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Man in the mirror

It was a blustery November morning. I locked the car, and proceeded to trudge up the hill into work, my head down to keep the drizzling rain out of my eyes. I glanced up, and saw one of my colleagues coming down towards the car park, her shift in A&E finished. I muttered a ‘Hello’, as bright as I could muster. She smiled at me. She seemed pleased to see me. Very pleased.

‘This,’ she said, gesturing at her own face, nodding towards me, ‘this is very impressive.’

This threw me somewhat. I was flummoxed. What is the social etiquette for an inappropriate compliment from a female colleague to a married man in the drizzle? My mind swam for something to say. This was going to be very uncomfortable.

Then I remembered the moustache.

This is, after all, Movember.  I am duly joining in, and by this point was sporting a reasonable effort at a handlebar moustache. It is for charity (though in honesty curiosity did play a part) and not shaving is, in my own personal experience, quite a lot easier than running a marathon. Thus I could breathe a sigh of relief, make chit chat and be on my way. Thanks be to my moustache! How could I have forgotten? And yet, throughout the whole month, I did forget it was there, only to be reminded by peoples’ reactions.

It was very odd to suddenly be judged by both colleagues and strangers on my appearance, and I can’t say that it was an entirely enjoyable experience.  I had suddenly ceased to be me, and was instead relegated to mere moustache bearer. People liked it, or hated it, or found it amusing, or scruffy, or any number of things. They would feel free to stare, to pass comment or, what I found most bizarre, to avoid making any sort of eye contact at all. It was as if I was someone else, someone who stood out more, and who was therefore prone to being judged purely on the way I looked. It occurred to me then that this is what some people must face every day of their lives, and not necessarily by dint of having a moustache. After all, I could throw in the towel at any point. All it needed was a razor. It was through my own choice that I looked the way I did. How many people receive unwanted attention because of the way they look and don’t have that choice?

As a society we are supposedly civilised. We don’t stare, or point, or laugh at people who look different from the way we do. That’s not how we’re brought up. We treat people based on their personalities, on their actions, on the quality of their character. Apart from the fact we don’t. Movember taught me that much, and it is a sad lesson to learn.

So I continued to wear my moustache proudly throughout the month, ostensibly raising awareness of prostate cancer, but inwardly aware that I was bearing a load, however mild, that not everyone could choose to put down.

Very few young men these days choose to wear a moustache (TV’s Mike Wozniak being a notable exception, and he’s a comedian). But to gain some small and temporary insight into how society can make you feel so different over such a small thing as how you look, I recommend going easy on the razor.

Dr Tim Cassford is a GPST1 in Chichester