It was a typical Saturday. I was perusing my local TJ Maxx when several oddly familiar pink bottles jumped out at me. The store had an entire shelf dedicated to “Paris Hilton by Paris Hilton” perfume, littered with discount price stickers overlaying the barcode.
I remembered wanting this perfume desperately growing up, so I opened the lid only to realize my tastes have matured, to say the least. My nostalgia for Paris Hilton, however, has not.
It’s time for the haters—for everyone who can’t stand the girl “famous for being famous”—to realize that Paris walked so today’s stars could run. As recently as Tuesday, Hilton’s poignant revelations about the abuse she suffered in childhood have underscored the depth and complexity she’s always carried, visible to anyone who cared enough to look.
In third grade, I dressed up as Hilton for Halloween. I had no idea why she was famous, and I didn’t care. She was what I daydreamed about for my future as I rifled through my mother’s stash of Star Magazines, fantasizing about toting a purebred toy dog in a designer handbag while talking on a pink Motorola Razor during the day while rubbing elbows with celebrities at night. None of that came true for me, but I’m not mad about it.
The preteens of 2021 do not get to dream these same dreams. They see their bleak future every day on celebrities’ Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook accounts. Teens today don’t flip through magazines or sneak shows on VH1 that can’t be recorded or streamed. It takes a simple Google search to find any celebrity’s flaws with little use of the imagination.
Social media is overrun with people who are famous simply for being famous, but those who deployed that argument against Hilton are hardly vindicated. Unlike today’s run-of-the-mill Instagram influencers, Hilton is much more. And she always has been.
If you haven’t watched YouTube’s recent release “This Is Paris,” you need to devote two hours to the series ASAP. The documentary is raw and emotional, shedding light on Paris’s childhood trauma, particularly at Provo Canyon School. It also addresses her sex tape, of which Hilton says, “If this happened today it would be a completely different story.”
She’s right. Hilton was vilified over that infamous tape. The pop cultural pile-on was endless. There’s absolutely no question society’s response would be different today, after the Me Too movement pulled back the veil on Hollywood’s rampant misconduct. It’s interesting to think that Hilton’s sex tape came out three years before her former assistant Kim Kardashian’s. Unlike Kim, however, Paris’s style and media strategy did not conform to the times.
Hilton could have remained on the cover of every trashy publication and in the headlines of every E! News break just like the Kardashians did. But she took her talents elsewhere, working to become a successful international DJ. She ducked the limelight to chase substance.
Consider this shocking story Hilton shared in her testimony against Provo Canyon School on Tuesday.
For the past 20 years, I’ve had a recurring nightmare where I’m kidnapped in the middle of the night by two strangers, strip-searched, and locked in a facility. I wish I could tell you this haunting nightmare was just a dream, but it is not… They asked me if I wanted to go the easy way or the hard way. They carried me out of my home as I screamed at the top of my lungs for my parents’ help.
According to Buzzfeed, Hilton testified she “didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months” at the school, and was “forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted.” Her poise and intellect is laudable and inspiring, and all of it places the Paris of the early aughts in new context.
Hilton is aware her “That’s Hot” era has come and gone. But she’s still here, a shining piece of early 2000s nostalgia, right there along with “Mean Girls,” Lip Smackers, AOL instant messenger, and “My Super Sweet Sixteen.” In light of “The Real Story,” we also now know her as so much more.
I, for one, am grateful to have grown up with Paris as a style icon, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t still kind of want to be her. Hilton still looks amazing, but she’s also matured into a deeply and surprisingly serious person under enormously difficult circumstances.