As the month of November approaches we all know the word on everybody’s lips — moustaches.
This will be the eleventh year that the charity month ‘Movember’ will be gracing our streets with facial hair felonies. But, is it still a thing? And more importantly, is it still relevant?
The idea of Movember began in the place where all great ideas begin— the pub. Two friends, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery sat for a swifty in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 and discussed the absence of the moustache from latest fashion trends. After getting 30 men willing to take on the challenge of bringing the ‘stache back, the boys decided to take it to the next level. The next year, the Movember foundation was registered and 480 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas raised around £21,000 for prostate cancer. To date there have been over 5.5 million participants (and counting), and 1,200 men’s health projects have been funded.
The impact and importance of Movember has been undeniably proven but in the last few years the momentum has significantly slowed. When asking students if they were thinking about taking part in the challenge, I received an influx of similar responses. “No, but I am in the middle of Stoptober” (quitting cigarettes for the month)”, “No, but I’m thinking of doing Veganuary” or “No, but I did do it a couple of years ago…might try the Decembeard”. When asked if any of these commitments were to fundraise for charity, the answer was negative.
It seems Movember has become a victim of its own success. Despite being one of the first campaigns to use a month, as opposed to a single day, it is has now become lost in a sea of popular monthly movements, all vying for our attention. Rex Beacon, a second year student, has done Movember three times but will not be doing it this year. He said:
“I think everyone is a bit bored of me doing it now to be honest. It has lost its unique shock factor. Once you have done it once that’s kinda it. Plus, I feel bad; I keep asking money from the same people every year for the same reason. They don’t want to give anything anymore and fair enough. It’s not particularly hard to grow a moustache. ”
Apathy and charity fatigue are not the only issues that Movember faces. In 2003 when the idea was formed, moustaches on men were as rare as a front page without Brexit. The ‘stache had fully vanished after all the 1970’s porn stars sank into oblivion so bringing it back was a big thing. Nowadays, however, with the rise of the hipster, there is a proliferation of hair—beards, topknots, armpits—it’s more of a mission trying to find someone without hair on their body (both men and women alike). Steve Thatcher, Masters student who sports a significantly large beard, said:
“I’m pretty precious about my beard, so I’m not sure I would be okay shaving this off and starting all over again. I’d be up for raising some money for something but maybe not something that affects the beard.”
At the heart of the movement is the drive to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues (both physical and mental), and this has become buried under contemporary vanities. The whole point of growing a moustache back in 2003 was that it was not fashionable. Likewise, shaving off your facial hair and starting again will make you feel uncomfortable, but that is what Movember is really meant to be about.
Aware of these problems and its declining popularity, the Movember foundation has introduced other challenges and new ways of getting involved. On the website bio it says: “We are committed to keeping things fresh.” Now, as well as the ‘Grow your Mo’ challenge, you can also ‘Make your move’—taking part in a physical activity of some sort—or you can simply ‘Host an Event’.
The charity has evolved significantly over the decade it has existed. Last year, the charity funded a three part series called ‘Man Up’ for the Australian Television Network ABC. In light of the crisis with male mental health, the programme focused on gender stereotypes and the increasing pressure on manhood. Similarly, in the USA there was a project called ‘Making Connections’, which was delivered across 16 sites. The idea was to connect men with their communities, particularly men of colour, military members, and veterans.
Despite having to adapt to a rise in the popularity of facial hair and competing with numerous other similar challenges, the message of Movember still remains an important one, especially with regards to male mental health. In the UK, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, and the highest suicide rate is men aged between 45-49.
So, regardless of where the charity began and where it has now ended up (it is currently 49th out of the top 500 non governmental organisations), it is still a worthy receiver of donations, whether you want to grow a moustache or not. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of students that have or will be participating in a monthly campaign this year, but few of them are doing it for charity. The motivation behind many of these commitments is purely personal. “I’ll go vegan this January so I lose weight” or “I’ll grow a beard this December because I’ll look good for Christmas”, but many of these challenges were set to raise awareness of something else and it’s a shame that compassion for these causes can be lost amongst our excitement to do something ‘for a bit of banter’. Maybe it’s time to think about the real intention of these challenges and the causes that lie behind them.
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