If the name Paris Hilton conjures memories of a twiggy blonde toting a Chihuahua in her designer handbag and deadpanning “that’s hot” across the L.A. nightclub circuit, you're forgiven. But that’s not who the 37-year-old influencer is now—and, according to her, it never was.
“There are so many misconceptions about me,” Hilton tells InStyle. “At this point in my life I’ve been through everything and I just want to show the world who I really am.”
Those words ring true throughout Hilton’s new documentary project, The American Meme, a collaboration with director Bert Marcus and fellow social media stars The Fat Jewish (Josh Ostrovsky), Brittany Furlan, Kirill Was Here (Kirill Bichutsky), Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Baldwin, and DJ Khaled.
The American Meme takes a deep dive into the culture of social media and the real people behind the most beloved (and, conversely, hated) accounts.
At the forefront of the film is Hilton, whose decades in the limelight built what Marcus describes as the blueprint for social media.
“She’s created a whole new celebrity,” Marcus says. “Paris is kind of the O.G. influencer that helped write the script on how to build a brand for social media.”
Despite her worldwide fame, few truly understand the woman behind the brand—a conceit Marcus was eager to change with his film. “I think most people know she’s global icon, but what people don’t know is that there’s a lot of things that have been really misunderstood.”
“She’s definitely the Marilyn Monroe of our time,” he continues. “Coming from the family that she came from, the controversy she’s been through, and then being able to come out of it the other side as a savvy, sharp businesswoman. [The film shows] a side of her that a lot of people have always really wanted to see.”
The real Paris is introduced early on in the film: She appears authentic and emotional as she describes the humiliating 2004 leak of her sex tape with then-boyfriend Rick Salomon. “It was like being raped,” she says on camera, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Speaking exclusively with InStyle, Hilton reveals that she’s never spoken so candidly about the experience, even with her close friends. “It’s one of the most painful and humiliating experiences that could ever happen to anyone. Doing this film was the first time I’ve ever talked about it. I’ve never talked about it like that with anyone, not even my friends. It’s a really hard thing for a woman to have to go through, obviously, to be completely humiliated in front of the whole world.”
“It’s one of the most personal moments in your life,” she goes on, “and for somebody you trusted to try and profit off of you is just so wrong. Nobody should ever have to go through that.”
Over the years, Paris has become more skeptical about whom she trusts but maintains that her fans (“Little Hiltons” as they call themselves) have never let her down.
“They’re like my little brothers and sisters. I have such a special relationship with them,” she says. “I’ve been taken advantage of by a lot of people in this industry, but my fans are always loyal. I feel so lucky and blessed to have them. It’s not like I have to work. I do this because it’s what I love to do.”
And the person she trusts instinctively, she says, is her fiancé, actor Chris Zylka, whom she plans to marry before the end of the year. A complete foil to the former reality star, the Leftovers alum has no social media presence.
As Hilton would later declare during a Q&A for the film, dating someone without a social media presence is “so f—king hot.”
“I love everything about him,” Hilton gushes, “but that’s an amazing thing. There’s some people—guys in particular—in couples, that are so into that: using people to make followers. My fiancé, he watches CNN, he’s making art, he’s writing scripts, he’s doing work. He’s like, ‘I don’t even want to be involved in the social media world. That’s your thing; that’s your world.’”
Despite his lack of interest in Hilton's social media endeavors, he’s by her side every step of the way. “No matter what we’re doing, we’re always together,” she says. “We’ve never spent more than maybe eight hours apart—if I have a photo shoot and he’s doing a project. We’ve never spent a night apart; we’ve never gone on a trip apart since our first date.”
And that Chihuahua-toting caricature of Hilton you think you know? It was all part of Hilton's scheme to build an empire. And so far, she has ventures in beauty, fashion, music, film, television, books, hospitality, and even virtual reality. The self-proclaimed tech geek is in the process of launching a Paris Hilton virtual reality world that will function as a new social media platform.
“I’m a lot smarter than I pretended to be,” she says, a truth made evident through the billion-dollar empire she’s built. “The world got introduced to me with The Simple Life—with this kind, ditzy, blonde airhead character, but that’s never who I’ve been. I’m a tomboy at heart. My plan the whole time was to basically build a brand.”
As for the film, Hilton's eager for viewers to meet the real her. "I’m so happy that people can really get to see that I’m not just some cartoon character," she says. "I have a heart; I have feelings, just like everyone else."