President Bill Clinton admitted to having had what he called an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky while she worked at the White House in 1995–1996. The alleged affair and its repercussions (which included Clinton's impeachment) became known later as the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal.
As a result of the public coverage of the political scandal, Lewinsky gained international celebrity status; she subsequently engaged in a variety of ventures that included designing a line of handbags under her name, being an advertising spokesperson for a diet plan, and working as a television personality.
Lewinsky then decided to leave the public spotlight to pursue a master's degree in psychology in London. In 2014, she returned to public view as a social activist speaking out against cyberbullying, from which she personally suffered when she was publicly ridiculed on the Internet regarding the scandal.
Lewinsky was born in San Francisco, California, and grew up in an affluent family in Southern California in the Westside Brentwood area of Los Angeles and in Beverly Hills. Her father is Bernard Lewinsky, an oncologist, who is the son of German Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany and moved to El Salvador and then to the United States when he was 14. Her mother, born Marcia Kay Vilensky, is an author who uses the name Marcia Lewis. In 1996, she wrote her only book, the gossip biography, The Private Lives of the Three Tenors. During the Lewinsky scandal, the press compared Lewis' unproven "hints" that she had an affair with opera star Plácido Domingo to her daughter's sexual relationship with Clinton. Monica's maternal grandfather, Samuel M. Vilensky, was a Lithuanian Jew, and Monica's maternal grandmother, Bronia Poleshuk, was born in the British Concession of Tianjin, China, to a Russian Jewish family. Monica's parents' acrimonious separation and divorce during 1987 and 1988 had a significant effect on her. Her father later married his current wife, Barbara; her mother later married R. Peter Straus, a media executive and former director of the Voice of America under President Jimmy Carter.
The family attended Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Monica attended Sinai Akiba Academy, its religious school. For her primary education she attended the John Thomas Dye School in Bel-Air. She then attended Beverly Hills High School, but for her senior year transferred to, and graduated from, Bel Air Prep (later known as Pacific Hills School) in 1991.