The Inspiring Reason This Woman Wears A Mustache Everyday In April
Eight years ago, I inserted myself into a mustache growing competition fundraiser; Stache For Cash. Started by 3 guys around a campfire one night, they were trying to think of fun, competitive ways to help deserving kids attend Camp Hawkeye. At Camp Hawkeye, our missing is to bring together a diverse community of individuals that include campers and staff from a variety of geographic, socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. In this way we seek to bridge social, economic, and cultural gaps to build positive relationships and deep mutual understanding for our young campers.
The idea? Get a handful of men to grow mustaches and post pictures of their progress and ask people to donate based on how much they liked or disliked their mustache. They would spend the entire month of April growing a mustache and at the end of the month, a judge would decide who won the coveted Stache Trophy!
I have never been someone to shy away from competition, even if it seems like I have no business being in it. I was 25 years old, female, and I had zero signs of any hair growing on my upper lip. (Later in my Stache For Cash career, I would be threatened by a woman who told me to just wait my turn; I was guaranteed to have a mustache and it wouldn’t be so funny then. Obviously, she didn’t stop to find out why I was wearing a real hair stage mustache).
Did I mention that a woman wearing a mustache is an amazing social experiment?
The first year I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. But I didn’t want to be excluded from a competition to help deserving kids go to summer camp just because I physically wasn’t capable of growing a mustache. If I could have I would. Instead, I thought of creative ways to post myself with some kind of crafted mustache. There was the famous toothpaste and spaghetti mustache. Then the duct tape and dandelion mustache. (Did I mention arts and crafts is not my strongest camp activity?) So I posted some pictures and got a few sympathy donations. My staches weren't taken very seriously and understandably didn't win the first year. It would take 3 years for me to become the Stache Champ!
Although, my second year, I really wanted to win. I bought stage performance mustaches made from real hair that I had to glue to my upper lip. Secretly, I was in it to win it. But I was going up against men who had been growing mustaches for most of their adult lives. I knew the competition was stiff.
In 2012, I started strong and I had business cards; I was ready to sell myself and the great cause for which I was wearing a mustache. Like I said before, wearing a mustache in public for 30 days is an amazing social experiment. I experienced things I would never have imagined.
I had someone throw a banana peel at me from their truck while I was walking to the library one day.
I had a group of 4 teenage boys follow me home, me on foot and them on their bikes and skateboards. They kept telling me how cool it was that I had a mustache.
While at the grocery store, I saw little kids pulling on their mother’s shirts to kid whisper in their loud cute voices “Mom that woman has a mustache.” As their mothers tried to hush their kids and move away from where I was I’d make smiley faces at the kids and make them giggle more.
Middle-aged men with facial hair are the most likely to directly comment. They say things like “Oh hey there, you missed a little while shaving this morning.” Or “Excuse me, you have a little something right there.” Gesturing to their upper lip.
Most women avoid eye contact and older woman seem to take the most offense to my hairy upper lip.
Kids are the greatest because they are always genuine and honest with their curiosity. They say it like they see it and they aren’t ashamed to ask about my mustache. They want to know why.
Most adults don’t say a single word to me. They pass and shake their head in confusion or they smile with a chuckle.
Then there are the brave people who muster of the courage to ask me why I’m wearing a mustache and about 75% of the time, when I tell them it’s a fundraiser, the conversation drops and they turn down their eyes and say something like “Well good for you, I hope it goes well.” Before darting off in the other direction.
The first two years, wearing a real hair mustache every day, 24 hours a day, was tough. I thought I was a confident person, but man was I tested. I had doctor appointments, bus rides, dining out, workouts at the gym, shopping, trips to the post office, weekly visits to the bank, and just driving around where I was always drawing attention. But despite the attention, no one was actually talking to me. They were all talking under their breath to their friends or trying to get their children to stop staring and speaking so loudly about the woman wearing a mustache. It was as if I was less than everyone else, strange, and clearly misunderstood.
I had spent most of my teen years and young adult life trying to help people feel accepted and included. I knew everyone in my high school graduating class...like knew them more personally than most people know their classmates. It was astonishing that because I had a mustache on, I was suddenly different and not accepted. More often than not, I wasn’t even given the chance to be known. I had to give myself pep talks before going out of the house and tell myself that what I was doing was for a good cause. I had to remind myself that something as small as a mustache didn’t define who I was. I had to continually tell myself that just because someone didn’t donate and support me, doesn’t mean they don’t like me. I braced myself when I left my house for comments like “Hey, you stupid dyke, why don’t you go kill yourself.” I would trick myself into believing that wherever I was going, there would be lots of kids who would playfully point and laugh so that they could share something cool with their friends. It made it easier to drop my packages off at the post office and go to the bank; I would try and find a train car that had kids on it and sit close by.
But I couldn’t think of a more appropriate fundraiser for me to be a part of. The way that I am treated while wearing a mustache is the way that many of the people I am trying to help bring to camp are treated on a daily basis, and they don’t have the option of simply taking a fake mustache off. They are humiliated by teachers and classmates for having free or reduced lunch. They are tired and achy because they are homeless and have to sleep in an uncomfortable bed in a shelter. They are outcasted by kids in school because they are in the foster system and told that no one wants them. They can’t be part of afterschool activities because they have to go home and take care of the house because their single parent is working two jobs and won’t be back until after 11 pm. They’re made fun of because of their 3rd generation hand me down clothes that their oldest sibling wore in another decade. They are also kids whose parents caught a bad break and money is temporarily tight.
These are kids. Kids whose parents are working tirelessly to provide all the best opportunities for their kids. Kids whose parents are suffering from chronic disease and/or dying. In those cases, all the money going to medical bills.
NONE of these are reasons for kids to get ignored, made fun of or be excluded from activities.
Camp Hawkeye is for All Humans. Children’s circumstances don’t define who they are. Furthermore, children’s parent’s situations shouldn’t be defining characteristics associated with the child.
In the last 5 years, I have grown more confident and become mostly unphased by the negative remarks when they're thrown at me. I have rehearsed and finely executed my response to multiple first reactions. I’m not embarrassed to share with people that I never went to summer camp because my parents couldn’t afford it or let them know that I was a kid on free and reduced lunch. I recite a few of the many benefits of attending overnight camp and now, I simply ask, “Doesn’t every child deserve those things?”. Not everyone donates but I’d like to think it gets them thinking about making judgments about people.
I will continue to wear a mustache for 30 days in April for the foreseeable future. I will continue to advocate for children in underserved communities. I will think of new and creative ways to dress up my mustache to be more approachable and fun. It’s funny to think about but when it really comes down to it, the people judging me for wearing a mustache are the people who probably feel the most insecure about themselves.
Click Here to help send a deserving child to Camp Hawkeye:
Camp Hawkeye has been bringing together a diverse group of humans since 2006 to have a traditional summer camp experience. Founded specifically to be a place where individuals could live, work and play together outdoors experiencing nature while at the same time breaking down stereotypes and stigmas. We welcome ALL HUMANS ages 7-17 at Hawkeye. We have a safe and caring community with shared goals and a deep sense of belonging.
Too much of the time in our lives is spent in the company of people who are, to a great extent, like ourselves. By living among, attending school alongside, and socializing with people like ourselves much of the world becomes foreign and different (the "other") and often in a negative or frightening way. We strive to destroy the barriers that are thrown up, as a result, undermine the stereotypes that develop and facilitate friendships that subvert this isolation. Only through these connections can true understanding be achieved.