How Hate Impacted Chelsea Clinton's Childhood

Childhood is hard no matter who you are — in lieu of bills and "grown-up" responsibilities, you're forced to deal with a changing mind and body, strained relationships with peers or family, and the struggle of learning how to navigate the world. And if you're the child of the President of the United States, those hardships only become more difficult to handle. 

Such was the case for Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When Chelsea's father was first inaugurated, she was on the cusp of teenhood at only 12 years old. While promoting a new AppleTV+ docuseries called "Gutsy" with her mother, Chelsea shared how she's felt that "hate" and "the whisper of violence" have surrounded her family since her youth. 

The mother-daughter duo spoke to CBS News about how their own life experience ties into the docuseries' empowering narrative of confident, fearless women, from Hillary learning to wear pantsuits to avoid lewd photographers exploiting her likeness to Chelsea being verbally and physically assaulted by pro-life protesters in 1992.

Her father's presidency exposed Chelsea to vitriol at a young age

Chelsea discusses the concept of — and the importance of rejecting — hate in one of the series' episodes, which is how the conversation with CBS anchor Norah O'Donnell turned toward the animosity Chelsea felt from a young age. "I remember being a little girl in Arkansas and people yelling hateful things at us, at my parents," Clinton recounted. 

"I remember in '92 when my father was running for president, and someone threw a bag filled with probably red food coloring, but they said, you know, 'This is the blood of an aborted baby; it should have been you.' Like, really active hateful rhetoric and actions that just permeated life when I was a kid," she continued. In addition to frightening attacks like this in public, Chelsea was also made to be the butt of some media jokes, resulting in "Saturday Night Live" having to send an apology letter to the young teen. 

Of course, this intense scrutiny didn't stop at the end of Bill's presidency. As her mother ran her own campaign in 2008, Chelsea spoke to various colleges across the country and would visibly bristle when questions unrelated to Hillary's campaign were asked — like queries about the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked about these topics, Chelsea replied with a curt, "I do not think that is any of your business" (per NBC News).

Chelsea learned from her unique childhood experiences

Chelsea Clinton's no-nonsense tact and ability to roll with the punches undoubtedly stems from her unique upbringing in the White House. Her mother served as a role model for bearing the weight of public judgment even when she didn't realize it, like when Chelsea shared with O'Donnell that she never knew why her mother always wore pantsuits until filming the series. 

Indeed, Hillary's monochromatic pantsuits became her signature look, but the choice to wear them was more protective than fashion-forward. According to the former Secretary of State, lewd photographers began taking photos of Hillary when she wore skirts to sell lingerie, make suggestive images of her, and so on. She said, "I just couldn't deal with it. So, I started wearing pants." 

Chelsea has also learned how to navigate these values within the realm of social media. In a fleeting online exchange that briefly united Donald Trump Jr. and Chelsea, she jumped to the defense of former President Trump's youngest son, Barron. When she and Roseanne Barr once feuded on Twitter, Chelsea handled that tense exchange with poise and grace, too — proving that while growing up surrounded by hate certainly wasn't easy, it provided invaluable lessons on being kind and patient to others.