“It was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you’re just the butt of so many jokes.”
In our early 20s, many of us are still figuring out what we want from our lives and who we are. In her early 20s, Monica Lewinsky was at the centre of a huge political scandal.
Lewinsky, who became an intern at the White House at 21, had an affair with then-President Bill Clinton.
Impeachment proceedings were launched against Clinton, but he survived and remained a popular president until 2001, with his legacy still praised today.
But Lewinsky, despite not being the only person in the affair, was dragged through the mud, slut-shamed, made a scapegoat for what happened and humiliated on a global scale.
In a new interview with John Oliver for his show Last Week Tonight, Lewinsky talked candidly about the way she was publicly shamed.
She revealed that what she went through was “an avalanche of pain and humiliation”. “And I think that at 24 years old it was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you’re just the butt of so many jokes, of being misunderstood,” she added.
While the slut shaming was difficult to deal with, Lewinsky also found that people were making fun of the way she looked, which has had a lasting effect.
“It was not only just the slut shaming, not only having had an intimate relationship with someone who was now describing me in a way that no young woman would want to be described, there was also my looks,” she said. “I was very about the touch ups and make up. Part of my vanity now comes from the wound of having been made fun of for my weight, people saying I was unattractive.”
Lewinsky has previously written about the affair with Clinton, saying that it was consensual. In the interview with Oliver, she said that she had made mistakes and said and done stupid things, but the experience after the affair was “terrifying”.
Lewinsky, who is now a social activist who speaks out against online bullying, was one of the first people whose public shaming was driven by the internet, which she says has now made things much worse.
“With the advent of the internet and of course social media we now have situations where it’s exacerbated beyond I think what anybody could have imagined initially,” she said. “The anonymity that comes with that, that’s unleashed these whole new personas for people.”
Lewinsky’s public shaming has had huge long-term effects - she told Oliver she found it difficult to get a job even years after leaving the White House. But by speaking up about her experiences, Lewinsky has turned what was a horrific incident for her, and a point of shame for all those who mistreated her, into something which can hopefully help prevent others from being publicly shamed.