The moustache movement

Celebrating nine years of upper lip sweaters and selective shaving

By Jacey Gibb, Assistant Editor

Brace yourselves: Movember is coming

It’s the time of year that girlfriends dread and pre-pubescent boy-men shy away from. Greasy prickles of facial hair spring forth on faces everywhere, making every moment you’re out in public feel like you’ve walked into an ‘80s porno sans the funky, bass-ridden background music.

But while most guys are busy obsessing over whom of their group can grow the grossest ‘stache possible, the real reason behind Movember’s inception is often overlooked: the promotion of men’s health and an awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, as well as depression among men.

[quote]the real reason behind Movember’s inception is often overlooked: the promotion of men’s health and an awareness for prostate and testicular cancer.[/quote]

Admittedly, I’ve always found myself to be somewhat critical of Movember. Most of my friends (along with 90 per cent of the male population) look terrible with moustaches, and I’ve always found myself thinking “hypocrite” when I see someone’s Movember fundraising profile still at $0 halfway through the month. But in an effort to shave the stigma I have about the cause and get a handle(bar) on Movember, I decided to speak with the most active Movember mustachio I know, Mark Guest.

“It’s coming in a bit better,” Guest reassures me over Skype that he’s honed his moustache growing abilities since he first became involved with Movember three years ago. But Guest’s ability to look good while pulling off a seasonal ‘stache isn’t the only reason he does Movember—his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer when Guest was only 14. “He’s been fighting it for a little over 10 years now. My two uncles have also had prostate cancer and had to undergo a couple of different treatments for it. That’s why when I was first introduced to the idea of Movember, it was something I just latched onto pretty quickly.

“Our fathers were raised to kind of keep their heads down about this kind of stuff and not talk about it. It’s sort of that whole macho mentality of ‘I’m okay. Everything’s fine.’ Men are generally more uncomfortable talking about health issues like prostate and testicular cancer, but also depression.”

Born in Melburne Australia in 2003, Movember has already managed to achieve global recognition, with over 850,000 people registered on the Movember website last year alone. But the cause is still very much in its infancy, compared with something like breast cancer, which has been receiving widespread media attention for years. In fact, Movember didn’t even achieve official charity status in Canada until last year.

“This isn’t the breast cancer juggernaut, where it’s been going on for years with ads on national TV. There are still people even in Canada who haven’t heard about Movember.”

The first year Guest took part in Movember, he did so alone and wasn’t able to raise a significant amount of donations. But in 2010, he joined facial hair forces with several friends and they registered as a team. Over the years, Guest has individually raised about $4,000 for Movember, in addition to all the money that was raised collectively by the group via organized pub nights.

“One thing I like about Movember is that we don’t make people walk or run 10km on Saturday mornings in order to raise money.” Taking the place of morning marathons are pub nights that the team organizes, promotes, and then executes. Guest has also noticed that once people are together and           get talking about issues like prostate cancer, a lot of the stigma melts away. “I think it’s been hugely effective. I’ve had multiple people come up talk to me about how their dad won’t get checked or something. It creates an opening for a conversation about a very important issue.”

While the monetary aspect of Movember plays a big part in supporting men’s health, the moustaches themselves are the main driving force. Faces become billboards advertising awareness for issues that otherwise don’t receive a lot of attention. From what Guest can tell, the majority of the population aren’t familiar enough with things like prostate and testicular cancer—something he hopes to change, one moustachioed conversation at a time.

“If you catch prostate cancer early enough, it’s very manageable. That moustache starts a lot of conversations. A lot of my friends’ dads went and got checked when they hadn’t yet because of the conversations we had.”

Prostate cancer usually affects men around the time they reach 40, but it’s also never too soon to get checked out. Factors like your family’s medical history, personal dietary habits, and even your environment can all have an impact on things like prostate cancer. Something that I personally didn’t know was that prostate cancer is something that all men inevitably develop. The only thing we can do is make sure we catch it at an early enough stage so that it can be kept on a smaller, more manageable level. Testicular cancer occurs a lot less frequently than prostate, but the same stigma surrounds it. “You know, some people think ‘It’s gross that the doctor is making sure my balls don’t have cancer’ but if you think about it, they also check to make sure your eyes work properly. So what’s the difference?”

Now, don’t get me wrong—I fucking hate cancer. Already in my life, I’ve lost loved ones to this shitty disease and I’ve had to admit to myself that I’ll probably lose more in the future; so the more being done to find a cure, the better. But I’ve always been a bit resentful towards Movember. To me, the month has become increasingly more obsessed with who can grow the greasiest train wreck above their upper lip and less about men’s health.

“Sure, some people may not be taking the financial aspect of Movember as seriously, but that’s okay. As long as they’re raising awareness, that’s great.” Guest also defends people who might not have raised as much money as others, with a logical explanation. “Donations for any cause are most often due to an emotional response from the donor…So if my friend with no association with the disease is asking for money from the same people that I’m making cry with my story, he isn’t going to get donations. But he is going to help raise awareness.”

With the growing success of Movember though comes more complications. At the moment, Movember is primarily run by volunteers, but as the cause grows, the need for full-time staff will increase. Guest’s comparison between prostate/testicular cancer and breast cancer especially caught my attention, because of how commercialized the cause has become. Everywhere you go, there are pink ribbons for sale or pink merchandise supporting breast cancer—something that Guest agrees shouldn’t be the case.

“Companies are just slapping a pink ribbon on things and donating only a fraction of a percentage while making a killing off of it. You know, there’s pink coffeemakers and stuff like that now and it’s like ‘No, this disease is horrible. Don’t make it into some wonderful, fairy tale about coffee machines.’ You try not to be pessimistic, but at the same time, you hope that you don’t see blue coffeemakers that aren’t really raising any money for the cause.” Not all company involvement has to be negative though, considering Guest’s employer at the time of last year’s Movember, Hudson’s Canadian Tap House in Edmonton, made a significant donation to his team and are huge supporters of Movember.

Despite any worries of commercialization, Guest is preparing to once again don a moustache this month and is thrilled about how far the cause has come since he first got involved. “The nice thing is that over the last three years, there’s been a huge increase in the amount of guys growing moustaches. Which means there’s a lot more awareness out there. You don’t get that weird look anymore; you get that nod of approval. Most 20-year-olds now know about Movember and now it’s just about letting the older generations know, because they’re the ones that need to get checked.”

Guest’s drive and motives behind his annual Movember moustache are incredibly inspiring, but I have to disagree over the casual Movemberite mentality. If you’re going to grow a moustache and take part in this amazing cause, make sure you’re doing it for all of the right reasons. Men’s health advocates have enough assholes to worry about without adding your name to the list.


Image L – R: Tristan Power, Scotty Sowinski, Adam Martinson, Mark Guest