Mina Gerges, 20, has been dressing in women’s clothes since he was a child growing up in Abu Dhabi. “I would go to my mum’s closet when she was at work and I would put on her shoes. I was seven years old and pretending to be Posh Spice. I was obsessed with The Spice Girls,” confides the University of Western Ontario student. The Canadian-Egyptian kept his hobby a secret, however. Abu Dhabi, he says, wasn’t exactly gay- (or mom-shoe-wearing) friendly and he feared if anyone knew he’d be ostracized.
That was then.
Now, Gerges is happily revealing himself online. He’s gained international attention for his Instagram page, Keeping Up With Mina, in which he recreates red carpet looks from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, using paper, curtains, glitter and pipe cleaners.
It’s a pretty sweet reversal.
“That to me has been the biggest and most satisfying thing about this, that this younger version of me, who was so terrified of doing this and being judged for it, is to an extent is being celebrated for this thing that I was so terrified people would judge me for.”
Gerges talks to FLARE about coming to terms with who he is, body image and why dressing like Beyoncé is a wicked stress reliever.
When did you start the Instagram? The first pictures I posted of this kind were a year-and-a-half ago. I was at home and I felt very uncomfortable doing that with my family around. My parents are very traditional. I grew up in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates so that kind of thing is a huge taboo… when I came to Canada [at age 11] I was very fortunate. My sisters are so accepting. When I came out to my sisters it strengthened our friendship. My sisters are my best friends.
Your background is Egyptian? Yes. I was born in Port Said, which is closer to Alexandria and that kind of area. When I was three years old we moved to Abu Dhabi. I think having my cultural background has also really pushed me to push the envelope with that kind of thing hoping that people of Egypt will see ‘Oh, he’s Egyptian and he’s doing this, it’s not just a North American phenomenon.’ It’s such a taboo and it’s so hidden there. It breaks my heart. If I were 20 years old and living in Egypt there’s no way that I could be myself, to be honest, or living in the open as much as I am here.
How have your parents reacted? To be honest, my parents have yet to see the page.
And you’re OK with that? I’m OK with that at the moment. My parents came across a picture—the one of me being Nicki Minaj in the bathtub—and my mom started crying. She was like ‘I don’t understand what this is.’ … I try to understand that as much as it would be great for my mom and my dad to share this with me they’re simply not ready.
Who was the first person you decided to mimic? The very first person was Beyoncé and it was an excerpt from her Why Don’t You Love Me video. I was going through a breakup… it was so liberating, especially with the fact that a lot of people in the gay community have a negative reaction to guys who have feminine attributes, so to speak, or do feminine things. I really wanted to break out of that because I was in a relationship where that was the case. It was like ‘Oh, that’s too gay.’ It just felt so nice to be like ‘I can’t just hide. This is something that I love to do.’
What is it about the particular women you’ve chosen to emulate? Two years ago, I lost 100 pounds. Body image has been a huge struggle for me. Even when I lost the weight I was looking in the mirror and not seeing any change. I was terrified of taking my shirt off at my friends’ pool parties because I was like, ‘They’re going to notice my stretch marks’—you know, anything that has to do with my body. I think I attribute a lot of why I’m comfortable with myself [now] to people like Ellen DeGeneres and Kim Kardashian. I think, especially Kim Kardashian for me, who is so comfortable with her body and the kind of attention that gets. I was like, ‘My body is OK if someone like that is confident.’ It inspired me to channel that confidence as well… I choose pictures where there are bodies being shown because it’s a way for me to feel comfortable.
Now I’m like, ‘I don’t care if people see that I have hair in places that you’re not supposed to have hair, or that I have stretch marks.’ I don’t edit that stuff out even though I’m very capable with Photoshop.
What’s your favourite picture? There’s a picture where I’m being Beyoncé and I have a crown on my head. I did that for my 20th birthday and at that point I’d been posting these pictures for a while and I found out some people who I referred to as friends were very negative about this kind of thing… I was like, ‘You know what? On my birthday I’m going to make a statement that everyone who either knows me or doesn’t know me that I’m not going to stop.’
That to me was so empowering because that was the moment that I came to terms with the fact that I’m going to do this because this kind of negativity still exists around this form of self-expression and it’s not OK. I think that it’s so important for people to push the line and let everyone know that this is OK. If I’m happy doing this, then I will do it.
The page has been called a “parody” by some but it doesn’t sound like you’re mocking celebs. What is it then? What is your intention? I understand that some people won’t really understand. If you look at these pictures you’re not going to think that ‘Oh, he comes from this cultural background blah blah blah’….That being said, if you think it’s funny, that’s great.
It sounds more like it’s about empowerment for you personally… Yeah, it’s been the most liberating thing both for how I feel about my body image but also about these huge things that I’ve been so self-conscious about pertaining to my sexuality and pertaining to me being able to express myself. I put things out there and you can receive it however you wish to receive it. Some people have thought ‘Eww, this is disgusting’ and that’s OK that you think that. But at the end of the day it’s less about me trying to get a reaction out of people and more about me being like ‘I’m stressed out about my exams, so I’m just going to put on this wig that I have hanging in my bedroom and ask my boyfriend to take a picture of me.
It’s a stress reliever! It is honestly. Some people go out and drink, I’m staying in and taking a Beyoncé picture. I need to be Beyoncé!