August 12, 2009

Culture: Facial philanthropy

Mustaches are the Warren Buffet of facial hair

A guy with a mustache walks into a bar. People seem captivated with the hair above his upper lip — who is this man and why does he have a mustache?

There are many reasons why this guy may have chosen to grow one — from the obvious (starring in a remake of a ’70s porn) to the less-so (entering a Wilford Brimley look-a-like contest). But what if the reason is neither hedonism nor diabetes?

Robert Heavrin grew his mustache to cure cancer.

M.A.M!Fest, the M.A.M. standing for Mustaches Against Malignancies, is an annual event that benefits cancer advocacy and research. This year, all of the proceeds from Saturday’s event will go to Gilda’s Club, an organization that provides information and support for people and their families who are living with cancer.

Heavrin says M.A.M. began from a combination of sheer boredom and a desire to use free time in a philanthropic way. A major connecting factor between all those with the same qualifications was the hair on their faces.

“Last year, we just had a random house party,” he says while sitting in a dimly lit booth whose ambience, when combined with his Chevron-style mustache, suggests an old-time mob movie. “None of us had jobs, and we had some facial hair and some free time, so we said, ‘Let’s have a mustache party.’ So we had a house party, and we raised some piddly amount of money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America, and then we decided we wanted to do it again, except on a bigger scale, and hopefully raise a significant amount of money for a great charity.”

The mustache has a long and varied history, and is the recipient of much commentary and criticism. As is evident by its recent philanthropic intentions for M.A.M., the mustache is shedding its shady past — The New York Times recently declared, “There are signs that the mustache is at long last shaking off the most unsavory of those associations.” There is an organization dedicated to mustaches, the American Mustache Institute, and a biennial Olympic-style event, the World Beard and Mustache Championships, which honors those with the best facial hair. All of the board members of M.A.M. sport mustaches (except the lone female member, Ginny Pittenger, who dons a fake one), and have found that life has changed since they let their facial hair run a little wilder.

“I feel like a different person because people look at me so differently,” says cofounder and board member Greg Virgin, who also sports a Chevron-style mustache.

For Heavrin, growing a mustache helped alter his perception of facial hair. “I’ve always kind of thought to myself, ‘Why would anybody wear a mustache?’” he says. “But now that I’ve got one, I kind of like it. I might look hideous, but I like it. I’ve kind of grown attached to it.”

Despite the stigma, mustaches have found their niche in pop culture. Identifying a style of mustache has become a refined art, much like wine tasting — there are many contributing factors to what makes a certain kind of mustache. Heavrin and Virgin both sport Chevron-style mustaches; that, according to the AMI, is “a thick and wide mustache, usually worn long to cover the top border of the upper lip.” Other styles include the Dali, the English, the Walrus and the Fu Manchu. Many of these styles are recognizable on the celebrities and historical figures who don them: Salvador Dali, Charlie Chaplin and John Waters are among those whose mustaches are almost as iconic as they are.

“Wearing a mustache, you get compared a lot to celebrities,” Virgin says. “You know exactly what the famous mustaches are. Everybody tells me I look like Tom Selleck.” (And he does!)

The mustache aspect of M.A.M. has become the perfect way to publicize the cause and the event. Both Heavrin and Virgin describe it as a sort of hairy billboard, located in the most visible place of all. “What better place to have an advertisement or a conversation piece than on your face?” Heavrin says.

M.A.M!Fest will take place Saturday at O’Shea’s. The event will include live music, food, cornhole tournaments and, of course, competitions for the best mustache in a variety of categories.

 

M.A.M!Fest

Saturday, Aug. 15
O’Shea’s Irish Pub
956 Baxter Ave.
589-7373
www.mamfest.com
$10 suggested donation; 3-10 p.m.