Why Do Italian Men Grow Mustaches…?

An old Italian joke goes: Why do Italian men grow mustaches?  A: So that they can look like their mothers. 

Hehehe… Things are usually humorous only when they hold a certain truth and, boy, do I understand such a truth.  Having Italian heritage on my father’s side of the family and having inherited more than my fair share of Italian features; wide feet, thick legs, dark hair and eyes and a lifelong appetite for all things pasta-based, is something I have come to terms with as part of who I am.  Oftentimes I have accepted these features as markers of a familial lineage, something to be proud of.  However, at the ripe old age of 11, I’ll always remember my mother’s casual remark, “Talia, do you have some dirt on your upper lip or is it… hahaha, honey, I think you’re growing a mustache.” 

The next day she came home with a teal and white box of Jole cream bleach for pesky female facial hair and the mustache-taming part of my life commenced.

This bleaching-alternating-with-depillatorying has become a frequent maintenance practice for me.  It broke the ice between my university dorm-mate and I very early on in our first year – she was also dark-haired so it was a match made in heaven.  We’d reserve a date, lock the door and lounge around looking like white-haired Groucho Marxes until the required 10 minutes had past.

However, in having been indoctrinated into a culture where natural-ingredient deodorant and sulfate-free shampoo are a requirement, I wonder how “naturopathic” this biweekly chemical assault on my upper lip actually is.

There was one point, at age 18, where I strayed from the minimally-invasive procedures of bleaches and depillatory creams and ventured into the land of waxing, only to painfully discover that, not only did waxing remove my mustache, it also unattractively cleared off a few layers of epidermis.  I haven’t ventured back to that land since.

The internet tells me that if I apply tomato or papaya pulp to my upper lip for 4 minutes I will experience “natural facial hair bleaching”.  However, I can’t help but roll my eyes and wish some Italianism on these people.  Don’t you think that, in a land where hairy-faced women also happen to routinely eat tomatoes, they would have stumbled upon such a simple solution decades ago?  These tomato-bleach people clearly haven’t dealt with a real mustache before.

I have been told more than once, “aw, Talia I haven’t noticed anything.”  To which I smile and reply with, “you haven’t noticed anything because I take care of that sh–!  Once I stop my bleaching procedures, you’ll begin to notice, don’t you worry.”

I suppose the true aspiring naturopath in me would hang up my sulfur and chlorine-based chemical creams and embrace the facial hair as part of a long-line of Mediterranean genetics, channel Frida Kahlo, unibrow and all, or just rock it for a month with the Y chromosomes when Movember rolls around.  But the other part of me, that part that lives in an appearance-based society where it’s the norm to spend a developing-country’s middle-class household income on personal primping and plucking, sits on my shoulder and enthusiastically urges me on as I squeeze pearly white cream out of cleverly packaged tubes and set the clocks for 10 minutes.

And so it goes.  However, years later, when I’m 80 and left without a trace of estrogen residing in my body, you might see me reserved to joining the ranks on College Street, in a black dress and with a dark caterpillar gracing my upper lip, sitting on a front veranda, the mustache-bleacher in me having long died and and reincarnated as an I-don’t-give-a-damner.

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2 thoughts on “Why Do Italian Men Grow Mustaches…?

  1. Haha this is so true to my life and greek genetics! Do like the Persians and East Indians (and me) and get it threaded! It costs like $5-8 and is chemical-free.

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