It is sad news for folliculaphiles - Movember is drawing to a close. Men across the nation have only a few more days to massage their upper lips, say their final prayers to the Testosterone God asking that they win this year's unofficial "largest Mo in the office" competition and bombard their Facebook friends with donation requests, before the razors come out on 1 December.
No one who has encountered the Movember phenomenon can be failed to be impressed by its genius. As 'Shaveologist' Patrick Bryan recently commented in these pages, "most men secretly want to grow a moustache"; what Movember gives them is a chance to give up that cumbersome business of shaving, all in the name of charity. Perfect.
While there have been a few attempts to include the other half of the nation in the festivities, encouraging them to be 'Mo Sisters' or to eschew their foundation for Children in Need, I still can't help but feel sad that Movember is such an overwhelmingly male affair. Ultimately as a women I can donate, but not participate.
The tache may have gone out of fashion with Hitler (aside from certain areas of East London, I'm told) but ultimately men are free to grow or shave their hair as they see fit. Be it the curl poking seductively from an unbuttoned shirt, or a glimpse of hair sneaking down from the belly button, body hair is rightly considered sexy; a mark of sexual maturation. But for women, any natural or stylistic variation in hair on any part of the body except the head is markedly absent. Any profession, any age - all must collude in the myth that puberty does not provide women with body hair from the moment it hits us.
Photo by Matt Hawkins 2013
For me, the downy blonde hairs on my legs started turning courser and darker when I was about 12. I hadn't really noticed until two boys in my class started mocking me one day when I had come to school wearing a skirt. At home that evening, I quickly found my Dad's razor and shaved the hairs off. From that day on for nearly a decade, I never let my leg or armpit hair grow beyond a few millimetres - and I am certainly not alone. Judging by the discussions of my twenty-something friends, even keeping your pubic hair is pretty touch and go.
About a year ago, on what was pretty much a whim dressed up in half-hearted feminism, I decided to stop shaving. My boyfriend, though one of the most open minded people you could meet, was concerned. "How long will it grow?" he initially asked of my underarm hair, clearly worried that his girlfriend was about to turn into something out of Scary Movie. I assured him it would only grow as long as his. Really, I had no idea.
Whilst female friends have either remained silent or praised me for my "brave" decision, nearly all comments I have received have been from men. One friend told me that my underarm hair was "disgusting" (referencing the widely held but incorrect idea that shaving is somehow "cleaner"). While I was on a crowded London tube, two teenage boys saw the hairs on my legs and started inevitably weighing up my sexual attractiveness, declaring that I was "fit for a man". They then proceeded to discuss raping me, wondering if I would sound like a man whilst gagging on their genitals.
I was left wondering in horror what their response would be if one of the girls in their class had the tenacity to step out of line. I can't help but agree with Naomi Wolf that if we were free of the constraint of constant grooming we might (God forbid) have more time and energy to start questioning such overt sexual discrimination, or why we are being paid 15% less than men.
It is no wonder that 'Armpits for August' hasn't quite taken off in the same way as Movember. Even the choice of condition it raises money for, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), inadvertently reinforces the link between any female body hair and hormonal imbalance. Given the hostility I have experienced, I am certainly in awe of those like PCOS sufferer Sarah O'Neill, who is stopping her normal depilatory routine and growing her facial her this November to raise awareness of the condition.
Men can only take on the "challenge" of growing a moustache in so many numbers because, and I'm sorry to say this chaps, compared to the stigma women face about their body hair, it is really no challenge at all.