I always liked Monica Lewinsky.
Back in 1998, I was 20 years old, just a few years younger than she was at the time. Superficially, I looked a little like her — the plus-sized body (though she was probably smaller than me), the round face, the modified “Friends” haircut. People literally would yell out “Hey, Monica!” to me on my way to class at NYU. She lived just a few blocks away from my dorm at the time.
A lot of people were in love with Bill Clinton then (me included). The 1992 election had been particularly exciting. After 12 years of Republicans, two relative cute, young-ish, progressive guys had taken over and they seemed to actually care about the economy and whether people had jobs that they could actually live on.
So when Monica hooked up with Bill, I think a lot of women thought to themselves that they would probably have done the same thing.
The ensuing “scandal” felt like a witch hunt. The idea that a president could potentially be impeached for oral sex (or, ahem, lying about oral sex) was ridiculous to most rational people. I hated the idea that tax dollars were going to paying for special prosecutor Ken Starr’s investigation.
All that aside, at the time, you could not turn on the TV without hearing a “Monica” joke, which was, at least it seemed to me, almost always about her weight. The joke was the same every time — why would the president, the leader of the free world, who could probably get almost any woman he wanted, hook up with a “fat girl” (or, perhaps even worse, a fat, Jewish girl)?
As a fellow fat, Jewish girl, I thought the media response to Monica was kind of scary. I had spent my life trying to un-fat myself because of the judgment of others, but to hear, again and again, that this slightly fat 20-something was undesirable, disgusting, and reviled was particularly revealing. It was like the unspoken judgment of millions of people suddenly became spoken, loudly, and the consensus was that being fat, even a little fat, was the grossest thing that you could be.
In the meantime, I found myself thinking about the reality of what happened versus the judgment of others. The fact was that the most powerful man in our country, a man who combined an incredible IQ with a real compassion for people (in other words, really sexy) was undoubtedly attracted to a fat woman. As a 20-year-old, I found that interesting and, truthfully, heartening, even if the public response to what happened depressed me.
I had taken a short break from dieting in 1997, but I started up again in 1998. Looking back, I think that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal may have contributed to that choice. Nobody wanted to be Monica, nobody wanted to be the butt of the joke.
In 1999, I started law school at NYU Law, and special prosecutor Ken Starr was teaching there. I was really hoping to run into him in the hallway so that I could “accidentally” trip him. No such luck though.
(By the way, if you want some insight into how Clinton and Lewinsky’s shared concerns about their fatness and dieting actually led to their relationship, you must read this wonderful book by Paul Campos.)
Did the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal influence your thoughts on your own fat body? Let’s chat about it in the comments below!
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and her work, click here.