Growing up in the early 00s, I vividly remember being told that The Simple Life star Paris Hilton was a terrible role model for young girls, and that we straight-up shouldn’t aspire to be anything like what we now know to be perhaps the OG influencer.
For as long as I can remember, the rhetoric has been the same: Paris Hilton is too dumb, blonde, spoiled and slutty to be anything worth admiring. As a girl growing up in the early-mid 00s, the message was simple: don’t grow up to be a Paris Hilton.
But now, in the era of #MeToo and in anticipation of her upcoming documentary This Is Paris, I have come to really question the way we treated her, and what is says about what we’re teaching young women to this day.
To be quite honest, I think we all owe her an apology.
In 2001, Paris made a sex tape with then-boyfriend Rick Salomon, a decision in which she’d later reveal was largely a result of the years of alleged abuse she’d faced that led her to put trust in what she called the “worst person” she could meet.
Three years later, the tape (which was never intended to be publicly shared) was leaked by Salomon, quickly becoming one of the most noteworthy examples of revenge porn we’ve ever seen. But at the time, and for many years thereafter, she was the villain in the story.
She was the idiot rich kid who made a sex tape and deserved to be slut-shamed for it. She could never be a role model and society basically decided that the only way she could have any sort of career in the spotlight was to play the airhead character in The Simple Life. So, unbeknownst to us, she capitalised on that and made a multi-million dollar career out of what was truly an Oscar-worthy performance as that character.
But even in the era of #MeToo, we don’t really talk about the way Paris Hilton was treated in the early 00s.
Sure, she made some bad choices in her early 20s (and who hasn’t), and was called out for it every time. But right up until the moment she started doing press for her new documentary and actually telling her story, the media really didn’t talk about much else.
There was no word of the millions of dollars she’s donated and raised for charity, or her humanitarian efforts supporting causes like LGBTQI+ rights, children’s hospitals and disaster relief. We didn’t want to talk about the fact that she had the business sense to turn her “airhead” character into a multi-billion dollar empire. No, we simply didn’t want to mention anything she had done that was remotely admirable because it didn’t fit the narrative that Paris Hilton is nothing more than a talentless, rich airhead who’s only famous because of a sex tape that she never intended on releasing.
“This is not what I planned. I didn’t want to be known as that. And now when people look at me they think that I’m something I’m not just because of one incident one night with someone who I was in love with,” she said in an interview in 2011.
“People assume ‘Oh, she’s a slut’ because of one thing that happened to me and it’s hard because I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life and explain it to my children. And it’s something that’s changed my life forever and I’ll never be able to erase it.”
The hardest part of the whole situation is that we’re pretty much all guilty of it. If you grew up in the era of Paris Hilton, you probably have these biases and it’s probably not even your fault. The media, our parents, our peers and society as a whole all played a part in pushing the narrative we all now know to be untrue.
But now that we know the actual reality of the situation, it’s a good time to reflect on the way we treat women in the public eye, and in general.
You can love pink, embrace your sexuality, have fun, party and be whoever the hell you want to be and you shouldn’t have to be treated the way we treated Paris. And for that, I think we owe her a big apology.
Her new documentary This Is Paris premieres on YouTube on September 14 and honestly, I think everyone owes it to her to give her a chance to tell her own story.