movember with hearing loss

Movember: A Lipreader’s Hell

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.movember

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 for us.)


Lipreading, Hearing Loss & Movember


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.

It’s a wonderful initiative to make men more aware of their health – and this should include hearing health, too. The incidence of hearing loss increases with age, and many of today’s aging baby boomers / rock’n’rollers have some degree of noise-induced hearing loss to spice up their age-related hearing loss.

So here’s an idea. While growing a Movember mustache, why not pop in to your local hearing clinic to see what the audiologist thinks of your sprouting upper lip. And if you can’t make out the professional’s answer because of his own bushy mustache, then bingo, you’re in the right place! If you can’t understand a hairy audie, then you might just have hearing loss.

A downside of Movember, one that I don’t think organizers properly appreciate, is the agony of family members who must watch the man’s facial hair grow, slowly but hopefully, into a real mustache.  In my case,  the Hearing Husband – and I believe he will admit this – does not grow a good mustache.  It’s just an assortment of bristles scattered across his upper lip. Luckily, the bristles are neither numerous nor long enough to interfere with my understanding him. They do, however, interfere with my wanting to kiss him.

I’m thankful that November is a short month, although I would like to see Movember move to the even shorter month of February. But I get that Movebruary isn’t quite as catchy.

I support a man’s right to grow facial hair, no matter what the month, or reason, or however ugly – in my opinion – it may be. But I am calling on Movember-Men to do two things.

Be aware of the challenges your hairy glory may cause for speechreading friends and family and keep the hair off your actual lips.

Considering donating Movember donations to a local hearing loss organization of your choice.

If  you do, I’ll kiss you.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Gael, your article is spot on. I would like to share this story with you. Hope you get a chuckle out of it. Years ago, before I I had my Cochlear Implant, I was in a job interview. The interview was going along well when the interviewer said, “I understand you have a hearing problem, so my having a beard must make it hard to understand me”. My response, “no , the beard is fine and you have a very deep voice. However the moustache is a bit of a problem, so if you take your fingers and just spread the hairs off your lips as you speak, all will be fine”
    That just came out of my mouth, not sure what made me say it, but without another reference to my hearing loss, he continued the interview. The other person on the selection committee almost burst a blood vessel trying not to laugh out loud.
    I got the job!

  2. Gael – In the speechreading classes I teach, one of the main concerns students have is how to lip read someone when you can’t see his/her lips. I agree with you that facial hair should be kept away from the mouth area if at all possible. (Just try telling that to your favorite uncle with the fluffy beard, though!)

  3. Great article, Gael! Reminds me of two quotes, both from Jarod Kintz.

    “The Nike swoosh logo would make an interesting mustache—on a man who runs his mouth all the time.”

    “The mouth is made for communication, and nothing is more articulate than a kiss.”

  4. How about a shaggy full face beard! One of my family members has it!

    Then we have those folks who rather pride themselves on not opening their mouths when they speak!

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