'Movember brothers' give more than lip service to men's health

Not long ago in North America, moustaches were the preserve of "fops, foreigners or fiends," one cultural historian says. Now they have become part of an annual Movember ritual that raised globally over $131 million for men's health last year alone.

Moustaches used to be the preserve of 'fops, foreigners or fiends,' cultural historian says

4 men go under the razor for men's health 2:13

"I will never in my life win a manly moustache-growing contest," admits Jeff Lohnes, minutes before going under the razor at the local barbershop to raise awareness for men's health and the Movember campaign.

But, he adds, "if I'm judged on style or for best effort, then I have a very good chance."

Lohnes has been participating in the Movember Canada campaign for five years now. And when he met up with three friends at a local barber shop in downtown Toronto on Nov. 1 this year they each sported their own variety of moustache that they'd been working on since last Movember.

Jason Golding, a six-year Mo-bro, has a waxed handlebar and says that a well-groomed moustache lends an air of maturity to a man.

Sam Ho, a five-year Mo-bro, had become used to the moustache and goatee he'd been growing for a year and seemed a little reluctant to shave it off for this year's campaign.

The other Mo-bro was Jim Sullivan, a 57-year-old prostate cancer survivor and a four-year Movember veteran.

A cancer 'victor'

According to Canada's Movember site, eleven Canadian men die from prostate cancer on an average day. 

Facial hair facts

In 2013, nearly one million men and women in 14 countries participated in Movember and raised $131.8 million for men's health research.

Nearly $40 million was raised in Canada alone last year by supporters of some 173,000 Mo-bros and Mo-sistas, as some call themselves.

Moustaches are permitted in the Canadian military provided they are trimmed and do not extend beyond the corners of the mouth. An exception can be made for a handlebar moustache.

Some Indian cities pay police officers a bonus if they grow a moustache as it is considered a symbol of power.

Sources: Allan Peterkin One Thousand Moustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo; Movember Canada spokesperson

Sullivan says he likely would have been one of those statistics if he had not demanded the prostate test that would save his life.

"I had to yell and shout before my doctor would get me the PSA test, but that's the only way I could have known I had prostate cancer," he says.

That was 12 years ago. Sullivan's cancer was detected early enough, and just last year he learned that he is officially cancer free. "I've gone from a survivor to a victor," he says about his new status.

The elevated PSA level, which measures a protein that is produced by the prostate gland, can be an indication of cancer. But there are other reasons some men have elevated PSA, and for that reason the test has become controversial.

In fact, a federal task force on preventative health recently recommended that the PSA test be abandoned as it can do "more harm than good." But Sullivan says without the test he wouldn't be here.

Every Nov. 1 for the past four years Sullivan has shaved off a year of facial hair growth and started all over again to help other men think about the importance of early prostate cancer detection. 

But this year it's a little different because the moustaches that the four Mo-bros are able to grow before the end of Movember are being inspected, judged and critiqued by a moustache expert.

The best mo?

This year, Allan Peterkin, a Toronto psychiatrist with a passion for male cultural trends, especially facial hair, is going to have an in-your-face look at the four competitors.

'I will never in my life win a manly moustache-growing contest' 3:05

Peterkin has written several books about men's facial hair and the characteristics that accompany each style of moustache.

"Some cultures have always embraced the moustache" says Peterkin. "But if we're talking about North America, the moustache has largely had a negative reputation as being worn only by a fops, foreigners or fiends." 

Still, Peterkin says there are about 20 moustache variants, and over the decades the "stache" has come in and out of favour, offering clues on such things as social class, rank, and nationality about the men who wear them.

In his book, One Thousand Moustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo, Peterkin points out that moustache hair grows the fastest of any other facial or body hair, and that the average mustachioed man touches his moustache 760 times every 24 hours.


Sam Ho describes his new moustache as Zorro style, something that suggests a little mystery and romance, with some swashbuckling thrown in.

Moustache judge, Allan Peterkin predicts the future of facial hair 2:09

"A little dangerous," he adds. Though moustache judge Allan Peterkin prefers to call it a chevron  a style worn by manly men like actors Burt Reynolds and Tom Sellick.

Jeff Lohnes is going for the classic gentleman look, which he also refers to as a boxcar style.

It is a moustache Peterkin calls the classic military or Hollywood gentleman. 

Jim Sullivan says he's spreading his wings with his new look. Having shaved his beard, he was going for a handlebar, but Peterkin describes it as more of a horseshoe moustache, a look associated with biker gangs and outdoor survivors.

Jason Golding is aiming for a handlebar, which he is growing in support of a friend in Australia who is experiencing mental health issues.

Toronto psychiatrist Allan Peterkin is also the author of "One Thousand Moustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo." (CBC)

But Peterkin judges it as more of a cross between a Hungarian and a chevron.

But, says Peterkin, "because you have a soul patch and a piercing together, and I've never seen that before, I'll make you a winner in the freestyle category."

In the end, all four are declared winners in one category or another. That is probably the nature of Movember, and Peterkin wasn't about to split hairs.


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