Whether it’s a ‘handlebar’ or a ‘Hungarian,’ men from all over the world have been growing mustaches for an important cause this November: to raise money and awareness for cancers that affect men.
Their efforts are on behalf of the Movember Foundation, which collects profits raised from registered applicants and distributes them to programs that support men’s health issues, including the Prostate Cancer Foundation, LIVESTRONG and Movember’s own awareness and education program.
This year’s campaign has raised 75 million dollars and counting as of November 28. The U.S. has raised 9.6 million, while Canada, which boasts the largest number of participants, has raised more than 27 million.
“It’s like a walk-a-thon, except with facial hair,” said Brent Rose, 32, a writer for Gizmodo.com, who is participating in the event for the first time this year. “It’s a light-hearted way to raise money for something very serious.”
The Movember movement officially began in Australia in 2003 with 30 supporters. In eight years, the number of people involved has swelled to more than 800,000 “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas,” as they call themselves.
Participation for 2011 has nearly doubled compared to last year, according to Donny Killian, the U.S. country manager of the Movember Foundation—a trend the foundation has now observed multiple times.
“In everyday life, I see a whole lot more mustaches and hear a lot more conversations about men’s health, which is great,” Killian said. “People are taking pride and ownership in participating.”
Even the scraggliest mustache can set up the conversation, according to Killian, who is a Movember participant himself.
“This is my fourth year of growing an incredibly mediocre mustache,” Killian said. “I wish I could say looked like Tom Selleck, but the truth is I’m pretty follicle-ly challenged.”
Nevertheless, Killian said that family, friends and even strangers will come up to him and ask about his facial hair. Rose expressed similar sentiments, but did say that bigger was better, in general, when it came to mustaches.
“I was a little bit slow starting, but I’m feeling pretty good about it now,” Rose said, referring to the growth of his mustache. “I’ve been in an informal contest with the editor-in-chief of Gizmodo trying to grow best, biggest mustache. He got off to a good start – his was way thicker in the beginning – but mine is longer and more regal now, I think.”
There are also some Mo Bros and Sistas who take it a step beyond simply growing facial hair. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, some unidentified participants draped a 30-foot mustache along the outside wall of a main campus building.
“Nobody understands how they did that,” said Emily Calandrelli, an MIT graduate student and the director of the Movember MIT network. “But people are getting interested and excited.”
Statistics indicate that 50 percent of men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime – compared to 33 percent of women – but men are 24 percent less likely to go to the doctor.
“Historically, there’s been an assumption that men need to be macho and show bravado throughout life, and going to the doctor is seen as a sign of ‘weakness,’ which is not a healthy way to look at things,” Killian said.
“The notion men have that, ‘Oh I’ll get through this, or this problem will go away’ is not correct,” he added. “So we’re basically trying to get guys to feel better about going to the doctor through the power of the mustache.”
By encouraging men to go to the doctor, the people behind Movember hope to increase early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatments, and ultimately reduce the number of preventable deaths.
Besides getting an annual check-up, the Movember Foundation encourages men to:
-Maintain a healthy weight
-Drink alcohol in moderation
-Know your family history
“One big part of Movember is raising awareness for men’s health,” Calandrelli said. “A lot of people gotten involved found out members of their extended families had had prostate cancer. One in 6 men gets prostate cancer in their lives, so chances are someone you know has had it. This makes it more real for people – especially younger people because we feel that we’re immune to it.”
Calandrelli said she had an uncle who developed prostate cancer, while Rose said his grandfather survived the disease. He said being a part of Movember was changing his own habits in regards to his health.
“I’ve been trying to eat healthier – more tomatoes,” Rose said. “And I’m going in for a check-up really soon. The month is a good reminder.”