As men slowly transition from having clean-shaven visages to showing hairy lips, the Movember Foundation sees opportunities to inform men about a serious issue —cancer.
Fritz Diefenderfer, who has had a beard for the past two years, renounced his razor this month in order to try something he’d never done.
“At the beginning of November, I shaved everything except the mustache and let it keep growing throughout the month”, said the junior business information technology student.
But, as Tom Whiteside, the grassroots engagement director for Movember, explained, there’s more to it than looking like Theodore Roosevelt for a month.
“Movember is a world-wide movement that encourages men to grow mustaches to raise funds and awareness for men's health, focusing on prostate and testicular cancer in the U.S.,” Whiteside said.
About one in six men will get prostate cancer, which makes in more common in men than breast cancer is for women
“It is a treatable cancer, but like most cancers, it's all about early detection,” Whiteside said.
When cancer develops in the prostate, painful urinary dysfunctions can result. Whiteside said many older men just take this as a sign of aging. However, prostate cancer can also spread to nearby body parts, such as the vertebrae.
“Without dialogue with doctors and getting checked yearly, it's very possible that the cancer can form and go for years or even decades until it has begun to spread outside the prostate, when it tends to become deadly,” Whiteside said.
Initially, Movember had nothing to do with cancer awareness. In 2003, a few natives of Melbourne, Australia were discussing how fashion trends cycle and wondered when mustaches, or “mo’s,” would come into style again. They decided that time was November.
Gathering for a party at the end of the month, the men all told stories of the many conversations that were sparked by their facial hair. Realizing that they could capitalize on the mustachioed appeal for a good cause, they gathered 30 friends the next year to grow a mustache and open conversations about prostate cancer.
Since then, the Movember Foundation has spread from Australia to New Zealand, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Denmark, South Africa, Canada, and the United States, raising $126.3 million last year. Funds raised go into programs run directly by Movember as well as the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LiveSTRONG.
Whiteside thinks that the rapid growth is for a reason.
“I believe that it's a latent desire in most men,” Whiteside said. “Most guys had never had a mustache and it's probably something they've always wanted to try.”
He explained that participants, or "mo bros," as they’re called, have sent in pictures of mustaches growing to the neck, into the chest hair, and even down to the leg. Other men have sent in pictures of hair stretching from ear to ear with words shaved into it.
As far as fundraising goes, participants have made videos, email messages, Facebook campaigns, and local fundraisers. Google made a video in 2011 featuring Movember participants on how they raised funds. Additionally, TOMS released a special Movember shoe for the event.
While Diefenderfer did not raise funds this year, he did see having a mustache as a way to talk about men’s health.
“If you get awareness that it happens for a right reason, I think it could be big because it's one less thing to shave and it's for a good cause,” Diefenderfer said. “If you just do it for the fun of it and people ask why you have a mustache, you can tell them what it's for.”
Becker agreed, saying that having mustache shows solidarity with men who had prostate cancer without even having to say a word. All they have to see is your mustache, he said, and they know you're in support.
As Movember comes to a close, men can be seen sporting several types of hairstyles on their upper lip. Ultimately, Diefenderfer’s handlebar mustache grew out of his control.
“I trimmed it two days ago down to its normal length because I ran out of mustache wax and it was hanging in my mouth,” Difenderfer said.