, and she puts her heart and soul into her products.
Hilton told Elle, “I have nineteen product lines and I basically make every type of product. The one thing that I'm really obsessed with and passionate about is skincare. It's something I've been in the process of creating for a very long time, but I wanted to find the right partners and the right scientist. I really want to create the Fountain of Youth.”
Hilton has 19 product lines, plus she’s estimated to be the highest-paid DJ in the world.
“Nowadays girls are resorting to doing other things and getting work done at a very young age,” she continued. “And I'm all natural and I've always been that way so I want to express the importance of taking care of your skin. I've been putting on creams and serums since I've been 8 years old. I've tried everything and I've noticed that a lot of these products, they don't really work. They don't have results. I really wanted to create something that has real results and that's all natural with no animal testing. It's an anti-aging beauty secret that I wanted to share with the world.”
She also began her music career as a DJ in 2012. She has been very successful; she’s estimated to be the highest-paid DJ in the world.
Boarding School Revelations
Like many teens, Hilton had a troubled phase where she snuck out to party. Her parents sent her to several different boarding schools and psychiatric treatment centers for “troubled youth” to help her get back into shape. The last one she attended, and the school that had the most impact, was the Provo Canyon School in Springville, Utah. She attended the school for 11 months and left after her 18th birthday in 1999.
“I think it was their goal to break us down. And they were physically abusive, hitting and strangling us.”
Hilton alleges that she was physically and emotionally abused at the school. She said, “From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, it was all day screaming in my face, yelling at me, continuous torture. The staff would say terrible things. They were constantly making me feel bad about myself and bully me [sic]. I think it was their goal to break us down. And they were physically abusive, hitting and strangling us. They wanted to instill fear in the kids so we’d be too scared to disobey them.”
Some former students and staffers of Provo Canyon have come forward with more abuse allegations. A staffer who quit after witnessing abuse said, “Staff would tackle kids — I can't tell you how many times I saw that. One incident involved an African American boy at the school during my time. A staff member woke him up at 3 a.m. because he forgot to take his meds. The kid didn't like getting woken up in the middle of the night, and the staff ended up calling a 'Dial 9' and tackled him. We all had to go and watch staff pin this kid down, drag him to isolation. The guy who beat him was my boss. This was 100 percent instigated by staff. A bully picking on a defenseless little kid.”
Hilton’s family has been supportive.
Members of Hilton’s family have praised her bravery for telling her story. Hilton’s aunt and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards Umansky wrote on her Instagram, “Paris, I am so incredibly proud of you for being so open & vulnerable in #thisisparis I am happy people will finally see the real Paris. The kind, thoughtful, childlike, artsy, eccentric, intelligent, driven, not always happy Paris. This documentary is so eye opening for so many reasons. I have watched you be bullied in elementary school, high school, the media, social media...Watching you talk about the abuse you endured at the hands of "trusted adults" hurt beyond belief. Thank you for opening people's eyes to the abuse that some "troubled youth" have been subject to and for making people aware. You are one of the strongest people I know. I love you.”
Hilton’s younger sister Nicky Hilton Rothschild was proud of her as well. She said, "We watched it together. We laughed. We cried. I'm just so proud of her, because going through so much trauma and reliving it with the whole world watching is very brave."
“I want to show that you can go through hardship and still make something of yourself.”
Hilton wants to emphasize that although her past trauma has had a significant effect on her life, it doesn’t define her. She told Vogue, “All I wanted this film to focus on was my life as a businesswoman, but ultimately I decided to tell it how it is. I want to show that you can go through hardship and still make something of yourself and not let your past define you. I love showing who I am because I’m so proud of who I’ve become.”
What’s She Doing Now?
Hilton claims that the abuse she faced helped shape who she is today because the only thing that got her through the abuse was to think of what she was going to do when she got out. She has been successful in her business ventures and continues her work, but she’s also advocating for the abuse she experienced to stop.
In the documentary, she takes part in the #BreakingCodeSilence movement, which tells stories of those who experienced abuse at reform schools. According to their website, they’re “a movement organized by a network of survivors and activists to raise awareness of the problems in the Troubled Teen Industry, and the need for reform. By using our many voices to tell our stories, we aim to create change and protect vulnerable youth from abuse.”
The only thing that got her through the abuse was to think of what she was going to do when she got out.
Hilton hopes to use her influential voice to spread awareness to this problem, hoping to prevent this abuse from happening to another child.
Paris Hilton’s recent documentary proves that there’s always more to someone than what meets the eye. Her successful business endeavors prove that she’s smart and savvy, and her story of overcoming abuse is inspiring. Her story teaches us not only to never judge someone for what we see on the surface, but also to have empathy for those who have different experiences from us