The secret language of moustaches


Photo: via Etsy, ohdearmolly

Today I looked in the mirror, and a strange, moustachioed man looked back. Add a red cap and it could easily be Super Mario staring back, taking a brief breather between repetitive Princess rescues. And then I remembered why I look like that. It's Movember, and so, for the first time in my life,  I've allowed my upper lip to blossom while subjecting the rest of my face to the razor.

Signing up for Movember, I've discovered, makes you part of a not-so-secret brotherhood. All month, I've been nodding sympathetically at a number of other blokes in my workplace who are sporting similarly malnourished sproutings beneath their nostrils. We don't even need to check whether we're doing Movember – I mean, seriously, why else would anyone grow a moustache? And in particular, grow it in isolation?

When I agreed to do it, I was planning to simply shave off most of the beard I was sporting back then. But then a pedantic colleague pointed me to the rulebook, which clearly states that all participants must start clean-shaven. And so it was that I found myself timidly subjecting myself to a cut-throat razor-wielding barber, who made my cheeks smoother than they've been since I was in primary school.

By embracing Movember, I am embracing one of the things about my body I find most irritating – the speed at which my facial hair grows, which tends to give me a five o’clock shadow by lunchtime. The curse of hairiness kicked in early for me. I remember being given my first electric razor the summer before I went into Year 7. (Yes, that number is "Seven".) Even then, my face had already begun to accumulate the fluffy down of adolescence.

Since then, I’ve either embraced stubble or had to shave every day with a blade – I've never found an electric shaver that could cope with my stubble. That "shaves as close as a blade or your money back" offer would have seen me reclaiming my dough in record time. And as a double-whammy, I have very sensitive skin which inevitably gets irritated by shaving. Back when I first started out, I regularly had more bits of tissue stuck to my cheeks than Norman Gunston.

It's odd that I haven't done Movember before now, actually, as there is no other charity drive for which I am so perfectly genetically equipped. I can't endure the 40 Hour Famine without feeling dreadful hunger pangs, and even though I'm hardly a committed drinker, I'd miss the odd beer during Dry July. But if all I have to do to raise money is endure one moustachioed month, then hey, count me and my over-active follicles in.

In fact, after twenty-odd days of growth, my moustache looks downright intentional. Some friends, in fact, are even advising me to keep it. Although since the more the moustache grows, the more I look like Borat, I have serious doubts abou whether the pro-moustache lobby has my best interests at heart.

The other problem with moustaches is that while they were delightfully daggy ornaments back when Movember started in 2004, best known for gracing the countenances of people like David Boon, Merv Hughes and 'Baby' John Burgess, they're now the province of hipsters. On a recent trip to Melbourne, I spotted dozens of florid mos, some of them waxed or even twirled. They're now a form of affectation, like wearing plate-glass spectacles or sporting a trilby.

This is perhaps the biggest argument against keeping the mo, other than the obvious aesthetic ones – they're horribly high-maintenance. My mo already needs trimming – see, I told you I was fast! That and having to shave every morning has added at least ten minutes to my morning beauty routine, what with foaming up the cream and applying liberal qualities of after-shave balm in a desperate attempt to stop my skin from turning bright red because it's gotten more irritated than a cabbie whose radio can't pick up Alan Jones.

More to the point, it's made me need  a morning beauty routine in the first place, and that alone has deprived me of several precious minutes of sleep. (And no, I don't expect anybody who regularly uses makeup to sympathise…)

Nevertheless, it’s all worth it, for the month at least, because Movember does support a worthwhile cause – men's health. While I've no sympathy for men's rights advocates when it comes to most issues – those who argue that "feminism has gone too far" and begun oppressing men display such staggering, deliberate ignorance about the nature of the world that it's hardly worth even bothering to argue with them – it's undeniable that men are very bad at dealing with their health problems. Even worse, in fact, than we are at dealing with household chores.

Prostate cancer kills too many of us, and in stark contrast to the great success breast cancer campaigns have had in raising awareness among women, wilful ignorance remains the default position for many men. This lack of engagement is even more pronounced when it comes to Movember's other primary cause – mental health. Admitting that you're not coping is still highly stigmatised among men. It's a rare man who'll 'fess up if there's a problem, even to a close mate. Sometimes the warning signs aren't really there to begin with, and all too often, they're simply ignored. The stereotype that men would rather talk about sport than their feelings still has far too much evidence to support it today.

Since it began in 2004, Movember's raised a remarkable $302 million to try and address these problems. And it's gotten men talking about uncomfortable subjects by giving us something fun to joke about. I'm very glad to have undertaken the experiment, and it's certainly shown me a new side of myself, even if it's a side that looks like a Soviet-era railway ticket inspector.

I’m pretty confident that like the Eastern Bloc of which it's so uncomfortably reminiscent, my moustache will be confined to the dustbin of history on December 1. Until then, though, viva Movember and viva the ridiculous custom that is the moustache!

You may check out Dom’s regrettable facial growth and make sympathy donations here.



  • Obviously, any campaign that seeks to raise awareness about and money for these health issues is a great thing. However, am I the only one who is a little uncomfortable with how Movember works?

    Dom describes a social practice in which men silently nod at each other, probably in unspoken pride about their "manly" achievement of a mo. I reckon we should be thinking about the ways in which this campaign excludes some men and all women from full participation (not everyone can grow a mo!).

    Given that rigid ideas about gender difference are so clearly part of the problem here (in that, ideas about manly pride are precisely what stops so many men seeking help - whether about their prostate or their mental health) I would have thought a campaign that challenges rather than confirms ideas about manliness would be a step in the right direction. Rather than celebrating pride, unspoken fraternities and - quite frankly - manly virility, why don't we instead think about how these ideas are part of a problem that damages men, their bodies and the women who surround them.

    Date and time
    November 22, 2012, 10:14AM
    • oh FFS.

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 11:47AM
    • Yes, FFS indeed. If you can't grow a mo, just GET OVER IT. Nobody else gives a damn.

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 12:30PM
    • Yes, but on the other hand, moustaches look funny (the handlebar mo I'm currently sporting is a case in point).

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 12:31PM
    • You know what... you just have no imagination. I have a girlfriend who did Movember last year and is doing it again. It's hilarious seeing the pictures of her wearing a different fake moustache every day. Much more opportunity than simply growing what you've got! And I'd love to see a man doing Frocktober some time. A bit of humour is needed for these charities. And humour also lies in seeing the man who can't really grow much of a moustache just doing it because it's for a good cause!

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 1:31PM
    • Comments like this make me weep for my children. Are you serious? No, seriously.... you want to make movember a sexist issue too? If woman want to participate, they can donate, or be part of the Mo-Sistas. They are not excluded. They generally can’t grow a moustache because, well, to state the obvious, they are not men. This is a very fun way to get men involved in health issues that affect them. And it’s a great cause. If you don’t like it, then ignore it and move on

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 1:35PM
    • If it were up to you, we would probably have to chop off everyone's genitals so everyone would be the "same" and equal down there. I don't really get what's wrong with celebrating virility. "Oh no, that promotes unspoken fraternities!!!~!~!"

      Yes, you are pretty much the only one who is uncomfortable with the way Movember works.

      unspoken fraternity
      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 4:19PM
  • I don't know about women being excluded. The lady at my local fruit shop has a mo and the old bird who ran the tuck shop at high school even had a beard.

    Rick James
    Date and time
    November 22, 2012, 11:43AM
    • As always Dom - thanks for giving me a good, genuine laugh.

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 12:14PM
      • >>While I've no sympathy for men's rights advocates when it comes to most issues – those who argue that "feminism has gone too far" and begun oppressing men display such staggering, deliberate ignorance about the nature of the world that it's hardly worth even bothering to argue with them – it's undeniable that men are very bad at dealing with their health problems. Even worse, in fact, than we are at dealing with household chores.

        Listen, for once can we speak in favour of a men's cause without the apologetic self-flagellation that usually accompanies it?

        Ben C of Canberra
        Date and time
        November 22, 2012, 12:51PM

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