Eight years ago, I inserted myself into a mustache growing competition fundraiser; Stache For Cash. Started by 3 guys around a camp fire one night while drinking beer and trying to think of fun, competitive ways to help deserving kids attend Camp Hawkeye. A1-M1 (April 1 to May 1)was the tagline. The idea was they would get a handful of men to grow mustaches, 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. At the time I was 25 years old, I had zero hope 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 when I was her age and it wouldn’t be so funny then. (she clearly 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. All I knew was I didn’t want to be excluded from a competition to help deserving kids go to camp because I physically wasn’t able to grow 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. I wasn’t taken very seriously and clearly did not win the first year. It would take 3 years for me to become the Stache Champ! I secretly desired to win year two when I bought real hair, stage performance, mustaches that I had to glue to my upper lip, but I was aware that the competition was stiff. Men who had been growing mustaches for most of their adult lives. (see photos at end of blog)
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 this mustache. As I mentioned before, wearing a mustache in public for 30 days is an amazing social experiment. I experienced things I never would 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 woman don’t make eye contact and older woman seem to take the most offense to my hairy upper lip. Kids are the greatest because they are the most genuine and honest. They say it how they see it and they are curious and ask questions. They aren’t ashamed that I have a 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.” as they dart 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 suddenly always being noticed. I was being noticed but it seemed like 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 part of things. I knew everyone in my high school graduating class; knew them more personally than most people know their classmates. It was astonishing that now, because I had a mustache on, I was different and not accepted. Most times 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 to support me, doesn’t mean they don’t like me. I braced myself when I went out of my house for more comments like “Hey, you stupid dy*#, why don’t you go kill yourself.” I would trick myself into believing that where ever I was going would have lots of kids who were going to be laughing and playfully pointing and sharing with their friends this woman who was wearing a mustache. This made it easier to drop my packages off at the post office and go to the bank; on the subway I would try and find a car that had kids on it and sit close by.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate fundraiser for me to be a part. 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 to just take the 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 had to sleep in an uncomfortable bed in a shelter. They are made outcasts by kids in school because they are in the foster system and told that no one wants them. They can’t be part of after-school 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 11pm. They’re made fun of because of their 3rd generation hand me down clothes that their oldest sibling wore in another decade. Some of them are also kids whose parents caught a bad break and money is just temporarily tight. Kids whose parents are working tirelessly to provide all the best opportunities for their kids and still coming up short on funds. Kids with parents suffering from chronic disease and/or dying, 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. A child’s circumstances don’t define who they are. Furthermore, a child's parent/guardian situation shouldn’t be a defining characteristic associated with the child.
In the last 5 years I have grown more confident and become mostly un-phased by the negative remarks 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 ask the person “doesn’t every child deserve those things?” Not everyone donates but I’d like to think it gets them thinking about making judgements 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 under-served communities. I will think of new 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.
Help me send a deserving child to Camp Hawkeye: https://www.crowdrise.com/dashboard/jessicacolgansnyder/stache-for-cash-2018