In an attempt to shave through social taboos, Movember participants raise money and awareness for men’s health issues–breaking the ice with their mustaches.
“She hated when I grew a beard or grew a mustache,” says twenty-seven-year-old Rishi Mukhi, sporting a thick, black mustache that crawls down his upper lip along the sides of his mouth and chin. Mukhi’s mother, Sonia, passed away in 2009 after a six-year battle with metastatic cancer. While some choose to run marathons when cancer affects their lives, Mukhi chose to grow a mustache.
In November of 2009, Mukhi was living with fellow University of Oregon graduate student J.J. Owen. “He told me, ‘grow a mustache,’ and I didn’t even have to hear the rest of it; I’m like, ok!” says Mukhi.
The two decided to grow mustaches for Movember, an event created to raise money and awareness for testicular and prostate cancer by donating to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Movember participants change their appearance to raise money throughout the month. One way they do this is by auctioning off the style rights to their mustaches. This year, Owen’s father wanted to see him in a handlebar mustache, which he happily grew. “I have been describing it as the boy-band stache,” Owen says. “It grows in red [with] frosted tips!”
This year, the University of Oregon experienced the first official, campus-wide Movember effort in the United States. In the past, Movember has been most popular among businesses and reached college campuses only on a very small scale.
Matt Geschke is one of the five University of Oregon Movember committee members. “Initially, I was hesitant [to participate],” Geshcke says. But cancer has affected Geshcke’s life since childhood, so it was not long before he was convinced to get involved.
Geschke was only eleven when his sister, Maggie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was three years old. For the next year and a half, Maggie and her family were in and out of the hospital while she received radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“The technology wasn’t there, and she still suffers from a lot of learning difficulties,” Geschke says.
Years later, in early 2009, Geschke’s brother, Topher, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. With the technology made available through funding from events such as Movember, his surgery was successful and he did not need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
“I believe in organizations like Movember that raise a ton of money, not only to find a cure, but to really increase technology,” Geschke says.
Although slightly less hairy, he is still a mustached participant in the festivities. “I have an Indian beard,” he jokes, “apache here and apache there!” His dark brown mustache barely covers his upper lip, while a small soul patch decorates his chin.
Before coming to Oregon for the MBA program, Geschke spent two years in South Africa where he ran Peace Players, a non-profit basketball program. Each year, the organization provides approximately 2,000 kids with life skills to prevent contracting HIV and AIDS.
His current work with Oregon Heroes, a non-profit community organization of the University of Oregon’s Athletic Department, has inspired nineteen football players, two coaches, the majority of the baseball team, the men’s tennis team, and the men’s track and field team to grow mustaches in support of Movember.
Geschke got involved with Movember during his first year as an MBA student in the Warsaw Sports Marketing program at the University of Oregon. He was taking a class called Recognizing Business Opportunities and was approached by fellow classmates and friends, Rishi Mukhi, age twenty-seven, and J.J. Owen, age twenty-six.
“The idea of our project was to assess the business opportunity [of Movember at the University of Oregon],” Owen says. “It wasn’t part of the project to actually follow through on it.”
After assembling a small committee, Movember quickly became much more than a class project. Its unique vehicle for raising funds and awareness is “something that pop culture can wrap their arms around,” Mukhi says.
After starting clean-shaven on November 1, “you grow and flow your stache for the entire month,” Owen says. The prominent mustaches, or “walking billboards,” inspire conversation and raise awareness about the effects of both prostate and testicular cancer.
He describes these topics as taboo for men, while breast cancer remains at the forefront of the women’s health movement.
“Men do not like to talk about their health problems or health issues. They are taught to tough it out, but there are a lot of people that are suffering. Causes like Movember really help bring that to the forefront,” Geschke says.
The group is proud of the advances of the women’s movement, which have helped make women’s health issues socially acceptable to talk about—and they hope male cancer awareness will become similarly accepted.
Twenty-six-year-old Judy Sheldon, the committee’s only female, encourages women to participate in Movember by supporting the men in their lives as they grow mustaches. “We don’t have an active role [in Movember] because we can’t grow a mustache, but there’s so much more we can do,” says Sheldon. Women can also be on Movember teams, fund-raise, attend events, and even wear fake mustaches. Sheldon says she wore one for most of November.
Since starting Movember at the University of Oregon, the group feels very confident talking to anyone, be it friends, family, or strangers, about their mustaches and the goals of the organization.
Geshcke adds, “Susan G. Komen is pink, Livestrong is yellow, and we have facial hair!”
According to the American Cancer Society, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. And while it is almost always curable if found early, testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five, many of them college students. Because of this, the Movember organization feels it should be appealing to this particular demographic.
Movember originally began in 2003 in Australia over a few beers and a conversation about bringing back the mustache as a way of promoting men’s health, according to Movember.com. Only six years later, over 250,000 participants worldwide have raised $42 million toward awareness and research for prostate and testicular cancer.
On December 2, 2010, a group of mustached University of Oregon students gathered for the Movember closing gala party, where the “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” showed off their mustaches and celebrated the success of the month. University of Oregon Movember’s 235 registered participants raised nearly $10,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong. But Mukhi says, “At this point, fundraising is our secondary goal; creating and raising awareness is our number one goal.”
“If we can get these men and women in early and caring about a cause like this, they’re going to be lifetime Movember people,” says Geschke. “Whether or not they ever grow a mustache again, they’ll know the month of November is the time to talk about [men’s health] issues.”