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Where have all the mustaches gone? June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in MetroSexual.

Urban Nepal is rapidly becoming a society without mustaches. A story about the mustache in the age of the metrosexual male may seem like an outdated storyline in itself. But if metrosexual is the latest fad, shaving off mustaches is already a mass phenomenon.

Just think of male politicians, actors, journalists, singers, models and you will find that an overwhelming majority are without any mustaches. If there is one common lifestyle trait that unites the urban Nepali male today, it’s shaving off facial hair.

“It’s the new trend, a fashion, among men to stay clean-shaven,” says Arju Deuba, whose husband, former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, shaved off his trade-mark mustache some 12 years ago. Deuba shaved his mustache when his mother passed away but has remained cleaned-shaven since then, as everyone, not to mention lady Deuba, said he looked younger and more handsome without it. Former Miss Nepal Sugarika KC said when she visited her former school recently she was surprised to find that  the mustaches were gone from the faces of most of the teachers.

As recently as a decade or 15 years back most adult men in Nepal used to wear a mustache. And about 100 years ago almost every man worldwide was mustachioed.

In the 18th and 19th centuries a mustache was identified with masculinity and power. The British Army, for instance, forbade the shaving of the upper lip in any of its ranks since the 19th century until the regulation was abolished by an Army Order in 1916.

Those who tried to banish the mustache from society paid the price. The Pharaoh Teqikencola outlawed mustaches among the elite of Egyptian society in 1870 BC, only to be overrun by mustachioed bandits from the countryside, which led to his downfall. In present day Nepal, not only army chief Rukmangad Katuwal but also most of the 17 major generals in the army are without moustaches.

Why then is the mustache, which men so strongly identified with their virility and power in the past, losing its lustre, and its place on male lips, so rapidly? The answer is far from simple.

But it indicates at least two subtle changes taking place in Nepali society. First, men are gradually putting aside their religious superstitions. Second, females are having more say and control over how their menfolk look.

For long, Hindu males have held the belief that they should not shave their mustaches so long as their parents are alive. A reporter working at the Post once shared the trauma of having shaved his mustache while still living with his parents: “That day I felt as if I had committed a horrible mistake; a terrible sense of having been disloyal to my parents crept in.” Today, only a few clean-shaven men feel such stigma, for they don’t see any correlation between the mustache and their parents’ lives or longevity.

Modern males may follow religion, and they do, but they are also increasingly guided by reason. How mustaches came to be associated with religion is a mystery. But it’s true that in many other religions in the past the mustache was also seen as a symbol of wisdom. Confucius once said, “A man without a mustache is a man without a soul.” And he himself wore long, fine streams of perfect hair emanating from the corners of his perpetual wry smile. Like Confucius, almost all holy men then wore moustaches. Though the Buddha is often depicted as clean-shaven in the images found in South Asia, historians say he wore a tight, fashionable mustache. This is corroborated by images found is West and Central Asia. Similarly Jesus also wore a mustache.

If there is one single most important factor why today’s urban males don’t wear mustaches, it is women. Over half a dozen Nepali men this scribe interviewed said either their wives or girlfriends or their sisters don’t want them to wear a mustache. Hari Ram Limbu, a lecturer, said he finally shaved off the thin line of his mustache when his newly wed wife kept on insisting he do so for over a month. The onetime symbol of male virility seems to have fallen flat before the changing taste of the ‘fairer sex’.

An equal number of women this scribe talked to disapproved of the mustache. “I prefer a neat and clean man, and I hope my future husband will not wear a mustache,” said actress Bipana Thapa. From Sugarika KC to rising singer Abhya Subba, all said they prefer men without mustaches.

Why are women increasingly disapproving of the mustache? Almost every woman asked said it makes men appear older and dirty. No offense to men who proudly wear their mustaches because these women also said they don’t mind Johnny Depp and Abhisekh Bachchan wearing mustaches. And there could still be plenty of women like former Miss World, Diana Hayden, who was recently quoted as saying, “I really don’t like the idea of metrosexual man. I think men should be men”. There you go. 

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