No Shave November

According to Cancer Research UK, men are in general, at a significantly greater risk than women from nearly all of the common cancers that occur in both genders, with the exception of breast cancer.

The joint report, The Excess Burden of Cancer in Men in the UK (2009), published by National Cancer Intelligence Network, Cancer Research UK, Leeds Metropolitan University and Men’s Health Forum 2009), reveals that when rate ratios were calculated by excluding breast cancer, and cancers which are unique to either men or women only, 60% more men in the 15–64 year age range are dying from cancers that should be affecting men and women equally. Thus, a greater effect seems to be predominately because the cancer deaths that occur in younger women are those related to the breast and genital organs (37.1% overall of cancer deaths in those aged 15–64; and around 50% in the 35–44 years age group). From the rate ratios of male to female deaths it is evident that there is a significantly higher rate of death for men over all ages. This ratio is lower in the 15–64 age range but rises substantially over the age of 65 years.

The mortality rate for lung cancer is substantially higher in men than women due to differing smoking patterns over the previous 60 years, despite there being more men who have reportedly given up smoking, relative to the number of females smokers. When rate ratios are calculated after excluding lung cancer to examine the influence on the burden of cancer in the two sexes after excluding the major cancer caused by smoking, then the ratio for all ages drops slightly to 1.31, with corresponding falls to 0.98 for 15-64 year olds and 1.51 for those aged 65 and over. This could suggest that younger males also have higher overall cancer mortality because of their excess rate of lung cancer.

There has also been a rapid increase in the incidence of prostate cancer, with rates rising from 32.5 per 100,000 in 1975 to 97.2 per 100,000 in 2006 in Great Britain. Although statistics by Cancer Research reveal that more women averagely die of breast cancer, than men of prostate cancer, there are fewer campaigns targeted at men and the importance of early detection. Prostate cancer mortality combined with the male mortality rates for common non-gender specific cancers, means that more awareness campaigns are necessary for male cancer.

It is interesting that despite September being Prostate Cancer month, blue ribbons and blue coloured merchandise did not engulf the country in any manner similar to the flurry of pink ribbons that emerged in the subsequent month of October. Perhaps it is no coincidence that November has now become a month for male cancer fundraising, with the “Movember” challenge.

“Movember”, a portmanteau of the word “mo” (from moustache) and “November”, is an event involving the growing of moustaches during the entire month of November, to raise awareness and raise funds for more effective detection, diagnosis, treatments, and to reduce the number of preventable deaths from male cancers. The Movember Foundation has run Movember events since 2004 in Australia and New Zealand, and since 2007 in Ireland, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States. The foundation’s goal being to “change the face of men’s health.”

As I believe in equality and, therefore, believe that male cancer deserves the same attention and awareness as that generated by female cancer campaigns, such as the ‘Pink Ribbon Campaign’ and ‘Race for Life’, I would join in with the moustache growing… If I had enough facial hair to grow one! Therefore, I have instead decided to join in by going razor and wax-free with regards legs, arms, and…etc! My fundraising page can be found HERE.

No doubt many will turn their noses up at my challenge, and I must admit that I will find it difficult to walk around unshaven. On the continent, many women are reported to grow their body hair, but it is very much a faux pas in Britain. Women whose body hair falls outside aesthetic standards may experience social acceptance problems. The exposure of body hair on women other than head hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, is generally considered to be unaesthetic, unladylike, undesirable and embarrassing. People will usually point and laugh at a “hairy lady”, just like Julia Roberts caused a stir at the film premiere of Notting Hill, when she raised her arm and revealed a hairy armpit.

Julia Roberts at the premiere of ‘Notting Hill’ in 1999.

Yet, it would appear that in casting aside the razor, she is in good company. Drew Barrymore, Elizabeth Jagger, even fashionista, Trinny Woodall, have all had a hairy moment:

Elizabeth Jagger

Drew Barrymore

Fashionista, Trinny Woodall

Beyonce Knowles

Anne Robinson is the “weakest link” after all!

Jessica Biel

Even the ever-so-sophisticated Sophia Loren has been known to fashion a bush!

Women participating in the “No Shave Novemeber” challenge have also been causing some revolt on Twitter.

I confess to also finding body hair most unsightly. But, is that really my own opinion, or is it one that has been indoctrinated into all of us all by society? Hair removal has, after all, been an integral part of grooming since prehistoric times, when men used flint to remove unwanted hair as early as 30,000 B.C, and historical accounts of women’s hair removal have been linked to ancient Greece, the Trobriand Islands, Uganda, South America and Turkey. The rise of hair removal can certainly be closely linked with fashion – as most of society’s ideals are. In ancient cultures, the absence of body hair often indicated class. Only the lower classes let their hair grow. In the Middle Ages, women even removed all of their hair, including the hair on their head, in the name of fashion. The first commercial for a female hair removal product was in 1915 when Harpers Bazaar printed an advert which showed a woman in a sleeveless evening gown which exposed her perfectly shaven armpits.

In the 1970s, feminists put their razors aside as a form of political statement, but today even women who object on principle, are still under pressure to remove body hair. Merran Toerien, who has researched gender and body hair, believes that bodies are seen as needing disciplining into an ideal:

“Hair is seen as masculine…Historically, medically and in the media, it is nearly always associated with men. Shaving female body hair is seen as a way to differentiate between the sexes.”

Women with body hair are even perceived by men and women to be more aggressive and immoral, according to a study by US psychologist Dr Susan Basow, who asserts that non-hairy women are generally seen in a positive light. Indeed, a UK study found that 99% of modern day women removed some hair, most commonly from the underarms, legs, pubic area and eyebrows. Shaving and plucking being the most common removal methods.

Professor Stevi Jackson, Director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at York University stated:

“Over the years body hair on women has been viewed more and more as a monstrosity and dealing with it has become more and more draconian,” she says. “It is about conforming to standard and if you don’t you are viewed as unattractive and ungroomed… It is not about being seen as beautiful; it is about conforming, not standing out.”

The removal of female body hair has become such a social requirement that little 12 year old girls are being subjected to a Brazilian wax, as this anonymous article titled “The Bare Truth”, published in the Economist reveals:

“An Irish beautician called Genevieve is explaining what a ‘Brazilian’ is a she practices the art on your correspondent. … Between each excruciating rip, she explains that she is going to remove nearly all my pubic hair, except for a narrow vertical strip of hairs the width of a couple of fingers. This is known colloquially as the ‘landing strip.’ … In only a few years, this form of waxing has gone from the esoteric to the everyday and is starting to rival the ordinary bikini wax in popularity. At the same time the bikini wax is becoming a normal procedure for women of all ages: the youngest person Genevieve has waxed is a 12-year-old girl”

It is socially acceptable for men walk around with beards, hairy chests, backs, legs, etc., and is even considered an expression of manliness. Ironically, if a man shaves his legs (which may be required for a sport such as rugby or swimming), he will often be ridiculed. In fact, thick hair is associated with strength and masculinity, and so much so, we often find many men going to great lengths to prevent male pattern baldness on their heads. Femininity demands a hair-free body, and a hairy woman is not considered sexually attractive, whilst body hair on men is associated with masculine virility. Whilst I accept the physical differences between men and women on a biological level, society’s dictation of body hair is surely yet another example of ironic hypocrisy, which affects both genders.

When society faces a serious health issue such as cancer – a cruel disease that takes so many lives away from us on a daily basis, surely this is a time to set aside such social and cultural expectations. If ditching the razor and wax strips for a month, and joining the Movember campaign is a social faux pas, then so be it. I like to think I have the strength of character to stand up to what is, essentially, a rather pointless social ideal, in order to raise much needed money for cancer research – an important cause that might help save lives.

It would be nice to see other women who are also brave enough to “stand by her man”, and ditch the razor for a month (or at least sponsor my endeavour), instead of trying to adhere to narrow-minded social norms. It is, after all, for a good cause. I would also like to to remind all the chaps out there: Please remember to have an annual health check up, and a PSA Test if you are over 40. Furthermore, young men should regularly check their testes for any abnormalities, as testicular cancer is most common in young men.

Please remember to donate to my “No Shave November” page at Cancer Research UK. It does not matter if you can only donate as little as £1, for as long as everyone donates something, all the small donations will add up to something bigger. Although it is a UK cancer charity, with which readers from other parts of the world may not feel is relevant to them, one must remember that as long as money is donated to cancer research, it is irrelevant as to where in the world the money is donated for research. What is most important is that valuable research can be conducted, to ensure a cure is ultimately found, instead of focusing upon where in the world the cure was found.

Please donate. Thank you.

Remember, Remember…

Meet Rose.

Rose wanders up and down the corridors of the nursing home for hours on end, her feet moving in small, shuffling steps; her expression vague, almost eerie. Her speech is no longer coherent, but she attempts to explain that she has “to go home”, because her “mother will worry” about where she is.

Rose is 73 years old, and is one of the 800,000 people diagnosed with dementia in Britain (although it is approximated that 400,000 unknowingly have the disease). People assume dementia is merely age-related memory loss, but Rose is incontinent because she has forgotten how to use the bathroom. She cries at the sight of her own faeces, as she no longer understands what faeces are. Rose also cannot remember her husband, children, or grandchildren. Yet, despite the inability to remember the present, many dementia sufferers only remember a fragment of their life – for example, a time when they were children, or early on in their marriage, etc. Tragically, Rose remembers the most traumatic part of her life, and now believes that her heartbroken granddaughter is her sister, and that her husband is her abusive father, causing her to wake up in the middle of the night, screaming in terror, in the belief that her father is “coming to get [her]”.

Rose’s story comes to light just as today’s news reports on former England footballer Gordon Banks’ and Sir Michael Parkinson’s accounts of their personal experiences with dementia, as part of a new campaign launched in the UK to drive dementia awareness.

Despite the stigma that the news reports on today, very few understand the severity of the disease and the impact on lives. Not only are sufferers stigmatised by friends who often abandon them in their fear of being in the company of a mentally ill person, but there is often some harrowing ridicule of dementia sufferers within society in general.

Only a few evenings ago, a visit to my local supermarket was a reminder of this. I was appalled to witness two members of staff at the supermarket, laugh at an old man who is suffering with the disease. I see the old man is at the supermarket almost every evening, and recognise that he is still at a relatively early stage of the disease whereby he can occasionally visit the supermarket by himself (although is usually supervised by his wife). He regularly forgets an item he needed, and is often circling around the small store for an hour at a time. The other night, he would continuously arrive at the check-out only to subsequently shuffle over to another area of the shop, upon realising he had forgotten biscuits, or cheese, etc. The two male staff at the check-out would make “loopy” gestures behind his back, and sniggered rudely as the old man left/returned to the checkout for the umpteenth time.

Similar behaviour was experienced by my own grandmother, whom my mother and I were joint-carers of, and it never ceased to amaze us how ignorant and cruel people can be to a person they think of as being just “a crazy old woman/man”. It was also a harsh reminder as to how society so cruelly stigmatise those who are mentally ill. Remember, the mentally ill are human beings, too.

Perhaps society needs reminding that dementia could affect pretty much any person. Although the disease is generally considered an “old person’s disease”, it has also been known to affect people as young as 30. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are over 17,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK, who are sufferers of dementia. Researchers have yet to find a cure, and can still only speculate upon many of the potential causes of dementia, although some faulty genes have been identified, and in some rare cases the disease can also be inherited.

Let me introduce you to Claude. You may of heard of him.

This is Claude Shannon, the person to whom you can attribute the founding of electronic communications age, and is a person whom you can now thank for enabling you to be able to use a computer and read this post. Claude died of Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, in 2001; completely unaware of the significance of his scientific discoveries going on around him.

Despite this Nobel prize winner’s remarkable intelligence and achievements, the disease nevertheless took his mind from him too.

Any person who sees humour in a person suffering with dementia, should be grateful that they still possess their own mental health. Our brains are central to who we are; yet, the brain can be so fragile and so vulnerable to disease, regardless of our character, strength, or intelligence. The heartbreaking effects of dementia could potentially affect us, or our families.

Despite the disease becoming increasingly more prevalent, Dementia is one of the most underfunded areas of research, with eight times less invested in dementia research than cancer research. However, Dementia is reported to be ahead of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke one for being one of the main causes of disability later in life. Furthermore, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that more than 24 million people have dementia in the world today, with the numbers affected predicted to double every 20 years to more than 80 million by 2040.

If, like me, you are also interested in supporting the research of dementia, you might be interested in this page.

If only every person from the UK could donate £1 to the research of dementia, that would amount to a total of around £62,000,000, which could make a big difference to all our families.

(Please note: This post was not endorsed by any Alzheimer’s charities)