When Mina Gerges was a kid living in Abu Dhabi, he would sneak into his mom’s closet to try on her shoes and dresses. At the time, it was something he hid from everyone.
“I felt different, and I was worried – terrified – other kids would find out and make fun of me,” said the third-year Media and Public Interest student.
But Gerges is hiding no more.
Recently, his Instagram account – under the handle keepingupwithmina – garnered Internet fame for his recreations of iconic images of female celebrities, including Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga. His follower count skyrocketed to more than 50,000 in a few days, prompting a temporary deactivation from Instagram administrators who likely assumed his was a spam account.
“I started out by just ‘Photoshop-ing’ my face into pictures. But I felt comfortable and confident to put myself out there, and express myself this way and not worry about people judging me or hating me for my individuality,” he said.
Gerges picks current viral and trending images and recreates them on his own, by doing something like fabricating an elaborate Beyoncé outfit from curtains and cutout appliqués.
“I’m trying to get pictures that are saturated in pop culture, and trying to offer people a different way to look at these images,” he explained, noting the motivation behind each image is a desire to contribute to conversations of celebrity hype in a creative way.
But for Gerges, there’s much more to these recreations.
“When I moved to Canada, I found a more inclusive environment. And at Western, I came to terms with my sexuality. My cultural background is very heteronormative, and having been in such an inclusive environment (Western) in the past three years has helped me come to terms with interests I’ve had since I was younger,” he said.
Gerges started his Instagram recreations by imitating a Rihanna gesture, an image he said was “reserved.” Just for this, he got some backlash, with people messaging his friends offering less-than-supportive comments about the post.
“I got to a point where I just got sick of having to stop myself from doing what I want to do in fear of what people are going to say,” Gerges noted, saying he loves how the Instagram platform allows him to embrace his differences instead of hiding them.
For his confidence and comfort with himself, he credits student groups and services offered on campus, among them Pride Western, which helped him see he wasn’t alone.
“Western has had a huge impact on who I am today. I got involved in many teams and clubs and really got to meet and help people. Western gives you so many opportunities to explore your interests and become the person you’ve always wanted to be, but also to meet people who will teach you so much about yourself and help you grow,” Gerges continued.
“I came to Western when I was 16 – I skipped a grade – and I was confused about so many things. Western really helped me understand who I am,” he added.
“I hope this experience on Instagram shows my creativity, and I hope that sets me apart from people who might be applying to the same positions I would be (in the future). I want this fearlessness to spread a positive message without a fear of backlash.”