Last year I had the pleasure of sitting down with the talented Mina Gerges. With the help of his friends, some arts and crafts, and a little bit of photoshop, Mina has quickly become one Western University’s most popular Instagram users. His Instagram account, rightfully entitled @KeepingUpWithMina, has reached over 40k followers in just under two days! Parodying every diva from Lady Gaga to Nicki Minaj to Iggy Azalea, Mina has proven even fiercer than, dare I say it — Beyoncé?! After sitting down with my new favourite Instagram user for the interview, I can certainly say that I would undeniably love to walk a mile in this man’s Louboutins. Not only did he make me laugh and almost cry, but Mina’s passion and heart has also inspired me like no other.
Hometown: London, Ontario (But, originally born in Egypt!)
Program @ Western University: 4th Year MPI (Media in the Public Interest)
Relationship Status: Happily taken
When did you decide to first create a photo replica? Which picture was your first?
Um, it really just started off with me photo shopping my face on random pictures for fun. I posted them, and people seemed to like them. One day I decided that I was getting bored, and that my followers probably were too. I wanted to get something started that was new to look at other than food, food, selfie, selfie. I live with my two sisters, so it really started when I began sneaking into their rooms and seeing what kinds of outfits they had. I was able to look at the clothes and imagine myself being able to pull together a look like the celebrities I had for so long envied.
What was growing up like for you?
I have many distinct memories of trying on my mom’s shoes and clothing when I was around ten or eleven years old. However, being that I went to an all-boys elementary school in Abu Dhabi, I felt those actions were something I needed to hide. No one else at my school was doing it, (that I knew of) and I knew if I wanted to make friends I would have to keep my interest concealed. In high school my family came to Canada. That’s when things began to change for me, and things got even better when I came to Western University. Western was different, it quickly became a place where I realized my own unique identity could be celebrated. There were so many resources that connected me with other LGBT individuals; Pride Western was especially huge for me. I was finally in a place where I could be myself and I wasn’t alone. I was given a safe space to not be as fearful, which eventually led me to do something like this. Western opened me up to a society of people who actually encourage and enjoy the photos that I take, making them no longer a taboo… It is difficult for gay men to find acceptance, but the fact that there are more people celebrating my images than those who are calling me “a faggot”, is in itself, huge.
Take me through your creative process…
Being and MPI student I follow many different social media and pop culture sites. I pay attention to celebrities who have up and coming photo-shoots that are to be released. When I discover a photo I want to recreate, it’s because I want people to take another look at the image. For example, when Kim Kardashian’s PAPER shoot was released, I had decided within 16 seconds that I had to do it and had already started planning how. With some ideas, I do debate with myself, asking things such as, “Will people judge me for showing my butt?” But I always return to the question, “Do I really care?” I even ask others thoughts, for example I called a friend of mine once I had seen the Kim K pic and asked her if I should do it. She immediately yelled “Don’t you dare!” and that’s when I knew I had to. I want to push people, I want to cross the line and have it be okay, have it be accepted, even if it makes someone uncomfortable.
What has been the most rewarding outcome of this experience?
I like to think that I contribute to the conversation by providing another frame for the public to examine. The photos also help me personally. I posted the crying Beyoncé picture when I was going through a break up. I can remember hearing her song Why Don’t You Love Me? and I was like – that’s exactly how I feel right now, I need some Beyoncé in my life! Taking that picture was a release for me, it helped me move on. I remember when I did the Why Don’t You Love Me? shoot and I had to ask one of my sisters if I could borrow a bathing suit. I was absolutely terrified to bring it up. I was scared of judgment from my own sister, someone who is meant to love me unconditionally. Looking back I am thankful I took that opportunity to ask, because although my traditional parents struggle with my identity, my two sisters are now my biggest fans – and that means everything.
What do you hope your fan’s take away from this?
A huge part of why I keep doing this is because I am now finally comfortable in my own skin. No, I’m not the stereotypical manly man, but that’s okay. I like to think that I could help someone through this outlet, I know that ten year old Mina would have really appreciated being able to see a grown man embrace himself like a Queen. I want kids to know that they will grow up and they will be fine, they will be accepted. My eleven-year-old cousin has Instagram; that’s powerful. I never had that as a kid, but I am thankful that my intended message has the ability to cross over to others through this platform. I believe it is important to knock down abuse against LGBT individuals in a public way, which provides room for discussion. I’m from Egypt originally, and it pains me to imagine the gay men living there today. I was lucky. I was able to come to Canada and find a space to become who I was meant to be. Unfortunately for many homosexual individuals in Egypt, they are prosecuted. The values there are traditional and hetero-normative, and I struggle with that.
How has being an MPI student helped you with this project?
I think it has helped me see celebrity culture in an entirely new light. I have investigated the huge impact that the media can have on its consumers. Contributing to a public conversation is important, and visual images can help with that. I take a critical look at what the public is exposed to, and therefore I am conscious of all that I post; I think it through. In studying celebrity culture, I have also come to learn a valuable lesson. While it is difficult to not respond and defend myself from hate messages, I have vowed not to allow myself to spread any more hate, that’s just more harmful. I have received death threats… but I’m not doing this for anyone, and those people are rightfully blocked. The best is when I see a comment such as “HAHA GAY” and then see supportive followers answer back to the poster in my defense with lines like “What’s wrong with being gay”. Those people are my favourite. This makes me happy, and I do it for that reason. For example, during exam time this past semester; I posted three photos to my account. Creating those images is liberating, relaxing and freeing for me. I got to step out of the stress of studying for 5 minutes and throw on a wig and have some fun.
When you began to post these photos, did you ever consider you would one day have real fans?
NEVER. To be honest, in the beginning I was doing it just for something to look at. I never equated mass followers with success. To me, I am much more proud that I was able to maintain an 81% average last semester. In terms of the photos, I’m just glad there is something else out there.
At what moment did you realize you were becoming an Instagram celebrity?
To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet. In the past few days I’ve barely been able to eat and I have been shaking a lot. It’s all so new and unfamiliar. To see my name linked to Playboy, Cosmo, etc… is crazy. With all the publicity, I’ve had to turn off my phone at times, and deactivate my notifications. It’s a little overwhelming! The strangest part for me is accepting what has happened. I had never imagined that this is the way I would be noticed on a public scale. Working on Western TV and wanting to be a TV personality, I had always imagined I would be noticed through that medium, not a social app. The coolest moment for me was seeing my name on MTV. I had grown up with the channel, obsessing over the Spice Girls. To see my name on the same station where I had for years watched my idols was incredible.
Which of your posts is your personal favourite? Why?
Ou, this is hard. I would have to say the one I posted on my birthday…the Beyoncé one, where she’s wearing a crown. Negativity pushed me to do that one. I was finally turning 20 and wearing that crown allowed me to give a big f#*k you to all those who had been negative to me in high school. I’m a Queen, I embrace that, my friends even call me “Queen Mina”. Instead of going out to celebrate I spent my entire birthday going to the dollar store and Michaels, just to make my costume and take that shot. It was important to me, and I wanted to own it like Beyoncé.
What is your dream career?
I have always wanted to be someone like Ellen DeGeneres, the kind of person who uses their show to say things like, “be kind to one another”. My dream is to become a TV personality who is an advocate for equality, maintains a positive outlook, and can share my personal battle in overcoming hardships. It is one of my biggest dreams to one day meet Ellen. To talk to her in person would mean the world to me because I so deeply respect the diverse and open audience that follows and supports her show.
Have you seen Jimmy Fallon’s “EW” sketches?
Would you like to play EW with me?
OH! Actually, when I was dating my ex boyfriend I was taking a walk and saw little rocks by the beach and I collected them for him. I realized that such a small sentiment could mean a lot; it showed him that while I was there in that moment, I was thinking of him.
Canada Goose Jackets…
EW, I would rather go naked than wear fur… (Inspired by Khloe Kardashian), I love animals, and I think it is so wrong. I’m not judging those who do, but it’s just not something I would wear.
Um, try to throw them out. Not completely EW, we all have to use them, but get rid of it.
Dobby from Harry Potter…
Awwww, I cried when he died. Adorable. Such a helpful little person. I love the way they said his name in the movie. Love him, and his ears.
Indifferent, I prefer men of colour. I love him as an actor; he was great in Silver Linings Playbook, but he’s just not really my type.
Um, EW … not the most flattering thing… I don’t really understand it. I can appreciate that they are comfortable though… I wear sweatpants and jeans so…
UHHHHH, IT’S A RELATIONSHIP STATUS. I love pizza. I love bacon on my pizza, and cheese on my pizza. I’ve been known to have two larges to myself. I usually do that thing where you put two pieces on top of each other like a sandwich. I’d eat the box if I could. My goal is to one day be sponsored by PizzaHut or something.
* see Mina’s Kim K and Kanye posts, his bf made him the pizza cut out for him out of dry wall! Too cute!
Yum, even better. The colder the better. If it’s too hot, you just cant enjoy it. You have to try putting an egg on top of your pizza, with the yolk still running… that’s your dipping sauce. Thank me later.
Love Miley. I feel like she’s another person in my age group who I can relate to. She is misunderstood because she is different, and I can understand that. I like that.
MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU. Look, this is the only thing I carry with me. It’s Maybelline brow drama sculpting and shape… it makes mine dark, shapes them, fills them in and I think it just grounds my face.
Finding gum under your seat…
Arts & Crafts…
Stress relief, it’s what I love, underrated form of art, I embrace it. I think it is important to release and use that inner childhood part in you through visual art. I originally thought I would take visual art in school, but I ended up taking Science and then transferred to MPI. Doing crafts allows me to fulfill the part of me that was something I had always loved doing, but couldn’t necessarily build a career out of.
IDOL. She is my idol. When I lost 100 pounds two years ago, (all my by myself might I add), I looked to her for inspiration. I had lost all this weight but I still hated my body, I wasn’t satisfied, I didn’t think anyone would find me attractive. When people ask me why I enjoy being nude, I tell them honestly, it’s because I love celebrating being someone who went from the self-conscious boy at a pool party too afraid to take off his shirt, to the guy I am now. I do it for my 17 year old self…. (BUT BACK TO KIM K). She has helped me to understand confidence. She doesn’t always receive positive feedback, but she never responds to hate. Her message to me is strong, it’s powerful, she went from being an underdog, to one of the most famous women around. She’s different, and it’s important to stand out.* Mina credits his weight loss to eating an apple a day!