The Meaning of Movember by David Kett
Movember is more than just a charity - it’s a phenomenon. Everyone seems to know about it, and we’ve come to just accept that during November, many of the guys in our lives grow some sort of questionable facial hair to varying degrees of success. This is the first year that I will officially be doing Movember (I will come to why I use the word ‘officially’ later), and in doing so, I have learnt about the many things that this great charity stands for, has accomplished, and continues to achieve.
“stop men dying prematurely”
Taking you right back to the start: Movember began with a mere 30 blokes in Australia trying to bring back the waning fashion of sporting the ol' tache. 17 years, 6.3 million members, and over 1,250 projects later, you have the world’s leading charity for men’s health. Their mission is to “stop men dying prematurely” with a focus on treating both testicular and prostate cancer, as well as preventing suicide and the mental illnesses that lead to it.
I won’t share all the minor details as they can be found on the website, rather, I am going to talk about what Movember means to me as well as a few thoughts on mental health in general.
The first time I had any involvement in the cause was in year 8 when a friend of mine told me you could get away with not shaving for school by just saying you were doing Movember. I thought he was a genius, so I spent the whole of November letting the few whisps of hair I had above my upper lip grow like the true rebel I am. I thought the plan had worked a treat when I proudly announced my falsely benevolent claim to an unknowing teacher - only to later find out in detention that it was in fact the 2nd of December and I should have had the word ‘MUG’ written on my forehead instead.
My next - and more decent - attempt at Movember was during my first year of university; sadly I didn’t have the confidence to go for it fully, so only started half way through the month with fairly vain intentions of jumping on the band wagon. Despite looking back at my two previous attempts with a chuckle, they make me think about the various reasons and stories behind people taking part. Are some embarrassed to do it like I was? Or is it the opposite, are others just doing it for the attention? How about those that might feel pressured into doing it by their mates/sports clubs?
Is there is a sad irony behind what Movember is trying to achieve?
For me, what it means to attempt to grow a moustache during November, is the acceptance and
acknowledgement that not everything is okay, but very importantly, it doesn’t have to be! I’m sure you’ve all heard - and are probably tired of hearing - the old adage that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ - but it’s true, it really is! Although there is a danger of belittling some people’s genuine mental health problems, neglecting our mental wellbeing and detaching ourselves from how we feel is just as dangerous. In a
conversation I had recently with a friend about mental health, she argued that ‘no one is 100% mentally well’, whilst I’m not claiming this to be true, it’s an interesting idea and makes me question the binary nature of our understanding of mental health: either having a mental illness or not. Therefore, should we think of mental health as a spectrum? After all, it’s what we
do with our physical health…
When you cut your finger, you don’t ignore it, but you don’t go to hospital either. It’s a relatively minor problem that just requires some self-care. However, compare this to having a bad day, what’s the equivalent? More often than not we put on a brave face, get on with things, and just hope that things get better in the morning.
By letting some people become so mentally unwell that it becomes detrimental, looking after your mental health becomes a taboo subject because by asking for help, we risk showing weakness.
We’re taught from a young age to look after our physical health - that cut on your finger might get infected for example; but how to look after our mental health properly (i.e. not drinking your sorrows away), or when to seek help for having continual bad days, is rarely, and sometimes never, taught - or did I miss that day in school?
we must be careful about giving each other stick for taking part in Movember
Given that there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that men in particular neglect or ignore their mental health out of fear of being teased, bullied, or even ridiculed, we must be careful about giving each other stick for taking part in Movember. Yes, self-deprecation is at the heart of the whole idea, but not everyone has the inner confidence to just accept the banter and be the butt of the jokes. Part of what makes Movember so powerful is how obvious it is and basically the free publicity it gets. What’s more, Movember isn’t just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness too, as well as reducing the stigma around men’s health. The message I am trying to convey is to perhaps use the addition of a moustache to many guy’s faces as an easy starting point for what is a difficult conversation: mental health - rather than just calling them a ‘nonce’.
So, although it may seem like “that time of year again when everyone begs you for money”, I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction as to what Movember is, as well as opening up a slightly different angle to thinking about the topic of mental health.