I was a toddler when Paris Hilton rose to fame, so, by the time I heard about her, she’d cemented her place as a pop culture icon. In the early 2000s, she was vilified for simple things like being a “party girl” and ditzy on her reality TV show, The Simple Life. Worst of all, she was the butt of many jokes concerning the sex tape released without her consent.
Even though we’d come a long way by 2000 in terms of feminism, the way that Paris was vilified by the media only goes to show that there was a lot of work still to be done. People were clinging to stereotypes which have been slowly let go over the past twenty years, but these can be clearly seen in movies like “Mean Girls” and “Bring It On” – the popular, pretty girls often don’t have a lot going on upstairs. But by the mid 2010’s or so, it stopped being funny (for the most part) to bring up Paris’s sex tape or to do a “valley girl” voice to convey stupidity and shallowness. I think my generation came to learn about Paris with a fresh perspective, which has allowed her to transition into a more serious chapter of her career.
In the words of my cousin, the girls and the gays have always loved Paris. She has been on the cover of “The Gay Times” (recently, they posted that her son Phoenix’s first word was “yaaas” which seems fitting) and has always been revered for her style.
In 2020, the documentary “This is Paris” was released, in which, for the first time, Paris told the world about how she was a victim of the “troubled teen” industry that had recently started gaining infamy. She received much love and support from those who were already devoted fans, people who had never given her a second thought, and even former critics.
The “troubled teen industry” essentially refers to schools and wilderness programs meant for kids with mental health issues, drinking and drug problems, and rebellious behavior. In Paris’s 2023 memoir “Paris” and the documentary, she details the origins of the troubled teen industry – I highly recommend checking these out and other sources to learn more, because I don’t think I’m qualified to give you a history lesson. What I can explain is what happened to Paris, what she’s doing now to end the troubled teen industry, and finally, how you can get involved whether you have been affected or not.
Paris herself admits that she was not the best-behaved teenager – she snuck out and skipped class. Remember that this was the early 90s, before programs like Life360 allowed parents to track their children. This was part of the allure of troubled teen programs – everyone is accounted for. There was also highly deceptive marketing that drew Paris’s parents in, preying on how they were worried sick for their daughter. Stock photos of smiling children, assurances from former “students” and participants, and tours of facilities failed to show where the kids would be held naked, in solitary confinement. Parents are told their children will say anything to leave, that they’re liars and not to be trusted. So, Paris’s tearful pleas to go home fell on deaf ears and the highly monitored call was abruptly hung up.
The more you obey, the more you lean into the programs, the less you try to escape or tell your parents what’s happening to you, the quicker you can leave. This creates a culture of “snitching” on other kids, and a feeling that you can’t trust anyone. At Provo Canyon School, Paris was given prescription drugs every day without knowing what she was consuming or why. She figured out how to hide and spit out the drugs, but another student found out and told on her.
Her story is, in a word, horrific. But the bravery she has displayed in speaking up is going to help save other kids from her fate. This is why she came to speak at a conference for plaintiff lawyers called Mass Torts Made Perfect, which my mom is in charge of putting on in Las Vegas twice a year. After showing a spliced-together clip from the documentary telling her story, Paris walked into the room to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She spoke with Mike Papantonio, a partner at Levin Papantonio Rafferty and host of the Ring of Fire podcast, and Sara Gelser Blouin, a state senator from Oregon who has been working with Paris on legislation to better regulate “troubled teen” facilities.
Because of my mom’s administrative role, I was able to spend some time with Paris before and after her talk. She was so kind, so gracious, and so passionate. My one goal for the day was to tell Paris just how much of a feminist icon I think she is, and she seemed genuinely touched by the compliment. I guess I thought that celebrities hear so many nice things about themselves, they become numb to it. I forget that they see all the hate and backlash they get, too. I was so impressed by her, especially when watching the transition from public figure to normal person that she goes through each time she leaves the spotlight.
Yes, Paris is richer and more beautiful than 99% of the world’s population (even without an Instagram filter in sight, she was stunning). Her circumstances and life feel foreign to most of us. But it’s important to remember that just because someone’s life seems glamorous from the outside, it doesn’t mean that everything’s sunshine and rainbows. Paris is traumatized to the point that she can hardly sleep. She has been deeply affected by what she experienced at “troubled teen” facilities. But unlike the rest of us, she’s had a camera trained on her pretty much constantly for the past 20 years. If you were in her shoes, can you really say you’d do anything differently? I sure would have been at those clubs dressed to the nines, smiling at paparazzi, and pretending that I had the most carefree, perfect life. And she could have continued with that charade, but she chose not to. I think that is true courage.
If you were affected by the troubled teen industry, I hope you can see that you aren’t alone. Paris effing Hilton is rooting for you! And so am I, and so are a lot of people who want to help. If you are feeling ready, A Case for Women is here to help you explore all your options and next steps in taking action against Provo Canyon School and other abusive facilities.
– Palmer Boothe