Whatever happened to Monica Lewinsky?

Monica Lewinsky has had it rough. Arguably no one person in American memory has had their reputation so thoroughly, horrifically wrecked as she did. Her name, face, and sex-stained clothes were paraded about as both political weapon and late-night punchline. It was as though the media was trying to embarrass her into nonexistence, and for a while, it seemed as though they'd succeeded. The former White House intern went underground and avoided the spotlight, but what is she up to now? Did her life turn around? More than 20 years after her uproarious affair with President Bill Clinton, Lewinsky's situation may surprise you. Let's catch up.

She wrote a landmark piece for Vanity Fair

In the years following the scandal and Clinton's impeachment and acquittal proceedings, Lewinsky tried almost everything to get her life in order, but no amount of reinvention seemed to stick. Her frustrating attempts to reclaim her reputation led her to try a public image Hail Mary in June 2014. For the first time, in her words, Lewinsky told her story and shared her reflections in the pages of Vanity Fair. It was a blockbuster feature. Lewinsky's searing, soul-searching essay was nominated for a National Magazine Award, and singlehandedly changed the conversation about Lewinsky as "the other woman" to Lewinsky as "the victim of public scrutiny." Her message—when you're facing the worst, move forward—played a major role in positioning Lewinsky for a new role as an advocate against bullying, in all its ugly forms.

She's had trouble finding a job

Writing for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky detailed the many struggles she faced trying to land a job, due to her reputation from her White House days. "I moved between London, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, Oregon, interviewing for a variety of jobs that fell under the umbrella of 'creative communication' and 'branding,' with an emphasis on charity campaigns," she wrote. "Yet, because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my 'history,' I was never 'quite right' for the position. In some cases, I was right for all the wrong reasons, as in 'Of course, your job would require you to attend our events.' And, of course, these would be events at which press would be in attendance."

"I eventually came to realize that traditional employment might not be an option for me," she added, later in her piece. "I've managed to get by (barely, at times) with my own projects, usually with start-ups that I have participated in, or with loans from friends and family."

She had 'suicidal temptations'

Also in her piece for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky touched upon the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers who committed suicide in 2010 after a video of him kissing another man was posted on Twitter. Lewinsky's mother took the story especially hard, which initially confused her. "And then it dawned on me: she was reliving 1998, when she wouldn't let me out of her sight," Lewinsky realized. "She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal. The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life—a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death. (I have never actually attempted suicide, but I had strong suicidal temptations several times during the investigations and during one or two periods after.)"

"I would never be so presumptuous as to equate my own story with Tyler Clementi's … But in that moment, when I felt the depths of my mother's anguish, I wished I could have had a chance to have spoken to Tyler about how my love life, my sex life, my most private moments, my most sensitive secrets, had been broadcast around the globe," she continued. "I wished I had been able to say to him that I knew a little of how it might have felt for him to be exposed before the world. And, as hard as it is to imagine surviving it, it is possible."

Lewinsky added that in the wake of Clementi's suicide, her own suffering "took on a different meaning." "Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation," she wrote.

She threw shade at Beyoncé

Singer Beyoncé made headlines in 2013 when the song off her surprise eponymous release, "Partition," referenced Lewinsky's infamous stained blue dress. "He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse," Beyonce sings. "He Monica Lewinsky'd all on my gown."

Naturally, the lyric shed a whole new light on the infamous Clinton scandal. And, naturally, Lewinsky couldn't resist throwing a bit of shade at Queen Bey in her piece for Vanity Fair. "Miley Cyrus references me in her twerking stage act, Eminem raps about me, and Beyonce's latest hit gives me a shout-out," she wrote. "Thanks, Beyonce, but if we're verbing, I think you meant 'Bill Clinton'd all on my gown,' not 'Monica Lewinsky'd.'" Game, set, match: Monica Lewinsky.

She's actually been dating

Given the insane amount of public humiliation she went through during the '90s and onward, one would forgive Lewinsky for avoiding the pool of dating. And yet, to her credit, she totally dove right in. "With every man I date (yes, I date!), I go through some degree of 1998 whiplash," she wrote in Vanity Fair. "I need to be extremely circumspect about what it means to be "public" with someone. In the early years post-impeachment, I once left a front-row seat along the third-base line at a Yankees game when I learned that my date—a guy whose company I thoroughly enjoyed—was actually in another relationship. It was only a green-card marriage, but I freaked that we could be photographed together and someone might call the gossip rags. I've become adept at figuring out when men are interested in me for the wrong reason."

"Thankfully, those have been few and far between," she continued. "But every man that has been special to me over the past 16 years has helped me find another piece of myself—the self that was shattered in 1998. And so, no matter the heartbreak, tears, or disenchantment, I'll always be grateful to them." Man. She's definitely stronger than we'd ever be in that situation.

Speaking truth to power

The attention Lewinsky received from Vanity Fair has catalyzed myriad public speaking engagements. At schools and business conferences, she utilizes her experience to focus on the topic of bullying, slut-shaming, and guilt. Her message is clear: "public shaming as a blood sport must stop," and her mission has been well-received. Lewinsky received a standing ovation at Cannes Lions in 2015 and another during her highly acclaimed TED Talk that same year.

"In 1998 I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life," she said from the TED stage, adding that her speech was "not just about saving" herself. "Anyone who is suffering from pain and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it … you can insist on a different ending to your story … we all deserve compassion and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world."  

It's in the bag

Lewinsky began a new chapter in her life by launching her own line of designer handbags through a  business called The Real Monica, Inc. The unstructured purses were all designed by Lewinsky herself, boasting tags that read "Made especially for you by Monica." They were sold online and in stores in New York, California, and Canada.

"Keeping busy and creative was the biggest help in getting through a time of high anxiety and difficulty," she wrote on the company's website. "I started by learning to knit."

The handbag line eventually grew to include a number of purses, carryalls, sling packs, messenger bags and totes, but by 2004, the company had quietly gone belly-up

But don't fret — every once in a while you can still find a Monica bag on eBay, so why not pick one up if you get the chance? It might not have been that classy then, but it's downright vintage now.

The media is on her side now

The best thing to happen to Lewinsky since her first disastrous step into the spotlight? Public opinion seems to be largely on her side now, and her life is buoyed on the media's mass mea culpa. The press is apologizing loudly and unambiguously. It's an exciting time for Lewinsky. Here's hoping she can ride this wave of long-delayed positivity all the way to the top, and put the mess of the '90s in the rear view.

She fled to London

Naturally, constant negative attention is horrid for one's self-esteem, so it's no surprise that Lewinsky has been striving to be known as more than just "that woman." By any metric, she's succeeding. Following the cancellation of her handbag line, Lewinsky went overseas to pursue a master's degree in social psychology at the London School of Economics, but even an ocean away from home, she still faced harsh, unwarranted criticism. Lewinsky told The Guardian that just days after she arrived in England, a woman she'd hoped to befriend told she "shouldn't have come to London" because she "wasn't wanted there." Lewinsky stayed, completing her degree by December 2006.

Lewinsky also participates in therapy and meditation, doggedly making an effort to reorient herself in a world that seemed angry she had stuck around. Just 21 years old when she became involved with President Clinton, the notorious White House intern turned 43 in 2016 and seems to be doing better than ever.

From the headlines to the news beat

While residing in London, Monica Lewinsky took control of the spotlight shining on her by inking a deal with Britain's Channel 5. She appeared as on-camera talent for a number of short segments called Postcards from Monica, traveling around the United States as an infamous, friendly tour guide. 

The series was pitched as "a light-hearted look at American pop culture for British viewers," and when you think about it, a light-hearted tone was the only option. At the time, no one would have taken Lewinsky seriously as a journalist tackling stories of substance, but her notoriety — and her intimate knowledge of life in the States — made her an inspired choice for a TV host across the pond. Her segments consisted of casual fare, including an interview with Bridget Jones's Diary author Helen Fielding and a rundown on the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives. The only thing she wouldn't talk about? Anything relating to American politics, naturally.

According to The Guardian, Lewinsky made a hefty £100,000 (nearly $150,000) for the segments. Now that's how you make the most of a lousy situation.

You know my name

Lewinsky also used her notoriety to score a payday on American television, working as the emcee of a truly bizarre reality show. The series, Mr. Personality, ran on Fox for one season. It was a dating show in which 20 male suitors competed for the affections of one woman. The series played out just like The Bachelorette, but with a twist — all of the suitors competed while wearing terrifying masks

One reviewer at the time called the series "unexpectedly sinister," and any look at the luchador-meets-serial killer masks the suitors had to wear will confirm that this show was the stuff of nightmares. As a result, Lewinsky ended up being one of the least notable aspects of the controversial series. She seemed like less of a ringleader for this carnival of horrors and more of a chaperone for its leading lady. 

Of course, she's on Twitter

Of course she scored the handle @MonicaLewinsky. Who else would want it? But, seriously, this page makes us smile. Positivity, history, and some goofball memes are the staples of Lewinsky's social media presence, and we couldn't be happier for her. For years, we wondered if she was okay, and now she's inspiring us to do as well as her. You go get 'em, girl. You know this whole country owes you one.

Beating bullying

In the aftermath of her affair with the president, Monica Lewinsky became a target for scorn, derision, and hatred from all corners of the political spectrum. Rather than be sympathetic to her situation, the media lacerated her, treating her as though she was the only party responsible for the scandal. 

Today, we can recognize Lewinsky as a young subordinate who got romantically involved with her superior and quickly got in way over her head. It was unwise and perhaps immoral behavior — but it certainly wasn't illegal or deserving of the all-out assault on her reputation. 

The nonstop spotlight on Lewinsky happened around the same time that the internet was becoming mainstream, giving Lewinsky the unenviable position of being the "patient zero" of cyberbullying. She has since used her experience to raise awareness about the dangers of online attacks.

"Every day online, people, especially young people who haven't developed fully and are not emotionally able to handle this, are so abused and humiliated that they can't imagine living to the next day," she's said. "There's nothing virtual about that."