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Men use mustaches to start conversation about cancer

Go ahead and talk about the scraggly caterpillar sprouting on Gary Stewart’s upper lip. Tease him. Giggle at him.

It’s why the 47-year-old winemaker is growing his first-ever mustache.

“It’s ugly,” he said less than a week after he stopped shaving. “What I’m hoping is people are going to make fun of me and poke fun at me. And then I can tell them, ‘I’m growing this mustache so you’ll ask me what I am doing.’ ”

What he’s doing is joining the spirit of Movember, an international movement that uses just-sprouted mustaches – what Australians call a “mo” – as a way to talk about prostate cancer, testicular cancer and other men’s health issues.

Movember was born Down Under, where friends discovered they could use newly sprouted lip covers as a way to promote health awareness and ultimately raise money. Last year, the worldwide campaign raised $126.3 million, about $15 million of which came from the United States.

“The mustache became our little hairy ribbon. You become a walking, talking billboard,” said Tom Whiteside of the U.S. Movember campaign. “The overarching goal is just to get men to talk about their health.”

So far this year, about 155,000 people have joined the U.S. campaign.

The campaign was born out of the premise that mustaches, especially partially grown mustaches, are about as hip as pet rocks. But now mustaches are in, at least in the form of a Movember fashion fad that covers refrigerator magnets, necklaces, coin purses and socks.

Whiteside isn’t sure the hipness helps.

“It needs to be a little uncool to make sure it sparks that conversation,” he said.

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