Monica Lewinsky on the journey of reclaiming her 'true self' following the Bill Clinton scandal: 'Seeing me in context was just missing'
Monica Lewinsky is looking back at her life with grace.
In the latest episode of Dua Lipa's podcast At Your Service, the anti-bullying advocate, 49, spoke to the singer about her emotional recovery in the wake of her affair with former President Bill Clinton in 1998, an event that changed her life forever.
In the aftermath of the scandal, Lewinsky says she experienced unprecedented bullying from online trolls during a time when the internet was still evolving, leading to years of therapy and seclusion from public life.
When reflecting on her life now, Lewinsky says she credits young women for forcing the world to reexamine the scandal through her point of view, which in turn, allowed her to discover a newfound mission to help other victims of cyberbullying.
"It was your generation that insisted on reevaluating my story," she told 27-year-old Lipa. "It was fascinating because I think that these younger generations were coming to this story maybe having heard only bits and bobs of the headlines ... [They] hadn't lived through the brainwashing, because that's really what happened through political forces and the media and how that unfurled in '98. It was the younger generations that kind of said, whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute, what happened here?"
Years away from the spotlight allowed Lewinsky to review the state of cyberbullying as it relates to social media, especially following the 2010 death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a gay freshman at Rutgers University who'd been secretly videotaped being intimate with another man by his roommate. After being threatened to be exposed online, the shame and humiliation Clementi felt led him to take his own life.
For Lewinsky, Clementi's death was the moment she realized she had to speak out about her own experience too.
"I started to realize, with the advent of the internet, and now social media had been born, that there were these opportunities that public shaming was now going to be something that more and more people would start to experience," she said. "It wasn't just people who made mistakes or public people, that we were starting to feast on private people's moments that could bring shame and humiliation.
"I thought, 'OK, there might be a place as a poster child for having survived public humiliation, there might be a place for my voice,'" she continued. "That happened alongside a lot of deep healing work that I had started to do that allowed me to be in a place where I could do that, where I could take the risks of kind of 'coming back out.'"
The event also allowed her to view her own experience through her parents' eyes.
"Watching [my mom] process what had happened to Tyler and the pain and anguish of his family," she explained. "That really put my mom back in '98 and I sort of saw through her lens, in a different way, just the fear and panic that she had had, and my dad as well, that they'd had had about me, that worry of me taking my own life, being publicly humiliated to death."
Years later, Lewinsky made the choice to step out on the public stage, first with a 2014 Vanity Fair essay about the culture of humiliation and also a widely-viewed Ted Talk, in attempts to change the narrative of her own story and to give other cyberbullying victims a voice.
"One of the intentions there that I think I went into 2014 was in stepping back out, to be seen as my true self," she explained. "I think that was one of the things that was so lost from the period before. There were certainly the lies, there were the cherry-picked facts, there were all the awful things that I had done or humiliating ways that I embarrassed myself, but there was the totality of me as a person, the multidimensionality of me, seeing me in context was just missing."
Looking ahead, Lewinsky hopes society, especially other woman, can work on understanding the invisible wounds cyberbullying has on victims from an unbiased point of view.
“I think there's work to be done [when it comes to feminism], which is around the imperfect victim," she explained. "And what happens when someone doesn't tick every box of what makes something an easy decision and to know what the right course of action is there."
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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