Comment: Not all cruel jibes qualify as bullying

"It is not ok to treat people like this." Model Jodie Marsh expressed her outrage over the interview with How Clean Is Your House star, Kim Woodburn on TV show, Loose Women yesterday. She described it as "bullying, pure and simple". She was one of over 3 thousand viewers who made official complaints to the television watchdog Ofcom relating to the treatment of the 76-year-old who stormed off the show on Wednesday.

Marsh wrote, "Having watched the Kim Woodburn interview I couldn't not make a complaint! It was bullying, pure & simple. I'm disgusted & feel that daytime TV needs to get with the times & realise this isn't acceptable..."She also shared a screengrab of her email, which said: "It was very upsetting to watch and in my opinion was very harmful towards Kim.

"I would not want the younger generation listening to this and thinking it's ok to treat people this way."

Irresponsible television?

Woodburn appeared on the ITV show to face Coleen Nolan after the pair fell out while appearing in Celebrity Big Brother in 2017. After an initial segment to see the women try to bury the hatchet, the discussion descended into insults, with some of the panel accused of 'muttering under their breath' while Kim spoke about her tough upbringing. They can be heard saying sarcastically 'we know' while Kim sobbed. She said, "You can laugh all you want. I'm going to tell you something now and then I"m going to leave. I had a very, very sad childhood, a brutal childhood, it was terrible. Then when I went into the Big Brother house I was very upset in that house and I pretended I wasn't, I pretended I was fine.' Coleen then retorted: 'We got this every day as well', whilst Coleen's sister Linda said, 'We know, we've heard it.' A very frustrated Kim shouts 'she is thrash' while pointing her finger at Coleen Nolan and then stormed out of the studio. As Coleen attempted to throw to an ad break, Kim could be heard off-camera continuing to shout out that Coleen is 'trash' and accused her of being a 'bully'.

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Viewers immediately took to social media to accuse the show's panellists, including Nolan, of "ganging up" on Woodburn."Well done for empowering women there, inviting 76-year-old Kim Woodburn on and calling her talentless, two family members and her friend ganging up on one person, making her cry."

Bullies, nasty witches with zero talent... @loosewomen Fell away from the show big time after the panel versus Kim, watched it for years...No apology either. The loose women don’t like being insulted but don’t mind doing the insulting. Bullying pensioners isn’t entertainment!! Very poor... 

'Disgusted with @loosewomen for not offering an apology for bullying Kim Woodburn on yesterday’s show, even as she was breaking down whilst talking about her troubled childhood. Utterly despicable!! Bunch of bitter, b***hy egotistical harridans #LooseWomen

@LeighBryan wrote: "Ofcom I find the behaviour displayed by the hosts on Loose Women to be disgusting towards Kim Woodburn, especially while discussing mental health on the same show. Bullying a guest and discrediting her experiences with child abuse isn't entertaining."

"Ugly and upsetting"

Nolan rejected accusations she was a bully and said: “I didn’t want to do the reunion. It was the producers who said she wanted to make peace. I agreed because I was happy to draw a line under past differences. From the moment she arrived, it was clear Kim didn’t want to make up. Now I wish I could go back in time and not do it. It was ugly, upsetting and unpleasant for everyone. She hates me for a reason I will never understand.”

The viewers are right. It is not ok to treat anyone like that - no matter what their backstory is (Kim previously said that her defensiveness comes from an abusive childhood). It is undoubtedly a case for irresponsible television, purely in chase of ratings - it also made for very uncomfortable viewing.

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Trivialising the issue

Bullying has been getting a lot of attention lately - and that is a good thing. Anti-bullying campaigns, awareness days and how it impacts us online are all welcome discussions. Teaching our children (and colleagues) to be kind to one another, empathetic and cognisant is essential. But are we using the bullying term too loosely?  Do we risk trivialising bullying when we use the term incorrectly or reduce what it means? Is being horrible the same as bullying? In short, no.

We know that bullying is tragically real, with devastating consequences. But bullying also has a very specific meaning.

By definition,  bullying must include an imbalance of power (whether it's strength, popularity, or access to information), and is a behaviour that happens repeatedly. When bullying happens, it's crucial to address it immediately and effectively.

In school settings, parents and teachers intervene. Children are warned about the implications sustained bullying can have on others. But not all unkind, rude and name-calling is bullying. You can feel self-conscious and isolated and upset by the behaviour of others without it being bullying.

Cultivated fragility

Eileen Kennedy-Moore is a clinical psychologist. She wrote an article in Psychology Today about the effects of misusing the term.

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"When we fail to distinguish between bullying and ordinary meanness, we trivialise the very serious cases of peer abuse. Also, calling every act of meanness bullying sends an unhealthy message: It says to kids in particular, 'You're fragile. You can't handle it if anyone is even slightly unkind to you.'"

Whether you think the scene on Loose Women this week was bullying or not, it is worth asking ourselves if every perceived slight is a sustained attack on our self-esteem. We need to honestly evaluate every unpleasant encounter, look at the dynamics and respond in a way that requires self-awareness and discernment and strength of mind. We need to teach our children not to be powerless in these situations. Not to automatically succumb to victimhood. It is our responsibility to model these traits ourselves, show our children how to respond intelligently, and reserve the term bullying for the true, damaging and harrowing fallout it creates.

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