Sumiko Tan: Let's talk about moustaches

Sumiko Tan: Let's talk about moustaches

I was at a school reunion dinner last Monday and in the course of a conversation with an old schoolmate, he asked me: "Why don't you write about loftier topics?"

I was stumped for an answer but managed to cough out: "I guess I'm not a lofty sort of person?"

I'm still feeling a bit wounded by what he said, so I've decided to write about something lofty this week: male facial hair.

After all, we're now in the month of November, which means Movember has come round again.

For those unfamiliar with Movember, it's the name of a global charity that started 10 years ago in Australia.

A bunch of guys there decided to grow a moustache, just for the fun of it and to see if a 1970s fashion trend could be revived. They got others to follow suit.

Their facial foliage attracted so much attention that they decided to turn this into a good cause - raise funds and awareness for male health, in particular, testicular and prostate cancer.

Every November, supporters cultivate a moustache for the full 30 days, in exchange for people donating to the cause.

We're talking men here, of course, although women can be part of the movement, to egg on these hairy-lipped males and be supportive in other ways (like not laughing at their patchy attempts?)

This novel way to "change the face of men's health", as Movember puts it, has spread worldwide, raising millions of dollars in the process.

In Singapore, Movember is being marked for the third time this year with money going to the Singapore Cancer Society.

I'm not unfamiliar with moustaches because my husband wears one.

Before I married H, though, I never gave much thought to male facial hair. All the men I'd gone out with were clean-shaven. In fact, one or two had upper lips and chins that were as smooth as a baby's bottom.

When I met H five years ago, two things hit me when he walked into the restaurant.

One: he was bald and what was left of his hair was closely shaven.

Two: he had a moustache.

The last time I'd seen him was back in the mid-1980s when we were both teenagers. He had a head of hair then. In fact, a very full head of curly, wiry, unruly hair that would grow into a mini-afro if he didn't cut it.

But his face was boyishly smooth, with a peachy fuzz on his upper lip.

Now, it was the opposite.

He was bald and shaven at the top.

But on his face sprouted a moustache that not only populated his upper lip but somehow also trailed downwards in two thin lines to meet and wrap his chin.

I was shocked.

I got used to his baldness fairly quickly though.

He was comfortable with being bald, wore it confidently and it suited the shape of his head.

Besides, I always tell him, your features are strong and if you still had a full head of hair like before, you'll look scruffy. You're much nicer bald.

It's the moustache I'm more conflicted about.

I've always been wary of men with too much facial hair. There's something comical (think Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat), menacing (Hulk Hogan) and lecherous (George Lam) about a tuft of hair hanging in the middle of a man's face.

Luckily, H's moustache isn't in-your-face. It's not the bushy, painter's brush variety (most Chinese aren't that hirsute) but a very heavy stubble. More Craig David circa early 2000s than Tom Selleck circa 1980s.

On the plus side, the moustache makes him look more manly yet also vaguely artistic. It has the added advantage of balancing out his lack of hair elsewhere (is that why some bald men have moustaches?)

On the downside, it's prickly, very prickly.

If you've been on the receiving end of a moustachioed smooch, you'll know that beard burn is so not sexy.

Moustache hair is bristly and can leave the tender skin around a woman's lips red and angry. I've broken out in bumps before.

Kissing you is like kissing a broom, I tell him. Or a porcupine.

Which is why every once in a while, he'll shave it all off. But his face ends up looking so naked that I'll ask him to grow the moustache again.

Researching on Movember opened me to a fascinating world of men and facial hair.

Did you know there are at least 14 styles of moustaches with names like handlebar, horseshoe, lampshade and toothbrush?

Grooming a moustache is more complex than any female beauty ritual I know. Should your moustache have a centre part? What if your hair is soft and wispy? How do you trim it so it's at a 45 degree angle? Do you need a moustache snood while you sleep?

Beards, the big brother of moustaches, are even more complicated. They date back to the Ancient Egyptians who dyed and plaited the hair on their chins. Every culture has had a take on beards.

The modern-day beard has at least 20 styles with names like Garibaldi, Balbo, Brett, old Dutch and Van Dyke.

Growing a full beard involves an armour of tools and products like clippers, scissors, trimmers, brushes, combs, beard oil, scruff softener and wax. You have to design a "neck line", choose a "cheek line" and decide if you want a natural or defined look.

And I always thought it was harder being a woman.

Movember has generated discussion on male facial hair, not the most serious of topics perhaps.

But if this results in you and me pledging money for the loftier cause of cancer research, then it must be worth it.

sumiko@sph.com.sg

Follow her on Twitter @STsumikotan

Sumiko Tan's column will resume in January next year.


This article was first published on Nov 09, 2014.
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