November reminders of hair and health

November 6, 2023 3:00 am

No Shave November (Getty Images)

Let’s pause for a moment — amid the fire and ice of war; the GOP House conference congratulating itself for choosing an election denying, conspiracy theorizing speaker; and more murderous consequences of our infatuation with an unregulated militia — to bring you this announcement: As of this writing, I’ve shaved every day since Halloween.

If you’re keeping score at home — and for the love of Mike why would you — that’s every day in the month of November: AKA, No Shave November for men.

Each November since No Shave November’s inception in 2007, I’ve continued to shave. I have nothing against facial hair, having sported a mustache for many years. Habit drives me to the razor as does the image of my beard looking anything like the unruly mop residing on my melon. I still have a little self-respect.

Nevertheless, count me among the wholehearted fans of No Shave November because it reminds me and all men, at least those paying attention — beard or otherwise — that taking care of our health is part of the deal of being a real man. No Shave November began with eight siblings in Chicago, raising awareness about cancer and money to fight it while honoring their father, who had died of the disease.

Also on the hirsute calendar since 2003 is “Movember,” dedicated to the same health consciousness for men as No Shave November but with mustaches instead of something along the lines of a full on Duck Commander.

I applaud anything that calls attention to men’s health because as a gender, our profile pages are filled with poor self-care and a penchant for avoiding doctor visits — particularly when we need them most. Research from the renowned Cleveland Clinic revealed that nearly three in four men said they would rather clean toilets than go to the doctor.

If and when we finally do get there, our behavior isn’t much better. One in five men reported they haven’t been completely honest with the doctor. Nearly 40% of us fess up to withholding information because we’re not ready to deal with a diagnosis that could result if we’re up front with the sawbones. Clearly, No Shave November and Movember’s focuses are on the mark.

To complicate any potential complications, we also ignore our mental health — sadly prominent in recent new cycles — at the same rate, 44%, as staples such as yearly physicals. More than a quarter of us watch more than five hours of TV a day on average. Finally, while more than eight out of 10 of us have experienced serious stress in the last six months, few of us seek help to cope with it, preferring, I guess, to toughing it out or classic denial, that sort of physically debilitating thing.

From the very start, the idea of not shaving took a popular hold because millions of men already disliked the morning routine of scraping hair off their pusses with a thin, sharpened piece of steel. So a month’s respite and the resulting growth appealed to them. Beards blossomed as well during the pandemic, and stubble now seems a requisite for pop culture icons, professional athletes and Joe Average.

As Madison Avenue and social media have filtered No Shave November and Movember, I’ve found just a tinge of unwarranted machismo on the edges of these celebrations of all things men, especially their facial hair and their health. Such attitudes dislocate the purpose of No Shave November and Movember and further distort the idea of what a strong male should be.

We’ve lived with the term “toxic masculinity” since sometime in the 1980s, obscure at first but now a mainstay in our social, cultural and psychological vernacular. From my reading it has nothing to do with facial hair and everything to do with attitude. Psychology Professor Shepherd Bliss, who coined the phrase, wrote in 1987 that “if men were to place greater value on their relationships with other men, spend more time with children, have a better connection to nature, work with women for equality, and take better care of their bodies, society as a whole would almost certainly be transformed for the better … ours is a time for revisioning masculinity and redefining what it means to be a man.”

I’ll leave it to much better equipped minds to determine whether “revisioning” manhood is an element of No Shave November and Movember. Bliss’ admonition that we take better care of our health would be a good place to start that conversation, however.

Which I’m going to do … just as soon as I shave.

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George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.