No matter what you call it (the lip tickler, the soup strainer, the nose neighbor) and no matter the style (be it the Fu Manchu, the handlebar, the horseshoe, or the toothbrush) moustaches will start cropping up all over the Roaring Fork Valley in the next few weeks. But unlike seven years ago when this semi-mysterious phenomenon first popped up in Aspen, this year most valley residents are familiar with the now-annual tradition known as Movember.
The month-long event is a portmanteau of 'mo, short for moustache, and November, in which men (and women donning faux 'staches) grow moustaches in an effort to raise awareness, and money, for male-related cancers, namely prostate and testicular cancer.
This year marks the seventh year that the event has been celebrated in Aspen, but Movember is actually a decade-old import from down under. Pamela Herr, the former executive director of the Given Foundation, was on her annual trip to New Zealand eight years ago when she first heard about the Australian Movember celebration.
“I looked into it a bit more,” Herr says, “and I figured it would be really great for Aspen and the Given because we were a health promotion foundation.”
So she flew to Los Angeles where a group of Aussies were plotting a U.S. Movember expansion. And the following year, along with New York, L.A., and San Diego, Aspen became one of the first host cities of an event that would soon become an international health movement.
Locally, Herr needed to find a face for Movember. And she found one easily in 18-year Aspenite Will Rutledge. Rutledge had thrice been afflicted with testicular cancer over a 15-year period.
“I first got cancer when I was 24 in 1995,” he says. “It didn't kill me, but it almost did. And so I obviously have a personal interest in seeing that the male-related cancers are treated with the same diligence that every cancer out there is.”
Rutledge took on Movember as a personal project. In that first year, he estimates than about 100 people got involved, raising $7,000-$10,000. This year, he's expecting more than 1,000 people to participate and raising more than $30,000. Internationally, Movember raised $21 million in 2012 alone — a far cry from a few dozen Aussies growing mustaches for fun in 2003.
“They were really inspired by the Susan Komen breast cancer foundation and everything women were doing,” Rutledge says. “And Movember is a real compliment to that.”
The moustache becomes somewhat of a ribbon for men's health, in the same way that the pink ribbon has come to symbolize the fight against breast cancer.
“It's all about men growing moustaches in unity to support the cause,” Rutledge adds. “We are succeeding in creating an environment that is comfortable and conducive to men taking charge of their health. If we can temper the perception that masculinity is synonymous with brushing aside good practices and reduce that stigma, then we have taken step one to saving lives.”
But while the statistics are unnerving — like the fact that one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer or that the majority of men diagnosed with testicular cancer are under the age of 35 — Movember is as much of a celebration of health and prevention than a dire call to action. Participants show off their 'staches with a variety of events and parties at local bars and restaurants, culminating with the final event at the end of the month.
The first event takes place this Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Sky Hotel, starting at 6 p.m. Men are asked to come clean-shaven, and women are invited to see their men's faces for the last time in November. Local band The Damian Smith Trio will perform, drink specials will be available all night, Movember apparel will be for sale, and Salon Myo gift packages will be given away. Additional events will be hosted throughout the month.