Monica, an icon for modern women

Who else could be photographed by Herb Ritts and still end up looking like a frump?

WE HAVE a lot to thank Monica Lewinsky for. Zipper Bill likes only two kinds of toys, dear to him since nursery days: girls and guns. Bereft of the former in Martha's Vineyard, he had no choice but to satisfy himself with the latter. It is clear that if he hadn't had his walking, talking, dancing blow-up doll to play with for 18 months, a lot more Tomahawk cruise missiles aka flying phalluses would have seared the skyways. Toys for the boys: the cliche is too good to be true.

But true it is, recasting Monica's provision of fellatio as sustained ground control. Thanks to her, revisionist historians everywhere will surely be reconsidering recent military history. Take the Gulf war, for instance. Governor Bill was being serviced by Dolly Kyle Browning at the time. Had he really been in power, there might have been a lot more "friendly" fire in closed quarters - and fewer bombs and missiles further afield. Women as peacekeepers: another cliche crawls out of the woodwork to comfort us.

Monica, of course, takes no credit for her peacekeeping. In fact, she is failing to take credit for anything at all. She is the woman who holds the world, or certainly celebrity-obsessed America, like putty in her chubby hands, and doesn't know what to do with it. Forget 15 minutes of fame; Monica has had seven months of it and some, more than most attention- seeking American girls-next-door could ever dream of.

And what does she do with it? Nothing, except spill out of a Land Cruiser (couldn't she have hired something bit flashier than a tanker of a vehicle designed to transport families of fatties on day trips to McDonald's, for heaven's sake?) on her big day in a spectacular dereliction of dignity, and then get back into it, backwards, looking like a sack of potatoes trying to defy gravity.

What could she do with it? Everything. She could be the new Oprah Winfrey, the Valley girl who went down on the leader of the free world and rose again to share her humiliation with the nation, the defiantly non-dieting agony aunt beloved of scorned mistresses everywhere.

Hers could be the mouth that put the bite back into chocolate chip cookie sales and the lustre back into lipstick ads, Revlon notwithstanding. She could hit the top of best-seller lists with a self-help manual, "Monica's Magic: Knitting the New Stressbuster". She could make phone sales sexier than any account director ever dreamed of. One call to the big cheese in charge of mergers at AT&T and BT and "It's good to talk" would never seem hackneyed again. Yes, Monica, the contracts are there for your taking.

But this time Monica won't play ball, perhaps because hers has always been a story of all give and no take. The most famous face in America today hasn't even got herself an agent, let alone a personal trainer or image-maker. She misses every chance to milk the situation.

And that's why women love her. Especially British women, for whom body Fascism has never really caught on. Puffy-faced and looking like Jackie O after an Elvis Presley burger binge, this woman doesn't do gyms. She has flunked the fame game, big time, and won our sympathy as a result.

Like the rest of us, she has let everything slip, including her figure. Those meaty, cartoon calves of hers are vintage Empire, the kind still seen beneath blue pleated hemlines of ungroomed wives manning the chutney stall at a WI fete, the kind that the rest of us keep under wraps.

As for the follicle fantasia that is her unfashionable clowning glory, it makes us nostalgic for the days when our mothers would return from the hairdressers, c1970, looking as if their heads had got stuck in the overhead dryer. Thank you, Monica, for making us feel this good, for being the woman we turn to on a bad hair day and come away feeling like Jennifer Aniston by comparison.

Her failures are our failures. Who else could be photographed by Herb Ritts on Malibu beach for Vanity Fair and still end up looking like a frump squeezed into a BHS nightie? Or turn up in a beret looking like a character from Prisoner: Cell Block H who has just discovered lipstick? You and me, is the answer.

Monica Lewinsky is the post-post-feminist icon we've all been waiting for. She's the wannabe Madonna figure who's got the spotlight but doesn't know how to reinvent herself. Neither would we.

Moreover, she has suggested that post-feminism may be a lie after all; that what our hairy Seventies sisters told us, and which we have all been latterly urged to reject, was true all along: the gun is the phallus and vice versa and, no, we mustn't let little boys play with guns. It's time to go back to giving them dolls instead. Just make sure they're not inflatable.

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