Movember: The Hair Grooming Phenomenon

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In recent years, November has been marked by a peculiar ritual often undertaken by men: not shaving facial hair for the entire month.

It’s an easy task, but the result is admittedly unsightly. Normally, un-groomed facial hair conjures images of vagabonds, the homeless, and generally lazy, undesirable fellows—so where did the social convention of normal, upright people leaving their face un-groomed come from?

The question is complicated by the fact that there are two completely different conventions laying claim to the same month, for extremely similar reasons.

Movember comes to our vernacular as a portmanteau of the Australian slang for moustache (A Mo) and the month of November. That said, many Americans have undoubtedly heard of the idea of No-Shave-November, a separate yet similar movement. While both events are about raising awareness and money about men’s health issues, they are not the same event, and they are not backed by the same organizations.

The most significant difference between the two is the fact that Movember only entails the growing of a moustache. Paraphrased from the Movember Foundation’s US website ( each person must begin the month clean shaven and must then grow and groom a moustache for the entire month. Faking hair growth with false moustaches, beards, or goatees is against the rules. The moustache must be used to create conversations about men’s health. Lastly, every Mo (The organization’s slang for their participants) must conduct himself like a true gentleman.

The idea is that the moustache will spark conversations about health because, especially in Australia, so many young men are clean shaven. By contrast, the rules of No-Shave-November are more lax. In fact, the tradition was started in part by women. All one has to do is abstain from personal hair grooming— not just facial hair. The idea is that if, for just one month, people gave to the American Cancer Society what they spent on hair grooming, it would be a great way to raise money to help people who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.

Regardless of rules or origin, both organizations are built around the topic of men’s health, with a particular focus on cancer. These topics can be difficult to broach in polite conversation. Receiving a testicular and/or prostate cancer exam is one of the most uncomfortable procedures a man will ever have to endure, but it is extremely important. While other forms of cancer may manifest symptoms in the earlier stages, prostate cancer can stay completely hidden until its most severe stages. Thus regular exams are an unfortunate part of adult male life.

While many students are quite a ways away from needing regular exams, no doubt their fathers are getting to the age where doctors recommend the procedure. On a personal note, my father is at that age, and with cancer running in the family, my hope is that events like Movember and No-Shave-November will encourage him to bite the bullet and start going to his doctor for regular checkups.

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