Bristol becomes first university to ban ‘fatphobic’ language in sport

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  • The Northern uni's own SU is on a mission to create a safe and inclusive space for exercising

    Words by Maya Coomarasamy

    There’s been some serious progression in the last few years when it comes to body positivity, yet exercise classes that instruct us to ‘slim those hips’ and ‘burn those calories’ remain all too common.

    And according to Abbie Jessop, chair of the Wellbeing Network at Bristol University’s Student Union, this language continues to perpetuate weight stigmas.

    In a recent blog post for the Higher Education Policy Institute, the recent graduate wrote that such sayings ‘communicate the toxic ideals of diet culture, notably that thin equals health and exercise is only a compensatory activity to burn calories.’ 

    In fact, research done by the university found that as many as 20 percent of students believe they might have an eating disorder, highlighting the rampant need to create a more positive attitude around exercise and wellbeing. 

    And that’s just what the university is doing. Launching a campaign to create a more inclusive fitness environment, the university is now training fitness instructors and sports societies ‘on the harmful impact of weight stigma, diet culture and fatphobic language throughout student life and to develop a greater understanding of eating disorders.’

    Calling on other UK universities to join the initiative, Jessop says it’s aim is to change the rhetoric to create ‘sports programmes that focus on making exercise and movement accessible and fun, and free of weight stigma, fatphobia and body-shaming.’ 

    By switching up the potentially harmful talk that surrounds the fitness industry, the student union is hoping that it can be part of the solution in reducing the amount of eating disorders in higher education. 

    Working with the UK’s largest eating disorder charity, BEAT, the university hopes that educating staff on issues such as diet culture and fatphobic language will create a healthier culture around exercise and reduce the risk of disordered eating.

    For more resources and support on eating disorders, visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk

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