Bristol University bans ‘fatphobic’ language used by sports clubs and fitness instructors

Marie Claire Dorking
·3-min read
Bristol university is banning sports and fitness instructors from using certain phrases it has deemed fatphobic. (Image posed by model, Getty Images)
Bristol University is banning sports and fitness instructors from using phrases deemed fatphobic. (Image posed by model, Getty Images)

Sports captains and fitness instructors at Bristol University have been banned from using certain phrases after they were deemed to be fatphobic.

As part of the new initiative, telling students to “work off last night’s pizza” or “burn those calories” will no longer be allowed.

Mandatory training on the harmful impact of weight stigma will be introduced for sport and exercise staff and students running teams at the university this term.

The language ban comes after the student council condemned the “insidious presence of diet culture” at the university, citing phrases such as “let’s slim those waists” as potential evidence of “thin privilege”.

READ MORE: Obese woman reveals reality of going to the gym as a 'fat person'

One of the students who helped implement the new measures, Abbie Jessop, explained in a blog that the hope was that the changes would make sport and exercise more inclusive for everyone.

“The aim is to create positive change in student activities at the University of Bristol in which movement is free from stigmatising attitudes for all bodies,” the blog explains.

“Through these actions, sport and exercise will be less harmful for both those with eating disorders and those at risk of developing eating disorders as well as more inclusive and positive for all students and staff. We call for other UK universities to follow suit.”

The review follows a motion passed by the university’s student union back in June: “Changing our language to embrace body positivity”. It commits to undertaking training around the “harmful impact of weight stigma, diet culture and fatphobic language throughout student life and to develop a greater understanding of eating disorders”.

As part of the initiative, the student union will conduct a “full review of sports, exercise and health messaging to ensure that it is not triggering”.

Read more: Is it offensive to use the word 'fat'?

Fitness instructors at Bristol university will now undergo training to ensure the phrases they use aren't fatphobic.  (Image posed by model, Getty Images)
Fitness instructors at Bristol university will now undergo training to ensure the phrases they use aren't fatphobic. (Image posed by models, Getty Images)

Commenting on the new measures to be introduced, Leah Newton and Carly Wilkinson, co-founders of WorkEDout – a campaign to open up the conversation between fitness professionals and those suffering from eating disorders – said the university initiative was an important step.

“It is essential that motions such as this be introduced within all universities,” they said.

“Doing so has the potential not only to change lives, but also to save them; [we must] empower both students and staff to explore, understand and begin to eradicate diet culture and fatphobic language within these settings”.

Meanwhile Peter Burrows, physical activity and health development officer at Bristol University Sports Exercise and Health, said the motion was a “fundamentally necessary opportunity” to address the use of certain types of language in physical activity.

“As a progressive, research-driven institution, we owe it to both our own and the wider community to take steps to improve here and share best practice, setting a new precedent in this arena,” he said.

“This student-led, insight driven approach gives me confidence that we can start to change the current, harmful narrative in exercise messaging that negatively affects our student community.”

Read more: Will calories on menus really help us lose weight?

Bristol is calling on other universities to follow its lead, but critics of the initiative have described the move as an example of “cancel culture”.

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, said: “Soon even the word ‘athletic’ will be denounced for triggering exercise-averse undergraduates,” as reported by the Daily Mail.

The move comes after a gym came under fire last year for sending out a marketing email asking members whether they can “pinch” or “grab” their fat.

The email went on to urge its members to “call it what it is... FAT”.

After the email was shared by one member and caused a backlash, the gym responded to apologise and explain that they would be “re-training” the staff member responsible for the email to “be supportive and encouraging”.