How To Work With An Influencer | Mina Gerges
Next up on our How to Work with an Influencer series is Mina Gerges (@itsminagerges) a Toronto-based content creator and model whose viral red carpet recreations paved the way for a fruitful career in the fashion, beauty and body positivity spaces. Known for weaving candid vulnerability into his colourful, fashion-editorial-focused IG feed, Mina’s work transcends boundaries.
You may recognize him as one of the members of the pit crew on the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race, from his Sephora campaign, or most recently, for his appearance on the 1 Girl 5 Gays reboot — 1 Queen 5 Queers. We were lucky enough to chat with Mina, who shared his thoughts about social media virality, male beauty norms, influencer culture and self acceptance.
Your red carpet re-creations went viral — how did you navigate that influx of attention?
It was crazy how something I did for fun, without having an ultimate plan or end-goal behind it, ended up going so viral. It happened before the word ‘influencer’ was a thing, and before being a content creator was a viable career path. I remember feeling a lot of pressure to live up to people’s expectations — that my recreations had to make them laugh —and personally, I was terrified of being someone who had their 15 minutes of online ‘fame’ and eventually faded away. I was 21 at the time, and it definitely felt like a lot of pressure to prove to myself that I can make something out of all of the noise.
How has contributing to the body positivity space impacted your own sense of self-love?
Our society hasn’t progressed much in the way we view male bodies. The harmful messages I grew up seeing that negatively impacted my body image are still very prevalent today, and it’s really discouraging to see. I began contributing to the body positivity space because I wanted to challenge these harmful messages. I realized that I had to truly embody self-acceptance in the way I view myself in order to better advocate and help others. I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t learn to accept my body (at least most of the time), so I have to do a lot of self-work behind closed doors to really show up for my community.
What message do you hope to get across when people stumble upon you on social media or repping their favourite brands?
A lot of people have always felt rejected by the fashion and beauty world. It’s only recently that inclusivity and representation have become priorities in our industry. As someone who was always excluded for my identity (I was even once told by PR professionals in Toronto that I was “not marketable”), I hope my success proves that being your authentic self will always win. When people see my work or see me working with certain brands, I want them to know that they can achieve that too if they stay true to themselves.
Did you always want to pursue a career in the fashion and beauty space? What do you love most about your work as an influencer?
I always loved fashion and beauty growing up, but felt invisible looking at who was celebrated in these spaces. I got bullied in school for being myself — whether it was for my weight or my sexuality — and my conservative Egyptian upbringing further complicated my relationship with myself. As I grew up, I began to recognize that the things I was bullied for are what make me unique, and that my voice and my story mattered. I began sharing vulnerable parts about my life online to help other people like me, and because I wanted to create a world that was kinder and more accepting than the one I grew up in. I always think about my younger self when I work now and think: “what can I do to make him know that he’s good enough?” The answer to that proves to me that it’s important to make fashion and beauty more inclusive.
What does the word “influencer” mean to you?
In my experience, the word means someone who decided to do their own thing and figured out how to make a viable living out of it. It’s a pretty awesome job — to build your own platform after always feeling ignored and invisible, and inspire your audience in the process.
What do you look for in brand deals? Are there any must-haves to move forward?
I always look at a brand’s Instagram feed and website to see what their values are. A lot of brands only recently started caring about representation — but what were your values before summer 2020? What stories mattered to you before then? If a brand doesn’t have a history of being inclusive or I feel like their statements about representation are superficial, then that’s a huge red flag to me. I’m very wary of brands or campaigns that want you to over-share your story and I tend to stay away from those. As a queer person of colour, protecting my story from being exploited is so important, and I prioritize this principle in all my work.
Your career has been so remarkable to watch. With so many accomplishments under your belt, what has been the biggest highlight for you of the last few years? Is there something you’re most proud of?
To be honest, the campaign I’m most proud of is my Sephora campaign. Being an Egyptian man, our culture puts extremely rigid limitations on how men are supposed to look, and wearing makeup isn’t acceptable. Being gay is also prohibited in our culture, and the LGBT community is erased from all aspects of public life and shamed into hiding. Because of that, I was taught I should be ashamed to be gay and Egyptian, and that I should hide who I am. This campaign was such a beautiful moment of self actualization for me — to reclaim my culture from this toxic narrative and highlight the queer Arab community in a way that rejected all the years of erase our community has faced. The crazy thing is, it was my first brand deal ever so I didn’t understand the magnitude that this campaign would literally be all over the country. I’ll always remember the thousands of messages I got from members of my community about how meaningful this moment of visibility was, and I aspire to constantly create work that’s this impactful throughout my career.
How do you ensure you remain authentic when collaborating?
Firstly, I have an incredible manager who supports my decisions of who I want to work with. I know a lot of influencer agencies tend to heavily control who their influencers work with, but that’s not how I do things. I never work with someone if I don’t want to or if I’m not aligned with their brand’s vision, and maintaining this agency allows me to create work that I’m passionate about. Secondly, having open communication with the client or PR professional bringing the campaign to life is an important aspect to remaining authentic. Brands sometimes have a very rigid idea of what they want, but it may not necessarily translate as well off the creative brief. It’s important to listen to the influencers they work with and actually collaborate to create the most meaningful and impactful final product.
Don’t forget to give Mina a follow at @itsminagerges. Have a favourite influencer you want us to chat with? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, check out our previous Q&A with Kendra Rosychuk for more How To Work With An Influencer content.