Bristol University eradicates 'fatphobic' language from sport

7 September 2020, 10:23

Fatphobic language has been banned at Bristol Uni (file iimage)
Fatphobic language has been banned at Bristol Uni (file iimage). Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Bristol University fitness instructors and sports societies will be banned from telling students to “burn some calories”, as the student union voted to eradicate “fatphobic” and “diet culture” references.

The university’s student union passed a motion entitled “Changing our language to embrace body positivity”, with a purpose to provide a “more inclusive Sports Exercise and Health programme”.

Sports captains running “exercise-related events” will be told to attend a training session on “raising awareness of eating disorders and diet culture in sports”.

Meanwhile, all gym and fitness coaches must commit to “eradicating diet culture references and fatphobic language in exercise classes” and students will lobby the university to provide funding for training staff about eating disorders.

Examples of prohibited language include telling students to ‘burn some calories’ or saying, ‘let’s slim those waists’.

The University will also get on board, with Bristol’s sports centre working with students and campaign groups to ensure their messaging “is not triggering by avoiding any overt focus on calories or appearance goals”

Peter Burrows, the Physical Activity and Health Development Officer at Bristol University Sports Exercise and Health, described the student motion as, “fundamentally necessary opportunity to begin to address the culture and use of language in physical activity”.

Members of the student society Beat this Together, which promotes eating disorder awareness on campus, worked to pass the motion and one member called for other universities to follow suit.

The recent graduate claimed in a blog that the motion was the first of its kind “to be passed through a student democratic meeting at a UK university”.

She said it was necessary as University of Bristol research found “almost 20 per cent of students thought they might have an eating disorder”.

Committing to implement the motion Rushab Shah, Sports and Student Development Officer at Bristol Student Union, stated: “Diet culture doesn’t have a place here in Bristol.”

Critics have described the move as an example of ‘cancel culture’, claiming that “the policing of language on campuses” has become “unrestrained”.

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, said: “Soon even the word 'athletic' will be denounced for triggering exercise-averse undergraduates.”

But campaign group workEDout, which works to help people with eating disorders enjoy fitness, said: “It is essential that motions such as this be introduced within all universities. Doing so has the potential not only to change lives, but also to save them.”