I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
There’s a typo in my copy of Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress. The error, small but significant, says Paris turned 23 on February 27, 2004 — not February 17, her actual birthday. “The last year has been so intense,” she wrote. “I know it was my biggest leap in terms of growing and changing.” While Paris’s birthday might not fall on February 27, mine does. It felt like a sign, neon and flashing, letting me know that the life path I needed to take was one that had already been walked by the one and only Paris Hilton.
Although the year 2004 may not have been particularly exciting or memorable for me personally, it was a year I spent believing that Paris Hilton and I shared a birthday — a tiny but delightful fact I was certain would bring me one step closer to the kind of life I felt sure I was destined for, despite the fact that I was 13 — not 23 — and growing up within the cultural shackles of small town Australia, where plenty of people wore sweatpants tucked into UGG boots and (knockoff) Von Dutch trucker caps, but never managed to pull them off quite like Paris could.
I’m not exactly sure what persuaded my mother to give in and buy me a book by Paris Hilton, a celebrity with whom she shares exactly zero life experiences or values. Though what I do remember — with a kind of mental clarity that can only be achieved by a teenager getting what she wanted — are the hours I spent poring over every page. Part memoir, part photo album, Paris’s debut book was also a guide to life — a life I desperately wanted to replicate.
Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose was spilling with instructions, of varying levels of irony, on how to be more like Paris. And while some of these tips were impossible for me to implement (like “be born into the right family,” an actual tip from the book), there were a multitude of others that imprinted onto my mind, ready to be put into action at the next available opportunity. “Eat only fast food or the most fabulous food” was an easy one to commit to memory. “Eat sushi, because the coolest and best-looking people eat sushi” was another. My hometown didn’t have a Japanese restaurant, but the next time we visited my cousins in the city, I skipped my usual food-court McDonald’s order and told mom I’d be having sushi. I forced down two pieces of a salmon roll before asking for a happy meal — thankfully, McDonald’s was also a Paris-certified option, as long as it was ordered with regular Coke since drinking diet soda “shows you have no nerve.”
Living life by Paris’s rules meant strapping myself into an emotional and sartorial roller coaster. By her book, pink was for happy people and black was for the depressed. It was important to have flawless skin (a goal of every 13-year-old) but to never “fret over it” (had Paris ever been 13, I wondered). She also confessed that she never woke up before 10 a.m., or went to bed before 3 a.m. As she put it: “Normal hours are for normal people.” And, after all, who wanted to be normal? I certainly didn’t, and promised myself that as soon as my mom stopped making me go to bed at 8:30 p.m., I’d be operating on Paris hours.
Being like Paris was hot, and being normal was not — that much was obvious. And here I was, blessed with a bible that nobody else I knew had yet discovered, a cheat sheet to a life worth writing about. I don’t know exactly what it was about Paris: I didn’t watch The Simple Life and I’d never even seen a Hilton hotel (let alone stayed in one), but there she was smiling back at me from her book cover, so care-free and glamorous. What wasn’t to love?
Between bedtimes, dress codes, and trying to convince my mom to buy me a cell phone (I wanted to eventually follow Paris’s advice to own many phones, so one could be lost all the time), I busied myself filling in the cultural gaps of my small-town existence. 2004 was a different time, but my actions then were the beginning of a cycle that has continued to repeat itself.
Today, nearing 30, I can see my obsession with Confessions of an Heiress for what it was: The first of many attempts to hide my modest upbringing from the world. The 13-year-old who considered “act ditzy, lose things” to be genuinely good advice turned into a 14-year-old who asked for the same Care Bear Marissa Cooper had in an episode of The O.C., who in turn became a 19-year-old who begged her roommate to teach her how to pronounce Sauvignon Blanc so she could pretend to be a wine connoisseur on a date. I’ve never been ashamed of my upbringing, per se, but through my teen years and 20s I’ve dedicated an embarrassing amount of energy to proving that I’m capable of so much more than people expect of my hometown, my school, and my family’s socioeconomic status. My irrational fear of being caught out if I didn’t eat the right foods, wear the right things, or know how to pronounce the right words is one I’ve never quite been able to shake.
When I think of Paris writing Confessions of an Heiress, I wonder whom she was really writing for. Was she writing for teenage girls who dreamed of fame and mansions and stiletto heels, or was she, like me, working unnecessarily hard to construct an image of a person she desperately wanted people to think she was? Perhaps the real confession is that Paris didn’t really do any of the things she wrote about — and that she didn’t expect us to either. The answer to that question, only Paris can answer, but until then I will think of her guide to life every time I catch myself trying to impress someone with something as mediocre as a sushi order.