Twenty years after the event that made her a household name and changed US politics forever, Monica Lewinsky has revealed she still carries the pain of her affair with Bill Clinton.
At the time, she was 24 years old and a White House intern whose only previous job had been selling ties.
He was 51 years old and the US president.
The fallout from their relationship – the blue dress with the president’s DNA on it, independent prosecutor Ken Starr’s graphic report – saw Clinton narrowly escape impeachment and Lewinsky become a pariah.
In a new essay this week for Vanity Fair, she wrote that she feels “regret every day”.
Now 44, she was diagnosed “several years ago” with post-traumatic stress disorder, “mainly from the ordeal of having been publicly outed and ostracised back then”.
Her “trauma expedition”, as she called it, “has been long, arduous, painful, and expensive. And it’s not over”.
Last year Lewinsky joined the #MeToo movement on Twitter, and on her own Twitter account calls herself a bullying preventer, social activist, speaker and ‘knitter laugher’.
As Business Insider put it in January, she’s gone “from reluctant celebrity to public activist, twenty years after she was thrust into the public spotlight”.
But her new role and life have been hard won.
Post-Clinton, Lewinsky tried to patch together careers including handbag designer, TV host and weight loss spruiker for Jenny Craig.
She was paid well – reportedly $1 million for the Jenny Craig gig and another $500,000 for a tell-all book – but nothing stuck.
In 2005, she vanished from the public eye by moving “to study, to challenge myself, to escape scrutiny and to reimagine my identity”, she told Vanity Fair.
She studied social psychology at the London School of Economics, graduating with a Master of Science in 2006.
Her thesis title? ‘In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third-Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity’, according to Gazette Review.
After wrapping up her studies, “I moved between London, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, Oregon”, she said.
She interviewed “for a variety of jobs that fell under the umbrella of ‘creative communication’ and ‘branding’. with an emphasis on charity campaigns” but kept getting turned down.
In 2010, she was moved to become an anti-bullying activist when she saw her mother in tears over the suicide of 18-year-old US university student Tyler Clementi.
Clementi jumped off a bridge after being secretly streamed via webcam kissing another man.
These days, her Twitter feed is filled with flicks at anti-bullying campaigns, inspirational quotes from the likes of Maya Angelou (“If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be”) and the odd discussion about handcrafts.
A public speaker, she’s presented at a Forbes conference and given an 18-minute TED talk in Vancouver called ‘The Price of Shame’. The New York Times reported she has appeared at benefits and “joined a feminist networking group”.
Two years ago, she teamed up with Vodafone to create anti-bullying emojis and GIFs.
Her interest in that field? “The shame sticks to you like tar,” she said.
While she’s had a hard time finding permanent employment, Lewinsky “meditates, does therapy, hangs out with friends and volunteers”, according to The Times.
She’s also back on the celebrity circuit. In 2016, she beamed on the red carpet at an international best-dressed celebration held by Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, and in 2017 rubbed shoulders with Liv Tyler and Katy Perry at an Oscars after party.
She’s said she goes on dates but has never married.
Clinton is still on her mind, she wrote in her latest Vanity Fair essay.
“Now, at 44, I’m beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern,” she wrote.
“I’m beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot.”