Monica Lewinsky could have been Paris Hilton

If Lewinsky had embraced her identity as the world’s most famous other woman, she no doubt could have made a comfortable living, say, appearing in ads for cigars, breath mints, and phallic foods she could insert into her mouth on camera. She could have been Paris Hilton four years before The Simple Life aired. Instead of everyone talking about her reentry into public discourse with the Vanity Fair essay, we’d be wishing she’d shut up.

Instead Lewinsky tried to straddle exploiting her scandal-driven fame and respectability. She hosted a (short-lived) dating show, started a (failed) handbag line, and accepted a $500,000 deal to tell her story to a journalist instead of a rumored $5 million deal from Judith Regan, the controversial publishing mastermind behind OJ Simpson’s If I Did It and other insanely profitable celebrity books.

Lewinsky could afford to turn down offers like Regan’s because she had a well-off family she could rely on in times of financial crisis. Other stigmatized mistresses have had to take any deal they can get. In a personal Facebook status this week, Sydney Leathers, who made a porno and tried to auction off bits of her labia after her 15 minutes of fame as Weiner’s sexting partner, asked her followers to imagine if Lewinsky had come from her working-class background. Depending on your point of view, Leathers told me in a text, Lewinsky would have made smarter or lousier business decisions—but she definitely would have tried to cash in a lot more, rather than trying to simultaneously profit off her infamy and separate herself from her scandal and get back the trajectory her life was on pre-Clinton.