“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss. And at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.”
Thus begins Monica Lewinsky’s latest foray into the public eye, this time a TED Talk she gave in Vancouver on Thursday. Lewinsky wasted no time in addressing the elephant in the room, a forbidden tryst with President Bill Clinton while she was a White House intern.
The famed affair has drawn fresh attention as another Clinton, Hillary, prepares for a likely presidential run.
But Lewinsky quickly wrote it off as a youthful mistake, much like the sartorial slip-ups of the 90s.
“Now I admit I made mistakes — especially wearing that beret — but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented,” she said. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman.’ I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
Since re-emerging on the national stage, Lewinsky has revamped her image with an outspoken crusade against cyberbullying, the subject of her TED Talk. She said hers was the first major experience of national humiliation brought on by the Internet, and said that it has since grown out of control.
“Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” Lewinsky told the audience. “We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.”
Some have questioned the timing of Lewinsky’s return to public life, as it coincides with the ramp-up to Hillary Clinton’s expected presidential run. But Lewinsky said during her talk she was spurred to speak out when she saw how damaging cyberbullying could be.
“Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it,” she said. “I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.”