If you’ve seen more men than usual walking around with facial hair, it may be because November marks Movember, the month-long effort to raise money and awareness about men’s health conditions including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health.

Since Movember’s official start in 2004, the effort has raised nearly $560 million, helping to fund more than 800 programs in 21 countries around the world, according to the Movember Foundation. All that from about four million mustaches designed to spark conversation and capture attention.

Movember fundraising effort seeks to raise awareness around men’s health issues.

Can mustaches really make that much of a difference? According to the Movember Foundation, yes. Men have received a bad reputation for sometimes not attending to their health, skipping doctor’s visits in hopes of toughing symptoms out or not wanting to spend money, according to the American Heart Association.

However, identifying diseases like prostate or testicular cancer early increases the likelihood for successful treatment. According to the Movember Foundation:

“The poor state of men’s health is largely due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues men face and that men are often reluctant to take action when they do not feel physically or mentally well.”

Mustaches are like walking billboards for these important issues, the foundation says. Movember Foundation is the largest non-governmental investor in men’s health programs worldwide. Funding raised through Movember has helped develop tests for disease detection and monitoring, uncover new treatments, implement education initiatives, and provide supportive care to patients and their families.

From mustaches to money, Movember has saved lives through starting conversations and igniting action.

In addition to funding men’s health programs, Movember seeks to shift attitudes and definitions of masculinity. Ideas of what makes a man—perhaps traits of persevering no matter what and avoiding displays of weakness—may actually hinder wellness if men are less likely to visit the doctor because of those social perspectives. The Foundation says:

“We see a significant opportunity to improve health outcomes by understanding how we can build on the positive strengths of masculinity in a way that leads to men and boys taking action to stay well and acting early when they experience health problems.”

The effort is working; Movember has influenced men to take better care of their health. According to the Foundation, 75% of participants expanded their awareness about risks to their health as a result of Movember, with 62% visiting a medical professional and 50% urging someone they know to take action regarding their health.

Movember says it harnesses the power of relationships and social media to transform discussions about mustaches into meaningful dialogue about improving men’s health.

How does Movember work?

Men register online with the Movember Foundation and begin by shaving on Nov. 1, starting with a fresh slate. Then, for the next month, participants “grow and groom their new Mo (slang for mustache).” Participants are also supposed to ask friends and family to donate to the foundation.

Registrants are known as Mo Bros, but ladies can also join in the fun. Known as Mo Sistas, these ladies can do everything the guys do, without growing a mustache. Mo Sistas might start a team and raise money for men’s health while encouraging others to do the same, all the while starting conversations about men’s health issues.

To celebrate the month’s end, people hold events or galas around the world. At the official Phoenix Mustache Dache at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, held on Nov. 29, participants are invited to a mustache-themed 5k run, complete with specially designed T-shirts to commemorate the occasion.

How did Movember start?

The idea of Movember began in Australia in 2003, with two friends enjoying a beer at the Gypsy Bar. A conversation about fashion evolved to the friends contemplating the mustache, wondering why people no longer grew them.

The movement started as a joke, with the friends vowing to resurrect the defunct mustache, but soon turned into a men’s health awareness and fundraising effort, inspired by a friend’s mother who was raising money for breast cancer.

That year, the friends launched a small-scale enterprise, promoted through email, and signed up 30 guys willing to pay $10 to grow a mustache for men’s health. The tagline was, “Are you man enough to be my man?”

The initial effort was so successful that the group decided to formalize the effort the next year, in 2004, to attract greater numbers of participants and raise more money. In 2004, the effort raised $54,000 and saw the first international Mo Bros in Spain and the UK. The initiative has continued to grow at a rapid pace, and in 2013, GQ magazine recognized the Movember Foundation as the Social Force of the Year.

What are tips for maintaining a mustache?

The art of maintaining a mustache has evolved over the centuries as a matter of trial and error. The oldest image of a man, an Iranian horseman, sporting a mustache dates back to 300 BC. Throughout history, mustaches have fallen in and out of favor, at times viewed as an accessory for the wise man and other times the defining characteristic of evil dictators, according to the Movember Foundation.

Whatever the case, Movember mustaches are all for a good cause.

Fortunately, for those not accustomed to styling a ‘stache, the Movember Foundation has compiled a helpful guide so Mo Bros can make it through the month with their style credentials intact.

Tips include being brave. The Movember Foundation warns:

“The first few days, even weeks, can be uncomfortable and a little awkward as your facial fuzz grows and your Mo takes shape.”

Other tips include avoiding itching and keeping it clean. “Look after your Mo, and your Mo will look after you,” the foundation says. Keep in mind that eating with a mustache is a little different than dining with a hairless upper lip. Stay aware of foods like sticky barbecue ribs, corn on the cob, and cappuccino lest remnants fix themselves to the mustache.

Participants are encouraged to take selfies and post them on social media sites, tagging #Movember and following @Movember on Instagram.

Have you ever participated in Movember?

Image by FredericRivollier via Flickr

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