“This Is Paris”: The scary truth that birthed the Hilton heiress

Paris Hilton's startling documentary will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about America's first influencer.

Wiki+Commons

Wiki Commons

Kacey Connolly, Podcast Editor

Longtime socialite Paris Hilton debuted a tell-all documentary, “This Is Paris,” on Monday in an attempt to finally show people who the “real” Paris is. While the world already branded Hilton a spoiled, ditzy blonde back in the early 2000s, best known as the hotel heiress with a sex tape, many will be shocked to learn that the 39-year-old starlet has been living a lie since 1999. 

Referred to as the original influencer, Hilton spent nearly half of her life creating a multi-million dollar brand. From “The Simple Life” to a surplus of Paris products to DJing Tomorrowland, she has accumulated a personal net worth of $300 million. With a fortune unaffiliated to her great grandfather’s hotel empire, the spoiled, ditzy blonde is actually a genius businesswoman. What will shock viewers most, however, is the horrifying reason why the Paris Hilton we thought we knew was created in the first place. 

At age 15, Hilton and her family moved from Los Angeles to New York City. Hilton describes her home life as strict, recounting experiences of etiquette school and harsh rules centered around maintaining a perfect outward appearance. Between a suffocating family and mean teenage girls, Hilton began lashing out, cutting class and clubbing deep into the night at an early age. In what Hilton deems an effort to keep the family image clean, her parents began sending her to correctional boarding schools.

At first, Hilton ran from the schools. It wasn’t until she was 17 years-old that she stopped. Taken unwillingly in the middle of the night by strangers, Hilton’s parents sent her away to Provo Canyon School in Utah. She recalls Provo as the “worst of the worst.”

She describes the school as a prison with no way of escaping. There, she was mentally and physically abused, force-fed random pills that made her feel dissociated from reality. A particularly startling instance left Hilton in trouble for fake swallowing her pills and spitting them into the trash when no one was looking. She says they stripped her naked and sent her to solitary confinement for 20 hours. Trying her best to retain sanity, Hilton would focus her thoughts on everything she wanted to be when she was finally free. 

After eleven months at Provo, Hilton left on her 18th birthday. She remembers feeling grateful, swearing to herself that she would never tell anyone what happened to her there. This is when the Paris Hilton facade was created. 

In 2003, Hilton starred alongside former friend Nicole Richie in “The Simple Life,” a reality show in which two party girls move in with a farm family, publicly birthing the glitzy and glamorous airhead Paris. Shortly after, Hilton began dating Rick Salomon, the infamous boyfriend who leaked their sex tape. 

Villanized by the media, as most women are in sex scandals, Hilton says that if she had never gone to Provo the sex tape would have never happened. Desperate for Salomon’s affection and deeply antagonized, Hilton says she agreed to the tape on the condition that no one would ever see it. 

The trauma Hilton endured at Provo Canyon has been buried within her for over 20 years. The icon that the world knows today is merely a character Hilton has been forcing herself to play in an effort to escape her demons. The real Paris has an articulated, average-pitched voice, prefers to spend her time at home scrapbooking, grew up an uber tomboy, loves all animals and suffers daily from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia and intense trust issues. 

Hilton’s experience at Provo isn’t specific to her either. She uses the documentary to reconnect with former Provo classmates Katherine Mcnamara, Elizabeth Abeysekera and former Provo roommate Raina Lincicum. The women discuss their shared experiences at the disciplinary school, referencing harsh memories of abuse. Among all of them, there seems to be one large consistency; each has repressed their Provo trauma for decades, remaining severely affected by it every day. 

An article from the Salt Lake Tribune details the for-profit business of Utah’s youth residential treatment center industry. Directly referencing Provo Canyon School, the Tribune interviewed a former student referred to as “309,” the number they said was given to them by Provo staff for identification. They considered their experience at Provo “worse and more traumatic” than their previous experience with child abuse. 

The Tribune also reported that on Provo Canyon’s boy campus, the police were called 29 times over just a four year period for sex crime investigations. 

PEOPLE magazine reached out to Provo Canyon School in hopes of a response to Hilton’s story. They stated, “Provo Canyon School was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to this time.” Upon searching “Provo Canyon School” on Reddit, various personal accounts containing stories of abuse and PTSD pop up, some dating as far back as nine years ago and as recent as one year. 

It’s no secret that these youth correctional schools are broken systems, often damaging their students rather than helping. In July 2019, KSL reported that Red Rock Canyon School, a psychiatric inpatient treatment school for juveniles, closed after a riot broke out from the various abuse allegations against the facility. 

By the end of “This Is Paris,” you’re left with a strange, eerie feeling packed with confusion, disgust and shock as you realize the original influencer, the girl who became famous simply for being famous, is far from anything anyone ever thought she was. It will leave you with an itch to investigate correctional boarding schools, falling down a rabbit hole of horrifying accounts of abuse, and, above all, a severe amount of sympathy and respect for Paris Hilton. 

“This is Paris” is currently streaming for free on YouTube.

Email Kacey at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @kaceyconnolly1.

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