When Zachary Edwards was a little boy, he used to pretend his toothbrush was a razor. Recalling this now, the Fort Worth musician's fair-skinned face flushes red. "That's pretty embarrassing," he says, laughing.
But he's not the only boy who, propelled by heart, hope and flickering testosterone, made that daily race to the mirror in search of a whisker or two.
"I remember waking up and running to the mirror and trying to find a mustache hair somewhere," says Joshua Sidin, a mechanical engineering student at UTA who grew up in Australia, birthplace of Movember. "But I was pretty disappointed every year."
A decade or so later, their wistful wait is over, and both men are the proud owners of bona fide facial hair: The long-haired Edwards sports a thick, wide blond cookie duster that might've migrated straight off the lip of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday; Sidin's is more modest by comparison, a thin 'stache, perhaps with the heart of a handlebar.
But beyond their boyhood dreams, Sidin and Edwards have become crusaders in an international movement that recognizes the power of the moustache, that fuzzy little devil that has managed to pull off a Herculean task: propel legions of men -- and young men, at that -- to talk about prostate cancer. And testicular cancer. And screenings. And loss.
And make it cool to do so.
Movember bashes and events in North Texas
Movember may have started as a "Hey, let's all grow mustaches!" goof in Australia in 2003, but since then it has grown into a (truly) visible force for men's health, having raised a global total (as of 2011) of $299 million. You've probably noticed formerly clean-shaven guys suddenly sprouting 'staches, overloading their Facebook feeds with daily photo updates of the progress of their facial hair growth and dropping an awful lot of #Movember hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Athletes and actors are getting hairy for the cause. (Woe to this year's NHL lockout; last season, about 150 players grew mustaches in support of the charity, according to a story on NHL.com.)
And local grassroots Movember events -- North Texas has a bevy of them this year -- are using everything from mustache races to 'stache bashes to end-of-the-month shave parties to promote the cause.
Edwards, a proud member of fundraising group the Fort Worth Cancer Killers, and Sidin, founder of a Fort Worth nonprofit called Moustache Brothers, will both commune with their fellow mo bros Friday at the third annual Fort Worth Modeo at the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. And they'll join men around the world as they celebrate what has become their pink ribbon.
Turns out that this perfect symbol of masculinity and male bonding was right under their nose the entire time.
All they had to do was look in the mirror.
Let's face it, pre-Movember, not a lot of young people were giving much thought to something like prostate cancer unless their friends or family were directly affected. It's easy to think of it as an "old man's disease," and testicular cancer -- well, no man really wants to let his mind go there.
But along comes the trendy Movember mustache, being shown off at cool-kid hangs like the Live Oak and the Where House (where the previous two Modeos were held) and Goodfriend Beer Garden in Dallas, and suddenly, the conversations start.
DFW's most notable whiskers
James Jardine, whose unbridled enthusiasm and hyper charm have made him Cowtown's unofficial Movember ambassador, has long been calling the mustache "men's cancer ribbon." And this year, his ribbon is wonderfully weird, an arresting beard-mustache hybrid that he calls "the face hook."
A recent customer at Barcadia had a better description: "It reminds me of a saber-toothed tiger," she told Jardine.
The dubious compliment sent Jardine over the moon: "Are you kidding me?!" he said, grinning. "That's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me."
And that's precisely the point, says Jardine, a musician and a bartender at the Live Oak and Barcadia. "People are supposed to say: 'Hey, man, you've got a great mustache,' or 'Hey, man, you've got a crummy mustache,' and you go: 'Thank you. Have you heard of Movember?'"
Thanks to events like the annual Modeo (Movember + rodeo), more people have.
This year's Modeo will feature sketch comedy, music from Denton band the Cozy Hawks and the centerpiece of the night: the rowdy mustache pageant, which awards prizes to the best soup strainers.
Far from being an all-dude phenomenon, Movember heartily welcomes women into the fold. Taylor Lumby, one of the Fort Worth Cancer Killers, has watched awareness cut across the ages, and the sexes.
"You check Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, you'll find Movember mustache photos, hashtags and iconography out the wazoo," says Lumby, a senior at the University of North Texas. "It's become considered cool to participate in this cause, even if just by sporting a stick-on 'stache.
"Well, it's just so damn inspiring," she continues. "I know parents are really proud to see their kids being a part of something so much bigger than themselves."
When Sidin moved to the States from Australia in 2008, he knew people really hadn't heard much about his beloved Movember. So last year, he decided to create his own nonprofit -- Moustache Brothers -- to bridge the gap. But now, of course, Movember events are spreading faster than Brad Pitt's follicular experiments. Sidin's fledgling organization aims to raise money throughout the year for health institutes that focus on research and treatment of prostate and testicular cancer. (Though Moustache Brothers is an ardent supporter of the Movember monthlong awareness campaign, it's separate from the global Movember nonprofit organization, Sidin says.)
Jardine, whose late father fought a tough battle with prostate cancer, is glad Movember is getting credit and exposure. "And it's so much fun, too," he says. "At the end of the day, all the work we put into it, we're pushing the envelope and doing some really wacky things. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but we're definitely having fun on the way."
Off to the races
Registered mustache races make up a big part of Movember fundraising. Guidelines are laid out by the U.S. Movember website. In a nutshell: Either as a team or an individual, you register at www.us.movember.com and begin Nov. 1 with a clean-shaven face. Then you grow a mustache -- not a beard, not a goatee, but a proper mustache -- and figure out a way to parlay this into pledges and donations. You can see who's earning what on the Movember leaderboards, and the money all goes to Movember.
'Whisker Wars': a hairy look at competitive bearding
One successful local team is led by Matt Tobin, co-owner of Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House in Dallas.
"The driving force behind it was that my father-in-law passed away about six months ago from prostate cancer," Tobin said. "I had heard of Movember, but my wife was talking to me about it one morning."
That morning happened to be Oct. 31.
"And I said: 'You know what? I'm gonna see how many people I can get to do this with me today.' I went out and basically strong-armed my staff," he said, laughing. He asked them to shave down to half a mustache, then go completely shaven, and send Tobin photos, which would be posted on Goodfriend's Facebook page.
Now for most staffs, a clean shave might not be much of a sacrifice, but consider this: Most of the guys at Goodfriend have (er, had) full, lumberjack beards -- something of a trend among craft-beer folk. Tobin himself had a year's worth of growth that measured about a foot long.
So while many Movember newbies are hearing comments about their incoming stubble, these once-bearded beermeisters had the opposite issue in the early days of November: Their faces were buck nekkid.
"We have a very large social-media presence, and I've put that to use in our efforts to try and raise money for this," Tobin said. "But people really, really responded the first day. Nov. 1st, we had all these pictures, the response was just enormous, and people were donating like crazy.
"Some people do $10 or $5; we got an anonymous donation for $1,000."
That put their team at $2,700 raised, which means the promised Goodfriend $2,500 matching donation comes into play, so by last week, the team had raised a total of $5,200.
"From a PR standpoint, it ended up being good for us as well," Tobin says. "But at the end of the day, I don't care if you do it for selfish reasons or not. When it comes to charity, does it matter if it's selfish or trendy? I don't think so. You're raising money, and that's the goal."
But not all Movember novices are so fruitful with their fundraising.
The guys at J.O. advertising agency in Fort Worth started an eye-catching campaign through their social-media outlets; it was clever, and looked promising.
"Art directors Brad Beasley and Jason Van Orden entered the J.O. men's room, camera recording, to shave one last time and join the ranks of MoBros worldwide," read one J.O. media release, which was posted along with the video.
Their promotional material was fun to read, too. For instance, the description by Van Orden -- who had never grown facial hair -- of his incoming mustache: "At first it's cute and fuzzy like a newborn kitten. Then it grows teeth and starts to bite you in the ass like a rabid cougar on the prowl. I just hope it does not morph into a hairy dread-stache collecting remains of uneaten food and continually demanding to be fed."
His co-conspirator, Beasley, is also eager for Dec. 1, and the razor, to come around.
"I mean, I have a good mustache, but it's driving me insane," he said. "It itches and it just looks ridiculous. I saw some family last night that hadn't seen me in a while, and my sister-in-law was freaked out. She was like: 'I can't look at you. You look like a child molester.'"
"Honestly, we haven't generated any money," Beasley said. "I haven't figured out what we did wrong as far as the money part, but we're looking at it as we're sponsoring the big party -- the Modeo at the Live Oak -- so hopefully that'll raise some money."
This year, the Fort Worth Cancer Killers and Moustache Brothers have a weighty partner aboard for the Movember cause: USMD Hospital of Arlington.
"[Movember is] a really good cause, obviously. It's pretty impressive what they've done," says Rich Bevan-Thomas, medical director of the Prostate Cancer Center at USMD. "They've raised $126 million in 2011 -- I want to say it was about $25 million in the U.S. alone."
Bevan-Thomas says he's hopeful that Movember can help dispel some of the myths about prostate cancer -- namely, that screenings aren't all that necessary.
"A lot of people believe that prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer and that men don't die of prostate cancer," he said. "But not all prostate cancer is the same. The evil is not finding it, but not knowing whether you have prostate cancer, or not knowing which category that you fit in."
The statistics are sobering: One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and one in 36 will die of the disease, Bevan-Thomas says.
So, yes, it's important to get a prostate-specific antigen screening test starting in your 40s. Younger men can try to stave off the disease by eating a diet low in processed foods and high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. (Testicular cancer, however, targets younger men, typically ages 15-35. Self-exams for nodules are encouraged.)
The doctor says he recently performed prostate surgery on a 51-year-old with a PSA of 21, which is very high. "The cancer had spread outside of his prostate, and it's going to be a challenge for us to cure this cancer," Bevan-Thomas said. "And his wife said to me: 'I see pink ribbons everywhere, but I don't see people talking about prostate cancer for young men. My husband's 51 years old; I thought this was an old man's disease.'
"Her point was: 'Why didn't anyone tell me that I needed to get a PSA on my husband?' And that, I think, is a classic example of what I think Movember is trying to do, and what we do every day."
That's why Moustache Brothers leader Sidin reached out to partner with USMD in Arlington. "They're on the leading edge of prostate cancer surgeries and different technologies," says Sidin, who thinks the best way to wake up the nation to male health awareness is to focus locally. "So Mustache Brothers is really geared toward helping out local institutes," he says.
But Sidin does have personal reasons for being involved.
"My great-grandfather, he died before I was born, but he was a really prominent figure inside my family -- the rock -- and the effects of his death trickled down into the family," Sidin said. "And my dad's getting to that age now where it's a very definite thought that comes to mind, so it's very important to me personally, but I see people like James [Jardine, whose dad struggled with] prostate cancer, and just a lot of great friends, and I want to decrease that risk as much as possible."
'Part of something'
Although the Movember movement is just a fraction of the size of organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the aspirational comparisons are inevitable.
"Movember is probably a tenth of the size of Komen," says Goodfriend's Tobin, "but with so many people getting involved, there's no telling where it'll be in 10 years."
He says that serious mustache racers are glued to the Movember leaderboards.
"Everybody can see on the website that you're ranked 600 among 14,000 teams. That's pretty cool," Tobin says. "And that drives people to go: 'Hey, I'm actually part of something. I'm not doing this for no reason.'
"And bringing competition to something, for men, is certainly not a bad idea, because we're competitive by nature."
Competitive, like, say, Komen's Race for the Cure? Sure, it's another comparison that Sidin admires.
"Giving to a cause like this is great," Sidin says, "but when you can have fun while doing it, it's an added bonus. Locally, Susan G. Komen is such an awesome corporation, and what they do is fantastic -- and not just for breast cancer, it's cancer overall.
"So even though we're focusing directly on prostate and testicular cancer, it's all an effort together to eradicate cancer, full stop."
And don't expect Sidin and his Mustache Brothers to pack up their razors and slip silently into December.
"We want to do things all year 'round. When the Modeo doors close on Nov. 30th, cancer doesn't stop being diagnosed."
A quick video snippet from behind the scenes at our cover photo shoot with photographer Ross Hailey and the Fort Worth Cancer Killers.