Monica Lewinsky is slowly returning to public life after a 10-year hiatus. In a TED Talk on Thursday, she addressed head-on the scandal she was thrown into when her 1998 affair with President Bill Clinton went public. Lewinsky didn't hold back any of the painful details of her story, as she urged the audience to stop our culture of shaming and cyberbullying.
"At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss," began Lewinsky. "At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.
"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," Lewinsky 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."
See all of her must-read thoughts on what she learned from the Clinton affair.
1. Everyone makes mistakes when they're young: "Who didn't make a mistake at 22?" Lewinsky said, asking for a show of hands. "Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply. 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."
2. She was "Patient Zero" for the dark side of the Internet: "This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution," she said. "It was the first time traditional news was usurped by the Internet, a click that reverberated around the whole world."
"Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide," she added. "I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously."
3. The suicide of a teenager inspired her to fight back against cyberbullying: "In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. ... I lost my sense of self," Lewinsky said. "When this happened to me, 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyberrbullying."
Lewisnky told the story of Tyler Clementi, a freshmen at Rutgers University who killed himself after a roommate filmed him kissing a man. "Tyler's tragic, senseless death was a turning point for me," said Lewinsky. "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."
4. What happened to her is no longer out of the ordinary: Lewinsky's private conversations, secretly recorded by her supposed friend Linda Tripp, were released and soon made widely available. "This was not something that happened with regularity back then in 1998," she said. "And by 'this,' I mean the stealing of people's private words, actions conversations or photos and then making them public. Public without consent, public without context and public without compassion."
Sadly - as evidenced by the celebrity nude hack, Sony scandal and the popular trend of revenge porn - this has begun to occur with stunning regularity.
5. The gossip websites - and their readers - are part of the problem: "For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil," Lewinsky said. "Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers traffic in shame."
"A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry," she continued. "How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks; the more clicks, the more advertising dollars ... We are in a dangerous cycle: the more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click."
6. She hopes to inspire others to fight back against the shame culture: "With every click we make a choice," Lewinsky said, calling for a "cultural revolution."
"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," she said. "Compassionate comments help abate the negativity."
"The Internet is the superhighway for the id," she said, "but online showing empathy to others benefits us all ... Just imagine walking a mile in someone else's headline."
7. She wants to take back her own narrative: When Lewinsky addressed why she decided to resurface now, she said: "The top-note answer was and is: Because it's time. 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."