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The Beauty & The Brains
Oral Report
Dear Monica
ILLUSTRATION BY MARK ZINGARELLI

For me, it wasn't important that she speak. If Barbara Walters' television interview with Monica Lewinsky had been a silent movie, I still think the ratings would have been off the charts. I would watch her regardless--after all, this is our living Helen of Troy, and we need to see her in motion--because it is beauty in motion that caught the attention of our president.

"You light up a room when you walk in," he told her. Unbeknownst to our young intern, that lovely compliment is a courtly Southern gentleman's euphemism for "You give everyone in the room an erection."

Thanks to Barbara's invitation, now I, too, could feel the rise; I could watch Monica close-up on television for two indulgent hours. I could stare at the lustrous hair that Samson would envy, the creamy skin that would make a baby's bottom seem rough, and the long, dark lashes that Snow White would covet. Was I imagining that the camera operator dwelled excessively on her open mouth? Or was it inescapable? Those full lips seem made to be bitten; her teeth are blinding.

Poet Patti Smith once wrote a salacious verse, in which a big bad wolf says, "I'll never forget how you/smelled that night. like cheddar cheese melting under/fluorescent light." I think that's what Bill thought when he saw her for the first time. Monica's lighting on Barbara's show was luxurious, but still, there was that ripe, glaring, melting sensation. Monica is so busty, so curvy and soft. My screen may be glass, but Monica's figure conveyed a walking Pillow Book--I could imagine her thighs touching; I could fantasize her yielding in an embrace, holding her lover tight with those arms like a harem girl's.

It seems incredible that the woman who seduced the Most Powerful Man on Earth has never been described as a sexual superstar, because that's exactly what she is.

Is it wrong to describe Monica Lewinsky erotically? It feels a little shocking, and not just because I'm a woman looking at another woman, imagining her lips on mine. No, Monica's figure, mouth, and hair have all been discussed ad nauseam--except for the story that an adoring lover might tell. It seems incredible that the woman who seduced the Most Powerful Man on Earth has never been described as a sexual superstar, because that's exactly what she is. Instead, the media have treated her as some sort of fluke, a flawed nice girl, a lapse in taste.

But Monica's beauty is no exception to the rule. Her quintessential feminine figure and visage have been desirable for centuries. What the National Enquirer taunts as the spectacle of a fat girl, or what Barbara Walters refers to delicately as a "weight problem," is, in fact, one of Monica's most persuasive erotic assets: she has a gorgeous bosom, a girlish waist, and the kind of womanly hips that show thongs what they were made for.

The day after Monica's interview, the lipstick she was wearing--Club Monaco brand, in the color Glaze--sold out at cosmetics counters. But how many women turned to their daughters, their girlfriends, and said, "Listen, sweetheart, if you want to bag one of the big boys, you're going to have to put on a few pounds!" No, even though Monica's makeup, hair, suits, and shoes will be copied without apology, none seem willing to admit to the latest version of the emperor's new clothes: the president's mistress is a plump pigeon. It was her voluptuousness that initially attracted Clinton to her. He could care less about Glaze, and you can imagine that virtually any other man would feel the same way.

Men know that skinniness is more important to women than it is to them, that it is an emotional weapon, and that it has nothing to do with sex appeal.

Let's get the solemn caveat out of the way: yes, some men prefer slender female figures. And some people like pistachio ice cream above all other flavors. So what? What every man knows, however, is how maniacal American women are about their weight, and that it improves a man's status to sport a social X-ray on his arm. Men know that skinniness is more important to women than it is to them, that it is an emotional weapon, and that it has nothing to do with sex appeal.

If mainstream women did an about-face--if Everygirl said, "Tits, ass, and tummies are hot!"--your average man on the street would start sobbing with relief. Finally, they could come out of the closet--so many of them want Monica, not Kate Moss. No other country in the world has a fat-phobia that approaches the United States', and no other culture was able to understand why Monica's desirability was not obvious. When Clinton threatened Saddam Hussein at the height of the impeachment hearings, I read in my local paper that some Middle East commentators reproached Clinton, blaming his aggression on his lustful need to dazzle his ex-mistress. In the Ukraine, a candy company that was eager to impress Clinton named their latest, most delicious chocolate confection the "Monica." The Old World sees Mademoiselle Lewinsky as a courtesan, an erotic icon. In the U.S., people argue whether she's a porky slut or a poor little rich fat girl. The Old World may impose their sexism on Monica--but they have never trivialized her beauty, or denied the power of her sweet face.

 

THE BRAIN
I'm glad I listened to Monica, after all. I'm even more gratified I read the book about her, Monica's Story. Through watching her, I understood Monica's universal erotic appeal. But it's through her words that I have discovered Monica's big secret: she has a big IQ.

Early on in the scandal, I thought Monica was giving herself smarty-pants airs, like when I read that she wanted Vernon Jordan to get her a job where she didn't have to prove herself. No, she wanted a plum position right off the bat. "Well, aren't you special," I thought sarcastically.

But when I learned about Monica's history, I realized she had reason to know she is smarter than most, and she doesn't like to be demure about it. It is one of her "unfeminine" qualities that she is not apologetic when she knows she is savvy about something. With her confidence and the blessing of the president of the United States, why should she take an entry-level job?

Here's what many people can't believe, but it's true: Monica wrote the talking points. She replaced her showboat attorney William Ginsburg after grilling the new lawyers who applied to be his replacement. She may be naive about love, but she is good with the law.

Monica Lewinsky wanted to be president when she was in the second grade. She was extremely precocious, as her mother, Marcia, recounts in Monica's Story. In her early years, she went to an academically "daunting" private school and excelled beyond most of her peers. With her daddy's money--he's a Beverly Hills oncologist--she could have the best education anyone could buy. Unfortunately, in California (above only the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia in its dismal reading scores) investing in a good education is practically the only way to ensure getting one.

This big girl should have been mentored to run the world, not run little games around the little men who inhabit it.

Instead, when Monica's parents divorced, her father stopped paying for some of the upper-middle-class benefits she had grown up with. She was put in public school--at a time when the state's schools were already famous for their out-of-control decline. Earlier, her father had also refused to pay for a typical Bat-Mitzvah--he said he'd do a more modest birthday party--although he was happy to shell out money for the prominent occasion when her younger brother came of age.

Monica's entry into womanhood was ritualized instead by sending her to a fat farm. Welcome to puberty, dear.

At the end of high school, in the mistake that dwarfs all others, Monica's father wouldn't pay the tuition for the four-year colleges she preferred. Instead, he advised her to save up money while attending a low-tuition community college. Again, you have to appreciate the unfortunate situation in California schools: community colleges are overwhelmed with students who require the basics of reading and writing that they never learned in grade school. Obviously, Monica was bored from the day she arrived.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"--we understand that scorn to be one of sexual rejection. But what results when a woman's intelligence is disdained just as cruelly? Gifted young women like Monica dwell in a purgatory of thwarted ambition. They find that while braininess and aggression are not encouraged, artful manipulation is available as the most powerful device in the feminine arsenal. Monica's byzantine designs to further her affair with Clinton are the brilliantly neurotic symptoms of someone, who, as we say, "has too much time on her hands." This big girl should have been mentored to run the world, not run little games around the little men who inhabit it.

Father Lewinsky could have saved himself a few bucks if he had celebrated his daughter's coming of age with all due seriousness, and invested some modest thousands in her college career. She might well be practicing law now, instead of practicing scandal-celebrityhood to pay off millions in legal bills.

There's a moral lesson here, but it's not the one
we heard on Barbara Walters' show

There's a moral lesson here, but it's not the one we heard on Barbara Walters' show: if you don't want to waste your children's potential, give them the best education you can afford--whether that means time, money, or both. When I finished reading Monica's Story, I made a vow to my eight-year-old daughter: "I am never going to make decisions that underestimate your intelligence--your education is never going to be on a back burner."

An ambitious woman could be the president rather than blow the president. But the groupie tradition will die hard if our culture's presumption of second-class feminine citizenship is laid on our daughters' heads for yet another century. Monica's beauty will continue to dazzle those around her for another decade or two--longer, if she drops the disingenuous fat-girl crap--but what will become of her native intelligence? What will happen to her neglected education, to her smarts that have been shamed and condescended to? Monica has already met the result of that dead-end prophecy, and she hates to look in the mirror--yes, Linda Tripp is your future, baby, if you don't change things now. The beauty with brains needs the courage of the Amazons, and the respect of a Trojan Army, if bedtime stories like these are ever going to turn out differently.

Susie Bright www.susiebright.com is the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series (Simon & Schuster), a columnist for Salon.com, and the author of the forthcoming "Full Exposure" (HarperSanFrancisco).

 
 
           
     

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009