Paris Hilton Says She Created a ‘Barbie Persona’ to Avoid the Pain of Her Abusive Past: ‘I Wanted to Hide Who I Was’

Paris Hilton is revealing the truth behind her glamorous public persona.

"Paris Hilton the character is not the real me," the entrepreneur tells PEOPLE. "It was an outer shell. How the world perceives me and who I really am is so different."

In fact, the former reality star, who went on to create a billion dollar perfume empire, says she manufactured a "Barbie persona" in order to detract from some very real pain in her past.

In her new documentary, This Is Paris, premiering on YouTube on Sept. 14, Hilton says that as a teen at Provo Canyon boarding school in Utah, she was physically and emotionally abused on a daily basis for nearly a year.

After she was finally able to leave at 18, "I was so grateful to be out, I didn't want to think about it," she says. Instead, "I just wanted to live my life. Going out and partying was numbing the pain. With the voice, the clothes, I basically created this entire character. I wanted to hide who I really was. Because when you are constantly berated and abused, it will obviously get to you."

(When reached by PEOPLE, Provo Canyon School responded that it had changed management in August 2000 — after Hilton was there — and thus "cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to this time.")

  • For more from Paris Hilton, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

By 2003, when The Simple Life premiered, Hilton, 39, had become a tabloid fixture and the subject of worldwide fascination, a notion she welcomed with open arms.

"At Provo, I had issues wanting attention and love," she says. "With fame, I got all of that. I felt loved and happy and proud. And it was a big 'F you' to the school like, everything they said to me, look at me now."

It was in filming her documentary that Hilton was finally able to confront her demons and release the pain of her traumatic past.

As for the Paris Hilton character?

"It's fun for some things," she says with a laugh. "But I'm also excited to show the real Paris, who I really am. I'm onto a new life."

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