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Gael Hannan on Movember: A Lipreader’s Hell

Movember: A Lipreader’s Hell

By Gael Hannan, Hearing Health Matters, 11/11/2013

I have some serious issues with mustaches.

First, I’m never quite sure how to spell it. Mustache is the American spelling; other English-speaking countries, including my own, spell it moustache. Then there’s mustachio, which sounds Italian but isn’t, and refers to an especially luxuriant growth of hair on the upper lip.

Second, I don’t know why mustaches are even there. They don’t keep a man’s face warm and they require upkeep, so I assume the mustache is simply one of the few forms of face decoration historically acceptable in a man. The odd thing is, if a man chooses to wear a full line of makeup from mascara to lipstick, I’m OK with that, because I understand wearing makeup.

Third, the different types of mustaches confuse me. Do particular styles have shades of meaning? Filmmakers often use mustaches to indicate a character’s political, sexual or career orientation. But the rules seem to have changed and one can no longer judge a man by his facial hair, or lack of it.

The fourth – and ultimate – issue I have with mustaches is that they can make speechreading hell for people with hearing loss.  If  hairs go even a smidgen over the edge of a masculine upper lip, my ability to understand the man’s speech is compromised. How well lips move or articulate speech movements or sounds is a crucial component in successful speechreading. But it’s not the only thing we look at; a speechreader also takes in a speaker’s eyes, teeth, jaw, facial expressions and body language when decoding a spoken message. (Is it any wonder that people with hearing loss get easily tired? Communicating is a lot of work.)

When November started a couple of weeks ago, I groaned, because several men in my life, including my son and husband, are supporting the Movember movement, a worldwide phenomenon originating in Australia. The vision of Movember is to “Have an Everlasting Impact on Men’s Health’, with a special emphasis on cancer and mental health issues. On October 31, participants do a final upper lip shave and the next day, they start some serious hair-growing. And they don’t do it for nothing.  While the best mustaches are published and universally admired, most men also use the event to raise money for either Movember’s designated charities or for a health-related organization of their choice.

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