This past month it was great walking into the gym and seeing Movember signs posted all over. There was a fundraiser, bake sale of sorts, and a giveaway being promoted. Disappointingly, there weren’t many funky mustaches on show or much conversation on the topic, but importantly the gym was doing its bit and making an effort to raise awareness for an important movement that covers such important issues. To be fair, I hadn’t done the mustache thing myself, so I really couldn’t have much grievance towards others not doing it.
Started in Australia by two friends to mirror and as a sort of nod to what the pink ribbon is for breast cancer, Movember was incepted to raise awareness and bring attention to testicular cancer among other men’s health issues such as men’s mental health and suicide prevention. The movement revolves around men growing a mustache for the month of November while fundraising for charities that focus on these issues. The mustache addition has worked. I mean it worked on me.
It was about ten years ago or so and a couple of my colleagues walked into the office out of nowhere sporting weird mustaches and wry smiles on their faces. I thought they were just having a laugh. I just thought what is it that they are up to now? It was a bit of a strange sight as mustaches weren’t really popular, but it seemed to be coordinated. Maybe they lost a bet or something or were perhaps even trying to make a fashion statement. It was Los Angeles after all, the center of trendsville.
I couldn’t help myself and had to ask them what they were up to. They gave me a one sentence explanation and told me to look it up. I did just that, but didn’t really expect it to be much. As it turned out, the fun and quirky mustache growing was indeed the funky face of a very serious project to spread the conversation of these issues and was started as the Movember movement. They got me. It made me ask the questions and led me to look deeper into these matters, although it still didn’t make me want to grow a mustache myself.
These types of movements must maintain momentum and continue to grow even if the mustaches are disappearing. Being promoted by the gym is especially beneficial. If there is a place where men want to seem most invulnerable, it would be at the gym or in a fitness setting. Social conditioning and the idea that a man doesn’t talk about his wellness or issues is often cited as a primary reason among others why so many men suffer from mental health issues and don’t get any help for it. The cultural influence of ‘man up’ or ‘suck it up’ decreases the likelihood of men talking about it. In the group setting, it feels weak and vulnerable.
Among the comradery, there exists this often unspoken competitiveness of who’s more muscular, manly, and stronger than the other. There is also the idea that fitness takes away any focus and potentially screens individuals from the other important health fundamentals because in the industry, fitness is promoted as the only thing that matters for health. It is a setting in which tunnel vision is stimulated and one that dictates that even if a vulnerability does exist, it must be not be seen by others.
However, the data suggests that even though it is becoming more accepted for men to talk about their vulnerabilities and mental health nowadays, which I would argue is down to such movements, the numbers are still devastating. Men make up 75 percent of the population who lose their lives to suicide according to all the data collations available. And these numbers aren’t low. This is true even though more women are diagnosed with depression. The thought is that men often ignore or try to deal with issues by themselves and not go for help, so it is less likely their depression will be recognized or diagnosed. Another reason why possibly the numbers are so high for men. They aren’t getting the help needed to prevent suicide.
In a similar vein, testicular cancer is another issue that warrants conversation. While there is a greater than 95 percent recovery rate, it must be discovered on time to achieve this result. I’ll always remember the commercial in which Samuel Jackson, an actor known for his strong man roles constantly kicking ass, telling men that they need to take it seriously, talk about it, and do the necessary checks as it’s the manly thing to do. Thereby, a sort of role model that is visually or cinematically the aspirational man telling us men that even he, just as all of us, is susceptible to such vulnerabilities.
These conversations are vital and, therefore, need to continue to be promoted. Movements such as Movember do just that. And whether we continue to grow the mustachio or not, the important thing is that these topics get the focus they require.