Why Movember Isn't For Everyone: The Silent Shame Of The Baby-Faced

Record numbers of men are applying for beard transplants. As 'Movember' gets underway for another year, Sam Parker considers joining them.

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This year it started in September.

An email arrived asking if I, as a member of the press, would like to attend the Movember: Cook Like A Man book launch, where ‘foragers and roadies will be hanging out to share recipes and tips on growing fine moustaches’.

A few days later it was an invite to a Movember breakfast, a chance to be presented with ‘Movember’s fashion partners for this year’.

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Then it was Movember greeting cards, Movember razors, quirky Movember events all across London and beyond… all at least eight weeks before the big month even began. And you thought Christmas started early.

Knocking a charity is hard, not to mention unbecoming. Like turning down a ‘chugger’ on the street, you can never bring yourself to be quite as rude as you want to be. And in the case of Movember, nor should you. In drawing attention to prostate and testicular cancer – a disease that was woefully under publicised before Movember began in 2003 – the charity raised £92m last year alone (a tiny fraction of which was donated by me) and is now ranked as one of the world’s top 100 NGOs by the Global Journal.

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But alongside raising awareness of cancer, this annual orgy of facial hair fetishism has inadvertently exacerbated a little-known and rarely discussed male body issue.

Because, if you didn’t know, not all men can grow moustaches, whether it’s for charity, improving your hipster credentials or just going to fancy dress party as Tom Selleck. Some men – fully grown adults in their 20s, 30s, 40s I should add – have faces as smooth as ice-cream (and often as shiny). And like being overweight or bald on top, it bothers some of them. It bothers some of them a lot.

These are the men for whom Movember is a tortuous time of year; who, when everyone is checking each other for signs of benevolently sprouted stubble, look down and feel embarrassed.

Men who fill internet message boards with cries of hidden despair.

Men – like those in this article – who are in applying in record numbers to spent thousands of pounds to have hair take from their head and surgically transplanted onto their face.

Baby-faced, ham-cheeked, razor-free Moomin men.

Men like me.


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Ever so often, you see a study about facial hair in the news focused on the all-important topic of what women find attractive.

The findings vary – like surveys about preferred hair colour or breast size – because such things are subjective, and silly to try and measure as a rule. But one consistency,  no matter where or when the survey takes place, is that fully bearded or heavily-stubbled men come top in the sexually appealing stakes (even Darwin stuck the boot in on this point, though perhaps he would, given his own face forest).

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And it’s not just sex. A study this year discovered that men and women alike perceived men with full beards as being more masculine, healthier and – here’s the real kicker – having superior parenting ability, while the Oxford Journal found that men with facial hair are simply ‘taken more seriously’ on a whole.

Even the one study that appears to put bearded men at an disadvantage – a 2004 report from Montclair State University that asked 371 people to ‘sketch the face of a criminal offender’ and found 82 percent gave them some form of facial hair – only really plays into another central anxiety of the beardless. Namely, that we look ‘innocent’ – an advantage in a criminal trial, sure, but in the world of business or seduction, akin to saying ‘naïve’, ‘safe’ or ‘unexciting’.

So in addition to having a chin like a spoon, those incapable of stubble are less sexy, less healthy, less likely to be taken seriously and less promising a Father. Put together, that’s quite a package.

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Among groups of old friends, jokes about each other are born, matured over time and deployed as a default whenever the opportunity arises.

Mine has always been about not being able to grow a beard (unless you count a thin line of Shaggy-Do chin fluff, which of course no one does). If I’m taking the piss out of one of the guys I’ve known since school and nothing more current is to hand, they’ll ask me if I’ve started shaving yet. It’s a form of love.

But while the insult has long since ceased to have any venom from them, the older I get, the more insidious the drawbacks of being baby-faced become.

Two years shy of 30, I still get looks, when arriving at meetings or conducting interviews, that says: ‘Why have they sent the intern?’ (One guy, on learning I was Culture Editor of The Huffington Post, remarked: ‘you’re doing well for a teenager’. I was 26.)

Then there is approaching women. Whether it’s in a bar or on a dating website, you don’t usually hold up a copy of your passport next to your face (although I do carry it, at all times, so I can buy beer). The result is that every woman I’ve ever told my age reacts with shock or, more likely, thinks I am lying.

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I’ve been described as ‘cute’ a few times – but handsome? Sexy? Cool? Mysterious? You’d no more apply those adjectives to me than you would Macaulay Caulkin, or David Cameron (the latter, memorably, was described as ‘robot made of gammon’ by Caitlin Moran).

Maybe I’m delusional, but the reason for all of this appears to be having cheeks like a mandrill baboon’s arse. As physical disadvantages go, it’s nowhere near as bad as, say, being obese. But obese you can treat.  When you’re beardless, all you can do is pray for an early onset of wrinkles to age your face, or hope to pick up a cool scar in a bar room brawl.

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That, or pay a surgeon £4000 to graft some hair onto your face.

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Doctor Bessam Farjo is the one of the world’s leading hair restoration surgeons. He performed the very first facial hair transplant in 1996.

Earlier this year, in the wake of Jeremy Paxman’s headline-grabbing beard debut, he was featured in an article in the Daily Mail that pointed out – with no small amount of bemusement – that beard transplants had ‘rocketed six-fold’ in the recent years, and the figure is rapidly growing.

“Some of these men have very smooth faces and they say they look babyish and not manly enough. They get people taking the mic out of them,” the soft-spoken 50-year-old tells me.

“In the past it wasn’t possible to get a natural looking beard because the grafts were too big,” he explains.

Now, science can intervene properly.

“In the last six or seven years beard transplants have taken a huge leap. Grafts have gotten smaller and smaller, and now they are microscopic.”

The operation works exactly the same way as the hair transplants that, thanks to celebrities like Wayne Rooney, are now the most common form of cosmetic surgery performed on men in the UK.

A slice of skin is taken from the back of the head and transferred, via microscopic drills, to the face.

“Harvesting, we call it” says Farjo.

“You get a little bit of bleeding – which acts like a biological glue – then it congeals and crusts for few days. Three or four months later, new hairs come in and continue that way for ever. You can trim them, cut them – do whatever you want with them.”

What, even someone like me, who’ll still be using the same razor longer after he’s stopped using his adult teeth?

“Absolutely. We can build you any beard you want. Unless you have a strong family history of baldness, then the hair we take from your head will stop growing anyway…”

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I do a quick check. Thick on top. Not receding yet. It runs down your mother’s side, baldness, and my Granddad, 86, has a fine head of hair for his age.

Could this be the solution? My chance to join in with Movember and become, in the subconscious of all around me, a real man? What if it hurts?

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“It’s no more painful than going to the dentists,” Carl, one of Doctor Farjo’s patients tells me.

Carl, 32, is a manager at a marketing agency who had a full cosmetic beard transplant (some are performed medically, such as on burns victims) two years ago, after getting fed up with being teased. It’s a story I find familiar.

“It was a standing joke,” he says. “My two younger brothers had full on beards, my young cousins too. But all I could grow was this wispy moustache.”

So, after some Googling and soul searching, he decided to take the plunge and invest £4000 on a new face. Six months later he was shaving, and in the 24 months since, he is in a new relationship and has been promoted at work.

“My girlfriend likes stubble, so it’s a good job I had some when we met,” he explains. “I told her about a year after we got together, she was fine about it.

“I was junior manager and now I’m a senior manager. I wouldn’t want to credit it all to my beard, but it all boils down to confidence. Now I have the ‘five o clock shadow’ look I like, and I love it.”

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Still not convinced even by Carl’s happy ending, I go for lunch with a man with one of the most famous beards in the country – certainly among London’s hipster set, Britain’s spiritual home of Movember – the rapper, author and spoken word artist Scroobius Pip.

Having interviewed him a few times down the years, I was dimly aware that Pip’s huge, bushy black beard had played a significant part in his early success. A life-changing beard, you might call it.

“I’d been working at HMV for years, then I’d decided that I was going to quit and try doing music for a bit,” he remembers.

“I knew for the first few months I was going to be living in a van, so I thought I would start to grow a beard to save having to find somewhere to shave.

“It was for convenience at first, but as soon as I started performing, I realised it was a viable part of marketing myself too. I was playing 3-5 gigs a week, and within weeks I was getting paid slots. That should have taken years. But because I was a 6’4” guy with a big beard and a suit, to anyone on the scene it started to seem that I was bigger and more successful than I was. It created an illusion.”

Today, Pip is regularly approached after shows and on social media by fans and female admirers who want to ask him about his beard, something he’s long since tired of talking about.

Still, I push. Would having a beard like yours change my life?

He shrugs.

“It’s stylish now. You get male models with big beards who girls find gorgeous,” he points out, citing his friend Ricky Hall as an example.

“But in my day it wasn’t like that at all. I got abused. I got stopped on Liverpool Street by the police on suspicion of terrorism.”

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Despite his lofty status in the beard world Pip, like me, has been an outspoken critic of those who take part in Movember.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great charity, a great cause,” he says.

“But blokes not shaving for a bit and then patting themselves on the back like they’re doing something special... I guarantee half the people who grow something in November will keep it in December, maybe have it in January.” To make his point, Pip did a sponsored climb to the top of Snowdon for Movember last year, to encourage people to do more to raise money than just “have an extra ten minutes in bed each morning”.

At the bottom of it, that’s what makes Movember hard to stomach for the beardless minority: other men being rewarded for doing something (or more accurately, nothing) that nature has given them, and denied us.

But like the annoying street chugger, the men stroking their ironic new ‘tache on the tube and the suddenly grizzly newsreaders on the tele raising money for a good cause can’t rouse much in the way of real resentment.

After all, once November has been and gone, the beardless have the other 11 months of the year to content with, during which the peculiar, subtle anxieties of looking like Earthworm Jim never relents.

But is it enough to make me fork out £4000 to have my face zapped with follicles? To give nature a jolt, so that I can stand with my heroes past and present, the Che Guevaras and the Hemingways and the Captain Birdseyes of this world?

In the end, probably not. If only because I wouldn’t want to deny my closest friends the best way they know how to express affection.

But the fact that more and more men are willing to go down this route – to undergo all manner of cosmetic surgery – strikes me as significant.

The illusion that we were ever the less self-conscious of the sexes seems to be fading away, one bald patch at a time.

For those brave enough to reverse a lifetime of humpty-dumpty chinned misery, that can only be a good thing.

Originally published in November 2013. To donate to Movember, visit the official website.