- Associated Press - Sunday, December 5, 2010

CLEVELAND | The scraggly patch of blond hair on Zak MacDonald’s upper lip is a source of mockery among his co-workers in this testosterone-laden office, where the art of growing a mustache has become a full-blown competition.

Scanning the cubicles, there are several handlebars and respectably bushy mustaches. The most prominent rival the collage of famous ‘staches displayed on the wall, including Tom Selleck’s iconic facial hair. Much to his chagrin, though, Mr. MacDonald’s is not among them.

“As you can tell, we’re 22 days in and there’s not a whole lot happening up in the ‘stache area,” he acknowledged, rubbing a hand over his lip. “But you know, God knows I’m trying.”

These men are among the more than 500,000 eager participants in “Movember,” which inspired men all over the world to grow mustaches last month to raise money for research of prostate and testicular cancer. Since it was founded by a bunch of beer-drinking Australians in 2005, Movember has raised more than $100 million, with men collecting sponsorships and earning more money as those mustaches grow.

Movember’s founders say they are shedding light on a real health threat. While breast cancer awareness has turned half the world pink, they say, cancers targeting men are rarely discussed.

Doug Hardman (left) shows off his facial hair with co-workers Ivan Davydov, Jeff Pesler, Matt Mignona, Geoff Hardman, Charles Degen, Todd Eddy and Zak MacDonald. (Associated Press)
Doug Hardman (left) shows off his facial hair with co-workers Ivan Davydov, ... more >

“They’re silent killers,” said Movember spokeswoman Lisa Potter.

About 32,000 men will die of prostate cancer in 2010, according to estimates by the American Cancer Society. That’s not far behind the nearly 40,000 women who will die of breast cancer this year.

It all got started when a bunch of guys were sitting around drinking beers in Australia and decided to grow some mustaches just for fun. The ensuing disgust from their girlfriends and co-workers prompted them to find a charitable justification for their facial hair, Ms. Potter said.

“They were kind of laughed at,” she said. “But they raised over $55,000 that year with 450 guys.”

After signing up at Movember.com, men vie for donations through their “MoSpace page,” where family and friends can track their progress and rate the merits of the mustache by perusing uploaded photos. There’s even an iPhone app, introduced this year.

Some guys said they jumped on the Movember bandwagon because they think growing a mustache is an inherently hilarious thing to do. The mustache itself already has something of a cult following, evidenced by groups such as the American Mustache Institute, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that claims it is devoted to “facial hair advocacy.” The group likes to pull stunts decrying what it calls facial-hair discrimination.

“At the end of the 1970s, the mustache had fallen on very hard times,” said Aaron Perlut, who founded the group. “The only pop culture representation of the mustache for more than 20 years was the milk mustache. We found that very offensive.”

This weekend, the mustaches that have graced office cubicles and street corners for the past four weeks were out in their fullest glory at giant costume galas. As of Tuesday, the campaign had raised more than $60 million in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada combined.