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Skinny jeans – more likely to make you look stupid than damage your health

What are we to make of this story about skinny jeans being bad for one’s health?

Name withheld, by email

If you’re a news editor then the thing to say is “Oh happy day, for bringing me such a blessed news story!” Certain things always warm a news editor’s heart. The summer, bringing with it the arrival of Glastonbury, A-level results and the Notting Hill carnival, allowing newspapers up and down the land to run photos of – as Private Eye would say – young fruity women looking fruity. Stories about Really Serious Issues in which photogenic women are involved (Angelina Jolie talking about violence against women, Amal Clooney talking about anything.) And finally, news stories that can be illustrated, however tangentially, by celebrities. Rarely has there been a story that better illustrates this principle than the one about the alleged dangers of skinny jeans.

The story, for those who missed it last week, is this: a 35-year-old woman in Australia recently suffered some damaged nerves in her legs. Some of you might be wondering why the tale of a random woman having a bit of leg trouble on the other side of the planet would make headlines in Britain and the US. Well, she was wearing skinny jeans at the time and, while the jeans did not cause the problem (this was probably due to squatting while helping a friend move house), they possibly exacerbated it. Already we can see a great story cooking here, can we not? First, it allows us all, once again, to make fun of silly women and their silly clothes, a point emphasised by the name of the report on this case in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry – Fashion victim: rhabdomyolysis and bilateral peroneal and tibial neuropathies as a result of squatting in “skinny jeans”. Catchy! And like I said, little ladies and their clothes, eh? Tchuh! The trouble those girls get into with their narcissistic ways.

But the main thing here is the skinny jeans factor. Skinny jeans, you see, are not just worn by 35-year-old Australians who help their friends move home. They are also worn by celebrities. So while Kate Moss and Russell Brand might not have actually experienced nerve damage themselves from their jeans – although that might explain some of their most recent displays of behaviour, from her chucking tantrums on EasyJet flights to him believing he affected the outcome of the British election – they can, at the very least, be used to illustrate an article about them. Et voilà, global coverage of the story about a woman in Australia who suffered from a dicky leg.

Nothing new about newspapers using spurious celebrity hooks, right? Why, only last week there was a story about how there has been a rise in eating disorders among young people due to their exposure to “celebrity bodies”. Oh my God, it’s official! Celebrities literally cause mental illness! According to, er, one paediatrician. If you read a little further into the story (although, really, who has time to read beyond the headlines, amirite?) you’d encounter views from many other experts, including the brilliant Professor Janet Treasure (who, full disclosure, was formerly my doctor and is a goddess among mere mortals), saying that, actually, it is likely other factors are playing a part. Factors such as greater public awareness and, crucially, sufferers having to wait longer to get the treatment they need. But none of those have anything to do with celebrities.

The desperate need for a celebrity factor in a news piece can often obscure what the actual story is. To reiterate, skinny jeans did not cause this poor woman’s trouble – rather, it was squatting, while helping a friend move house. So the real story here, it seems to me, is that no one should ever help a friend to move house. This is not only a terrible health hazard, as the Australian woman has proven, but a guaranteed way to destroy a friendship. When I moved in with a chap once, he made me carry a sofa first down a flight of stairs and then up another in the belief that hiring moving men was a show of profligacy and hedonism on a par with buying a solid gold sofa and then lying on it every day, whiling away the hours by smoking opium. I consider it a testament to my Mother Teresa-like nature that we are still on speaking terms.

The other important issue not being discussed here is that skinny jeans are stupid. Not because they cause nerve damage – and to be honest, nothing about that story makes sense to me; as anyone who’s been near a pair of skinny jeans recently knows, they are now composed of so much Lycra that they’re basically leggings with a trompe l’oeil denim effect. No, what I mean is that skinny jeans are stupid because they look stupid. Along with Ugg boots and stupid phone “accessories”, they will be a key fashion piece in movies made in 20 years time making fun of life in the early 21st century. Men, I implore you in particular: I appreciate that sun’s out, guns out, but please do not accessorise said guns with skinny jeans. Just seeing a man in skinny jeans in the heat makes me weep at the thought of what pharmacies call his “personal hygiene”.

So, too long, didn’t read? Short version: are skinny jeans a health risk? Probably not. Are skinny jeans ugly and smelly? Yes, for sure. This column: always here to help!

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com.

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