There is nothing more attractive than a thick, full beard on a man. I am a sucker for scruffy, hairy guys, what can I say? The month of November is that time of the year where Mo Bros and Mo Sistas are encouraged to grow their facial hair and/or avoid shaving throughout the month in support of a cause that is commonly referred to as Movember. The initiative began in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 when two mates, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, took it upon themselves to bring back the moustache as a fashion trend. From there, 30 men took on the challenge and in 2004, the Mo's ability to generate conversation lead to fundraising initiatives and awareness for prostate cancer.
According to the Movember Foundation website, there have been 5,232,625 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas since 2003, CAD$759 million raised and 1,200 men’s health projects funded. This year, there are 30 countries participating worldwide and the end goal continues to focus on the way research into men’s health is done, and the way health services reach and support men. From prostate cancer, to testicular cancer and mental health and suicide prevention, there are a number of different ways to support others and challenge the status quo in a fun and personal way.
While scrolling through Instagram, I came across a thought-provoking post that my friend Temitopé Owolabi (@temitopeowolabi) wrote while bringing attention to his efforts to raise awareness and draw the attention to mortality among men. As someone who has been personally affected by mental health and its effect on men in my life, I felt inclined to reach out to Temitopé and ask him a few questions.
Q: What led to your involvement with Movember? Is this the first time you’ve taken it upon yourself to raise money for a cause?
A: Over the years I have always wanted to be part of a social movement and advocate for a cause through charitable actions. This year is the first time of me taking it upon myself to raise money for the Movember foundation which is a worldwide foundation / NGO aimed to improve men's health. What made this year different was that I realized it was the beginning of November and I remember seeing a couple of young men at my school with moustaches and I was not sure whether they were advocating for the cause to raise awareness for men's health. But for me, I have always worn a full beard all year round and I recall waking up early that morning and just thinking to myself what can I do to make a difference and positively impact in society today? And then the idea popped out and I decided to shave my beard off completely, leaving just my moustache. As brainless as it sounds lol and later that morning, I posted a selfie launching the new look. Two or three days after that, a local stylist reached out to me to ask if I was growing out a moustache for Movember in which I responded yes, and subsequently I was asked if I wanted to model for a frankandoak x movember collaboration shoot in Ottawa.
Q: Your fundraising is focused on mental health and more specifically, mortality among men. What are some of the things you are doing to address that without getting into areas that are too sensitive?
Essentially, because the issue of men's mental health is prevalent in many diverse communities, I have been reaching out to family members and friends through word of mouth, text messages, email and through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I just wanted to raise awareness and draw the attention to anxiety and depression which often leads to suicide among many men. There are a lot of double standards and stigma in society regarding the expression of emotion and vulnerability among men because men are seen as strong individuals who can overcome anything. Those who openly discuss their issues and feelings are usually seen as weak. Other men are afraid, too prideful and egoistical to talk about their feelings because of the fear of being looked down on or seen as someone who is fragile. And due to lack of support from their peers and always bottling their emotions and feeling alone with their problems it leads to depression and at times suicide. With my voice and creativity I wanted to highlight these issues and figure out a way to improve mental health on a large scale. I would like to encourage other men out there to talk about their feelings, struggles or whatever they are going through in life so as to avoid anxiety and depression. There is a saying that says "an issue shared is an issue solved." What has kept me going and what truly gave me hope up to this point is that I have been receiving amazing feedback including several individuals who have been affected and/or are currently experiencing certain issues that are affecting their mental health. Others have also personally reached out to me and expressed their gratitude by recognizing my efforts in bringing this cause to light. I am amazed at how my little input can have such an impact and touch lives.
Q: Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for men who are struggling with mental health issues?
As someone who has battled through depression and some anxiety in the past, you can never have too much awareness. It is okay to talk about your feelings and express yourself because that is what makes you human. It is near degrading that men are taught to not show signs of emotion which is problematic for the mental state of a human being. I must reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong in expressing your feelings and asking someone for help. Talking to someone about your issues promotes the overall well being, relieves stress, and helps the person listening to understand the individual's state of mind and anticipate what type of assistance they can restore to the challenged individual.
Q: How do you get women involved in Movember?
Even though the Movember foundation centralizes its cause to men in particular, it is important to emphasize that women must also actively support by encouraging our fathers, brothers, and sons to freely express themselves concerning anything that they are going through, and also paying more attention to their countenance.
Q: Throughout the rest of the year, are there any other foundations/charities/movements that you are passionate about?
I am very passionate about the UN and more importantly UNICEF, the Red cross and a couple of other NGOs. And moving forward, I plan on working tirelessly to shed more light to issues that educate and enlighten our society.
Donate to Temitopé's link, here.
"My name is Temitopé. I am a fourth year student at Carleton University majoring in Human Rights. Universally, the rate of suicide is alarmingly high in different communities, particularly in men. Too many of our fathers, brothers and men are ‘toughing it out’, keeping their feelings to themselves and struggling in silence. Together with your help, we can aim to improve mental health and reduce the rate of male suicide by 25% by 2030."