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Movember Grows Facial Hair For A Cause

Michael Katz |
November 29, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. PST



Even Batman seems to think Movember is a good cause. (Creative Commons)
Even Batman seems to think Movember is a good cause. (Creative Commons)
There are a lot of different ways to raise money for charity these days. There’s the traditional fundraiser: the “walk for a cause.” Some foundations hold auctions and people spend money, buying things that they probably don’t really need and will never use once. 

But once a year, a month-long fundraiser comes along that blows all the other ones out of the water. All you have to do to raise the money is grow a mustache. 

That’s how Movember has helped raise millions of dollars for organizations like Livestrong and the Prostate Cancer Foundation and has brought awareness to men’s health issues. 

The month of Movember is the official fashion statement-turned-charity that has taken the world by storm. Every November, select men (young and old) shave their entire faces on the first of the month. Those willing to take up the challenge must grow just a moustache for the entire month; no goatees or beards. Those who are growing their “lip sweaters” take donations from friends and families, via their Mo Space fundraising page on Movember.com, who support their going unshaven for 30 days. After a while, the money adds up.

In insane amounts.

It’s hard for many to imagine a fundraising tactic that just involves growing facial hair, but the numbers don’t lie: with a couple of days left in the month, the organization has raised nearly $82 million worldwide this year, including more than $13 million in the United States alone. 

The movement began in Australia in 2003, when a few young men decided to grow their mustaches out to see if they could bring it back into fashion. Inspired by all the conversations their new facial hair generated, the men put a cause behind the Mo in 2004 – prostate cancer. They raised $40,000 that year and by 2007 it was time to bring Movember over to the states and get the movement going.  

Movember grassroots coordinator Tom Whiteside was living in Austin, Texas (“a mustache friendly-town” in its own right) and was working at Livestrong, a multimillion dollar cancer awareness organization and one of Movember’s beneficiary partners. 

In 2009 Whiteside himself joined Movember because he enjoyed the cause. It was a fun way to raise money for a cause he is passionate about. 

“I was pro-mustache up to that point, but I never knew I could grow a mustache for a cause,” Whiteside said. “So I grew it the first year in 2009 … and I had a blast.”

He admits that his mustache this year isn’t too impressive, though; eight days in it, “is sadly nowhere near what a [mustache should look like].” 

The Movember movement doesn’t discriminate between the types of mustaches men sport. It could be the classic mustache, groomed frequently and appearing subtle by most standards. It could also be the “connoisseur,” which curves up slightly at the ends, giving the man who sports it a classier sort of look. It could be the “porn star,” which makes one look like…well, you can probably figure it out for yourself. And it could even be “the trucker,” which grows above the lip and creeps down the side of the mouth, making one look as if he just came out of a trailer park.  

As long as it stays on for the month, it is a welcomed addition. You really don’t have to be able to grow one, either: it’s the thought that counts.

Chris Brewer, who works at Livestrong now, currently sports the “Hulk Hogan” look, which is an altered version of “the trucker.” Last year, Movember raised $4.5 million for Livestrong, and it is looking likely that they will make as much, if not more, this year. He has enjoyed working with Movember, as they have been mutually beneficial to each other.

“We love working with the Movember foundation,” Brewer said. “They’re very organized, they’re very fun. It provides a very unique opportunity to get our message out to their audience.”

Brewer is a firm proponent of the mustache; he believes it is more than just facial hair, especially since it is commonly known that many are being grown for health awareness and charity at this time of the year.

“This badge of courage that you have underneath the nose … they want to know why you’re growing a mustache,” Brewer said. “Hopefully, the first thing you’re saying is [it’s for men’s health].”

At the end of the month, 12 cities around the United States hold Gala parties for those who decided to participate in Movember, including one being held in Los Angeles. There is food and drink. There are costume competitions, with various categories, including “Best Mo in Character.” Over 600 people are expected to be at the Los Angeles Gala, which will be held Nov. 29 at the Avalon. And all of them will have a passion for ‘staches.

While raising money for causes is nothing new, Movember has seen 1.9 million people take the vow not to shave their moustaches since the campaign began.

For Brewer and Whiteside, the fun of Movember isn’t necessarily raising money for the causes, though that is great.  Instead, it is the fact that one is allowed to look absurd for a month and no one can really make fun of you for it. It gives people a chance to express themselves in ways they might not otherwise be able to.

“Most guys [have] never had [a mustache],” Whiteside said. “It gives you license to do something sort of silly but fun for a month. And who’s going to knock it when it’s for charity?”

Brewer actually calls Movember the, “anti-fundraising campaign” because it is so unorthodox. And, with millions of people walking around with Mo’s this month, it’s kind of hard to argue.

“What’s really unusual is that [it’s] raising money,” Brewer said. “It’s a very unique fundraising model.”

Though many men out there enjoy the opportunity to grow the facial hair, there are many women opposed to the look. There are quite a few men opposed to it as well, too. Whiteside is aware that not everyone is going to be turned on to the idea of growing a mustache; that is part of why he loves his job: people can either take it or they can leave it.

“Movember’s not for everybody,” Whiteside said.  “We’re a little bit irreverent, and it’s obviously a very different take on charity. But we also feel that’s an asset, and that’s one of the reasons the campaign has grown so quickly … I like it because it’s like sales without any of the pressure … Either they take to it immediately or they go ‘It’s a fun idea, but it’s not for me.’”

Yes, the mustache is polarizing for many.  But there are certain women out there who appreciate the mustache as much as if not more than men, specifically because it brings men’s health issues to the forefront of people’s minds. These women are known as “Mo Sistas.” They raise money for Movember, often times raising more than “Mo Bros” who can actually grow them. Fajima Nojoumi raised $6,000 last year, and is well on her way to doing similar things this year.

“This year, my goal is to continue to spread awareness and hopefully inspire others to register or donate or to be a part of it,” Nojoumi, whose Facebook profile picture has a mustache drawn on it, explained. “Because we all have men in our lives that we love and appreciate.”

Nojoumi works at Cornerstone OnDemand, which is a cloud-based hiring company. She is a member of “Cornerstone Mo’s,” the official Movember team for the company. Nojoumi is involved with Movember because there are several men in her life that have battled illnesses. Her grandfather died of lung cancer, and her own father had cancer. She also has a brother that she cares deeply about and couldn’t stand to lose. 

“I feel like there’s this universal taboo for men to even go to the doctor or address their symptoms when they have it,” I am on board with the campaign because it’s really affective about changing the face of men’s health.”

That is what keeps her motivated to rally people towards the cause, especially since many men are reluctant to get regular checkups for fear of looking weak. Keeping a brother or a father healthy is what has gotten Mo Sistas around the country involved with the movement, even though they can’t grow mustaches themselves.

“My brother leans on me. I’m the older big sis,” Nojoumi said. “I feel empowered to be able to say your health is important, it’s priority. And I am very passionate about Movember because I feel like with early detection, any illness can be [dealt with].”

If anything, Nojoumi’s Movember philosophy best embodies the movement’s general idea: that it is okay for men to take care of themselves and to be concerned with their own wellbeing, even if it means looking strange for doing so. Nojoumi thinks that it’s okay for men to stick out and look different. Especially if it involves a mustache. 

“They’re bringing sexy back,” Nojoumi said with a laugh. “[A man with a mustache is] a solid man who loves his health and is proud to show it.”


Reach Contributor Michael Katz here.



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