In the last few weeks, press briefings at the White House have become noticeably scarce, and — when Press Secretary Sean Spicer does step up to address reporters' questions — those interactions are more frequently taking place off-camera. As an explanation for the changes, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon only told The Atlantic on Tuesday that "Sean got fatter." It was an answer that avoided any real discussion around government transparency and press access, which was problematic in and of itself — but when Chelsea Clinton called out Steve Bannon's fat-shaming, she pointed out another issue with his explanation.
Clinton shared a tweet containing Bannon's quote to The Atlantic on Tuesday morning, writing her own commentary alongside it. "The White House using fat shaming to justify increased opacity," she wrote. "2017."
Clinton's tweet pretty accurately summed up the two big issues present in Bannon's explanation. First, it didn't address the White House's worrying shift towards making things "not reportable" to the public, as The Atlantic wrote. And joke or not, Bannon's glib answer adds to the already pervasive amount of body shaming people encounter every day, implying that if people gain weight, they are not worthy of being on camera.
Both Democrats and Republicans attacked Clinton's tweet, calling it an overblown response to something trivial or worth ignoring. But Clinton doubled down on her response, tweeting, "Fat shaming isn't a joke I find funny. Ever."
And that's exactly it. Even if you dislike the person on the receiving end of a joke or an insult (and something tells me Clinton likely isn't the biggest Bannon fan, but that's just a theory), the words you choose to use when criticizing them matter. If you use words that shame people of a certain weight, sexuality, background, or gender, you are expanding that criticism to an entire community, not a single individual. As J.K. Rowling aptly explained in a series of tweets recently: if you can't criticize someone without reaching for words that demean an entire group of people, you're part of the problem.
To then use a prejudiced insult to explain away the press' diminishing access to government information makes a mockery out of the American public — for failing to be transparent with them — as well as anyone who has been fat shamed in the past. Standing up against that isn't trivial. In fact, it's the opposite: it's the kind of small thing we all need to speak up about in our day-to-day lives if we want to see big changes come around in society.