We talked to the Egyptian-Canadian tackling gender norms, male body issues and eating disorders on Instagram

A+ for parody and positivity from from social star, Mina Gerges

A+ for parody and positivity from from social star, Mina Gerges

(Images via Instagram, @itsminagerges)

Social media influencers hold a lot of sway over the style and food choices we make and a select few guide our hearts and minds on significant social matters as well. Egyptian-Canadian Instagram luminary Mina Gerges is one of those few, taking on male body issues, LGBTQ2 awareness and mental health with style, humour and aplomb. Even when he's ever so elegantly – and affordably – wrapped in cling wrap.

Social media stardom was a lock for for Gerges back in 2015 when his celeb parodies poked more fun at unattainable beauty standards (and at himself) than the icons they were designed in part to exalt. The send-ups are decidedly self-directed. Like this hilarious Rihanna-inspired laundry day dress.  

Or this famous Beyonce-baby-bump-inspired food baby selfie.

Or this one where he took Kim's place but Kanye was swapped out for a sexy slice of pizza.

Living out loud on social

The humour implicit in much of drag culture aims to remind us that the trappings of gender normativity remain somewhat laughable and can be ridiculous. RuPaul confirms as much.

Gerges told us, "I started sharing personal stories as my audience grew. I talked about what it was like to come out to a conservative Middle Eastern family, for example, knowing that members of the LGBT community are persecuted and imprisoned daily in the Middle East, or recently sharing my journey with my body image issues."  

Living out loud on social, says Gerges, has strengthened him as well. "I found so much confidence and empowerment in being a man in makeup and pushing against the cultural and religious norms I grew up with." Is that personal empowerment making a difference for others? Unarguably. And it's not lost on him. "I realize the impact of having such a large platform, and I realize the value of articulating my lived experience with people who have similar experiences but who feel alone, just like I did." He says he'd consistently receive DMs from people telling him how inspired or encouraged they were by his stories, and how much they related to them. "I would get messages daily from younger LGBT kids all over the Middle East asking me for coming out advice, or asking me how I overcome the daily homophobia and bigotry I experience from the Middle Eastern community online and in real life, or how I overcame the religious and cultural barriers with my parents that lead them to being more accepting."  

He's even seen ecstatic responses to his makeup tutorials telling him "how important it is to see men, specifically Middle Eastern men, pushing against gender norms".

In the beginning he admits he "just wanted to show that men can wear makeup and be in dresses and not get judged for it, but seeing how this message resonated with so many people was amazing." The message now driving his newer selfies is likely to resonate just as soundly.

Male body positivity

His more recent posts show Gerges without dresses, makeup or much of anything at all and that's the point. They're authentic, brazenly vulnerable and as far as Gerges (and his followers) are concerned, some of his most empowering. Gerges says, "Recently sharing my journey with my body image, I got so many responses from other men, both gay and straight, sharing their similar stories with me." It's an important objective for Gerges who has been vocal that men are persistently dissuaded from sharing their battles with body image as it belies a vulnerability that the toxicity of male normative culture won't allow.

In his caption he writes: "This is the scariest yet most empowering post I've ever made. I've struggled with my weight and body image my whole life. I grew up surrounded by unrealistic pictures of men and women that convinced me that I have to look like that to be considered attractive and desirable. Especially as gay men, where unfortunately so many of us struggle with achieving that unrealistic standard to feel beautiful."

That struggle, explains Gerges, manifested itself as an eating disorder when he was 20 that drove him to the Sisyphean tasks of weighing himself, starving himself, running a 10k, then spend 3 hours at the gym every single day. The requisite self-loathing (common to eating disorders) when he ate anything "unhealthy" also took hold. At 23, Gerges says he's finally "confident and comfortable" in his skin. That skin, he asserts is "glowing (sparkle emoji)". Ideals, Gerges now maintains, are overrated. "I know I'll never look like the dudes we see in billboards and fashion ads, and that's okay because I'm still cute AF with my cute little belly and squishyness." At least 145,000+ followers fully agree. He says he's thankful for the platform provided by social media that let's him fight the good fight toward deeper confidence and self love while joining the already loud conversation around body positivity. "Men", says Gerges, "come in all shapes and sizes, and it's time we show that, too."

Social fame no salve against bullying

With online fame came a challenging charge, one that was tough to bear. Mina's been candid about having to take a step back from social media after online bullying started affecting his mental health. With 145K followers on Instagram one gets a harrowing dose of haters too. The distance he needed to recenter lasted a full 9 months. Messages in the form of predictable, ugly homophobia were peppered in with the love and like most hate, tended to stick. "I had people commenting daily telling me to go lose some weight, calling me obese, telling me my body is gross or "a disaster," and making fun of my stretch marks or body hair."

At its worst, the bullying found a psychological foothold affecting his mental health and even stopped him from leaving the house to attend events. When it was clear the online negativity was affecting his life, he knew he needed to take a step back. "What started out as an empowering project became something that I dreaded." He doesn't regret the social sabbatical as it let him rediscover the confidence and self-love that initially gave him the impetus to share his celeb recreations in the first place.

Still, the toned down, body positivity posts all started with the bold self-expression he's famed for. Gerges explains that "embracing my body unapologetically when I did these celebrity recreations was a huge factor that contributed to my self-love and body positivity today." He says he wouldn't have had the courage to come back post the recent body positivity pics otherwise.

As to how to deal with his detractors, Gerges' position toward them is a certain amount of apathy: "At the end of the day, I'm wearing a dress I made out of garbage bags and Fruit Loops, so if you chose to make a mean comment instead of appreciate all this fabulousness, then that's your problem!" Considering the artistry, commitment and brashness it takes to execute and rock a gown made of plastic and children's cereal, he makes a fair point. Dressed up or down, his message is a winning one.  

Thankfully, Gerges remains happy to share his journey with us and he didn't stay away indefinitely, or we wouldn't have gems like this:

Yup, those are cheese slices. Gold. Or this Katy Perry recreation (pizza is a recurring theme):

But particularly posts like this where he drops the tongue-in-cheek celeb recreations to get real about self-worth with a self-described "normal" pic:

Sure, what drove him to start to start posting was a marked desire for authenticity but the influencer says he now has a different goal, and fortuitously for everyone online, it's a powerful one: "I want to be the person whose posts I needed to see when I was 16 years old."