Monica Lewinsky: “I Lost My Reputation and My Dignity” After “Improbable Romance” With President Bill Clinton

Monica Lewinsky TED2015 Talk
Monica Lewinsky detailed the aftermath of her affair with President Bill Clinton, and explained why she's finally speaking out at TED2015 Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

She wants to bury the blue dress. Monica Lewinsky gave a TED Talk at the 2015 event in Vancouver, Canada, on Thursday, Mar. 19, during which she brought up her infamous affair with former President Bill Clinton back in 1998, while she was a White House intern and he was the leader of the free world.

"At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss," Lewinsky, now 41, said. "At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences… Who didn’t make a mistake at 22?"

"Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply," she revealed. "In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal, and media maelstrom like we had never seen before."

Lewinsky, of course, was referring to the infamous Starr Report released online in 1998, which detailed the most salacious details — and even secret conversations — from her affair with Clinton. "This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution," she told TED2015 attendees. "It was the first time traditional news was usurped by the Internet, a click that reverberated around the whole world."

She also acknowledged her transgressions. "Now, I admit I made mistakes—especially wearing that beret," she joked. "But the attention and judgment that I received—not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented. 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."

bill and monica
A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky meeting President Bill Clinton at a White House function submitted as evidence in documents by the Starr investigation and released by the House Judicary committee September 21, 1998. Getty Images

The result was devastating. "In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity… I lost my sense of self," she told the crowd. "When this happened to me, 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyber-bullying."

After years away from the spotlight, Lewinsky was moved to action by the 2010 suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi. (Clementi jumped to his death after students publicly revealed a private video of him with another man.) Calling Clementi's death "tragic" and "senseless," Lewinsky said Thursday: "It served to recontextualize my experiences. I began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see something different. Every day online, people — especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this — are so abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day."

Lewinsky referred to society's "culture of humiliation."

"Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop," she pleaded. "We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy… I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. It was empathy and compassion from friends, family, coworkers, even strangers that saved me. Empathy from one person can make a difference. Compassionate comments help abate the negativity."

As for why she's finally speaking out on this matter after years and years of silence? "Because it’s time," she said. "Time to stop tiptoeing around my past … Time to take back my narrative. Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it. I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick, or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story."

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