Nipple-darkening tattoos in Britain, double eyelid surgery in South Korea, and now mustache implants in Turkey. I'm not going out of my way to turn this blog into Stuff Mom Never Told You About Faddish Cosmetic Surgeries, I swear. But how could I resist spreading the word about how men are apparently "flocking" to Turkey to get mustache implants? Answer: I couldn't.
On the heels of its breathless economic reporting of a faltering cupcake market, the Wall Street Journal informs that "hair transplants for the face are growing in popularity, cosmetic surgeons and tourism agencies say, with men from the Middle East, Europe and Asia coming to Istanbul seeking a virile addition for the upper lip."
"The Turkish mustache is still the envy of the world," an mustachioed salesman from Istanbul proudly told the WSJ.
For around $5,000 a pop, men can get a follicle-hair extraction that takes hair from an...er...hairy patch on the body and -- presto change-o -- implants in the upper lip and/or cheek region. (Now imagining a flowing mustache of armpit hair...) Some even spring for a travel package (The Handlebar Deluxe, perhaps?) centered around the mustache transplant that includes post-operative pampering and shopping. A couple cosmetic surgeon sources said they were performing around 60 transplants per month, which apparently meets the mark for "booming" business.
When Turkey's mustache transplant industry caught CNN's attention in November 2012, it cited masculinity and virility as the motivators behind paying for a Magnum PI look. Though the number of Turkish men sporting 'staches has dropped to 34 percent in 2011 from 78 percent in 1993, there's nevertheless something about a thicket of upper lip hair that seems to signal manliness. Christa Salamandra, an anthropology associate professor at City University of New York told CNN that mustaches in Middle Eastern culture have long symbolized high class and honor, with men sometimes swearing on their mustaches. One old Turkish saying even goes"a man without a mustache is like a house without a balcony." A $5,000 balcony, that is.
Beards and mustaches may also signal political and religious affiliation with, for instance, a clean-shaven face indicating political alignment with the West. From CNN: "In 2008, militants in Gaza abducted a Fatah opponent and shaved off his mustache to dishonor him, while in 2003, in the lead up to the Second Gulf War, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri -- a senior aide to Hussein and, like the rest of the former Iraqi leader's inner circle, himself mustachioed -- created headlines when he yelled "Curse be upon your mustache!" at a Kuwaiti counterpart at an emergency summit of Islamic states."
Mustache implants don't come cheap but they may pay for themselves over time. In 2009, the American Mustache Institute published a "white paper" finding that U.S. men with upper lip thickets bring home 8.2 percent higher salaries compared to clean-shaven fellows. Bruce Watson at DailyFinance did some light digging and discovered that the survey data were largely bunk, but I wonder whether the earnings difference may in fact hold up in the Middle East and neighboring regions where mustaches are consistently held in higher esteem. Clearly, some followup reporting on the mustache transplant business is needed.