Paris Hilton Avoids Accountability In Her New Memoir


Since then, Paris Hilton has made a quiet comeback, riding on the wave of nostalgia for the early aughts that prevails among millennials and Gen Z. She’s walked in Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty fashion show, and she appeared in a velour tracksuit ad for Skims with fellow model–reality TV star–influencer Kim Kardashian. She has her own podcast, a cosmetics and skincare line, 8.3 million TikTok followers, and is among the highest-paid women DJs in the world. A memoir is the next logical item on her to-do list. 

Paris: The Memoir starts with an unexpected revelation about its writer: “My ADHD makes me lose my phone, but it also makes me who I am, so if I’m going to love my life, I have to love my ADHD.” Hilton explains that her ADHD is the reason she loves em dashes and run-on sentences, and offers an early disclaimer for the tangents and random asides that follow in the book. “I’m probably going to jump around a lot while I tell the story,” she admits. The confession makes Hilton relatable and likable for the reader, as if a friend — albeit a very rich and influential friend — is telling you a long, roving story over martinis. 

And yet, as someone who is both the product and creator of the influencer model of marketing and promotion, every word Hilton writes on the page is deliberate and calculated, vying to showcase her image to a complicit audience. Often, the prose reads like ad copy, as if Hilton is offering a sales pitch about her life, or, more appropriately, a 328-page book rendition of a social media caption. After all, Hilton isn’t just revisiting the past; she’s promoting her brand. 

“My brand was more than my business; it was my identity, my strength, my self-respect, my independence, my whole life. I had to protect my brand,” she writes. “I wanted to be the woman Marilyn never had a chance to evolve into: It Girl gone Influencer.”

Hilton’s visceral attachment to her brand makes sense: It’s a form of revenge for the traumas she experienced as a teenager. Hilton says she often felt misunderstood by her family growing up. “I had to be cute, precocious, and shy,” she writes, so that she could escape being censured for her inability to sit still or conform to the upper-middle-class femininity and etiquette encouraged by her image-conscious parents. The “overcompensating … social butterfly-like behavior” included her breathy “baby” voice she used when she was nervous, and became the forerunner to the same ridiculous, high-pitched valley girl voice she’d wield when she was famous, playing ignorant on The Simple Life or talking to the paps. 

Hilton retreats behind her patrician good looks at an early age, using it as a screen from which she can hide her vulnerabilities and impulses and allowing her to glide through life without addressing or even understanding her own pain and problems. (Hilton wouldn’t be diagnosed with ADHD until her early 20s.) She finds kindred spirits in Marilyn Monroe, Shannen Doherty, and, later, Britney Spears. “Given the choice between victim and influencer, Marilyn and I embraced our siren selves,” she writes, as it’s more appealing to think of oneself as an alluring femme fatale than a girl used and discarded for her inherent charm and beauty.

Hilton learns this firsthand when a teacher at her school in Sherman Oaks, whom she names “Mr. Abercrombie” in the memoir, grooms her. In the book, Hilton writes that when her parents spotted their middle school–aged daughter kissing a grown man in the front seat of his SUV, they sent her to live with her grandmother in Palm Springs at the end of her school year. The experience leaves its mark, as she ends up feeling abandoned and neglected by her own family at 14. “I didn’t know what my family wanted. Not me, apparently,” Hilton writes. Eventually, she moves to New York City, where her family is living in the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and discovers her voracious desire for partying and the ecstatic and creative nightlife of the city. 

The nightclubs Hilton frequented as a teenager in the ’90s provided an early education for the aesthetic and cultural blueprint she’d help form in the aughts. “The vogue dancers, drag queens, and Harajuku girls took me under their wings,” she writes. She starts to skip and fail her classes, stumbling home in the early hours of the morning, and appearing in Page Six, totally out of control. Hilton’s parents decide to enroll her in a reform school in the wilderness in Utah. As she sleeps in her bed at night, two men burst into her room and abduct her as her parents look on, hauling her to a therapeutic boarding school called CEDU. Hilton and other students allege that CEDU is short for Charles E. Dederich University, named for the founder of the controversial West Coast cult Syanon. CEDU was marketed as an emotional growth program for troubled kids, but its students reported being humiliated and abused. Hilton and other students say they faced degrading mob-like attacks preying on their weaknesses, which CEDU staff claimed would heal them, and allege facing or witnessing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. 

CEDU and its associated schools received several lawsuits alleging abuse. After the company which owned the schools declared bankruptcy in 2005, Universal Health Services, a Fortune 500 company responsible for provision of healthcare services, bought and reopened three of the schools. Provo Canyon School, where Hilton claims she was force-fed drugs and confined in a solitary prison, never shut down and remains operational to this day. In 2020, Hilton discusses her experiences at these schools with the filmmaker Alexandra Dean in the documentary This Is Paris

Hilton recollects her time in these abusive facilities with vivid clarity, including the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush of running away to survive. After the police catch her  on a Greyhound bus, a slick wad of a couple hundred dollars she “swiped” from her mother rolled up in her bun, she reflects: “Money meant hope. Money meant freedom. Someday, I decided, I’m going to work so hard and make so much money. Like a million dollars. And then I’ll be safe and fuck trusting anyone ever again.” 

This post was originally published on BuzzFeed

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