Why Are Thousands Of People Obsessed With This Nail Technician From Maryland?

At Lovely Nails in Capitol Heights, Maryland, full nail sets start at $20. A basic manicure-pedicure? $30. But this nail salon is not the place to get a quick polish and go. No way. Lovely Nails is the domain of Lovely Mimi.

Mimi is a master of acrylic nails. She can do almost anything. Crazy designs, gel, glitter, intricate rhinestones — whatever you want. When she finishes one of her masterpieces, she’ll slather shiny oil on your fingers, then take a picture for Instagram. And once that happens, your fingers are basically famous. Because Mimi is famous. Or, in her words, “Instafamous.”

Lovely Mimi has two accounts: one dedicated to her work with nails and the other a personal account with videos of Mimi herself. Combined, they’re followed by more than half a million people. That’s not a high number for someone who’s actually famous — think Taylor Swift, who just cracked 50 million Insta-fans — but for a humble nail tech, it’s something to behold. Lovely Mimi is a certifiable, homegrown social-media celebrity.

But what makes her such an attention magnet? It may not actually be the nails. Her personal account has nearly four times the followers of her “Mimi Lovely Nails” account, and it’s home to videos like this one.

In this video, Lovely Mimi is doing what she calls “the voice.” It’s her exaggerated impression of a Vietnamese person speaking English — and her followers love it.

Mimi — legally Myha Luong — was born in Vietnam, and her family moved to the States when she was 3 years old. Sitting in the nail salon she owns with her sister-in-law Dina, Mimi says her Instagram videos aren’t just for fun; they’ve been great for business.

“[Instagram] helps you network with your business. Because if it was years ago before we had any type of social media… I would have had to sit here and wait for walk-ins and wait for the walk-ins to tell their friends and word of mouth in order to build business. But now that there is Instagram, people from all over the DMV is able to see and come.”

And Mimi says she gets why people love her videos.

“I say a lot of things that a lot of people think but they never say. And then I do my voice, my accent,” she says. “I’m pretty good at different impersonations. I do my Asian voice, nail-salon lady voice, I do my African voice. I do my old-man voice. My thirsty-guy voice. My annoying high-pitched little girl voice.”

Mimi’s videos often straddle the line between mocking stereotypes and perpetuating them. Take this monologue, in which Mimi expounds on typical labor divisions between Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese people. It’s absurd and many would say offensive, but rooted in self-mockery. That’s Mimi’s sweet spot.

By far, the nail technician’s most popular routine is her Vietnamese accent, especially when she crosses it with her take on D.C.-flavored African-American English.

“They think it’s hilarious how I can switch up. You know, ‘cause I’ll go from like, the accent to, I guess, ratchet,” Mimi says.

(“Ratchet,” for those who don’t know, is somewhat of a loaded term, but it essentially means fabulous and déclassé at the same time.)

But not everyone online loves Mimi and her voices. Some commenters accuse her of promoting, not toying with, racial stereotypes — particularly of African Americans, because of that “ratchet” voice she does. Mimi calls that criticism hypocritical.

“You know, I’m able to talk about myself and make jokes and make fun of my own culture, because I’m comfortable with it — I’m comfortable with myself,” Mimi says, blue-and-purple braids dangling past her shoulders. “But as soon as I talk about someone else, they will get offended. People have to realize — it’s jokes. Laugh at it. Ha ha ha. Like, stop being so sensitive. Because I’m talking about myself, making fun of myself, and people laugh. And I don’t think that’s fair.”

She took that message directly to her followers in an explicit video posted in September. (Don’t watch it with the kids.)

The blowback wouldn’t mark the first time Mimi has encountered disapproval. Growing up, she says, she was a wild child. She smoked, ran away from home and dated at a young age, and her parents found themselves at wit’s end.

Above, some of Mimi’s nail art (Source: Mimi’s Instagram)

“For the longest, nobody in my family understood me. They thought I was crazy,” Mimi says.

Mimi’s grades dropped and her behavior worsened, she says. By junior high, she was taken out of school.

“When I was 12, I got in a lot of trouble. I spent my teenage life — four years in juvie. I got out when I was 16,” Mimi says. She also did time in a group home, a shelter and a Virginia wilderness program for at-risk youth.

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#repost story of my life ?

A post shared by Lovely Mimi (@itslovelymimi) on

When Mimi returned home, her mom set her up with a job at a nail salon. She later dropped out of high school in Montgomery County and had her first child as a teen. Now, she’s a mother of two, and married to a man who works for Prince George’s County. (Sometimes, Mimi’s husband turns up in her Instagram posts, drawing wolf whistles from followers and frequent comparisons to the rapper Waka Flocka Flame.)

Now at the relatively wiser age of 25, with a still-growing following online, Mimi is channeling her big personality into other ventures: She’s dabbled in stand-up comedy, she hosts parties at local clubs and she’s begun receiving swag like jewelry and grills to show off on her Instagram pages. But she also wants to use her platform to help other kids who struggle like she did.

“I would really love to go to different places, like group homes or any facilities, and talk to kids. Because I’ve been through it. And I think they would really listen to me, because I already been there,” she says.

So, Lovely Mimi, motivational speaker? Maybe.

“I gotta make time, though,” she says. “I work too much. Sometimes I don’t get out of here until like, 11 at night.”

In fact, Mimi’s packed schedule is a subject she’s addressed publicly before — on Instagram, of course.

“It’s Labor Day, and us Vietnamese people always working,” she says in a video posted last month. Then she turns on the voice. “Wake up, open! Do nail! Do nail! Do nail!”

Since Lovely Mimi posted that clip, it’s fetched more than 13,000 likes.

The original version of this story incorrectly reported that Lovely Mimi graduated from high school. She dropped out.

By Ally Schweitzer

Source: https://wamu.org/story/15/10/16/meet_lovely_mimi_instagram_star/


Lovely Mimi

Lovely Nails in Capitol Heights, Maryland
5248 Marlboro Pike Capitol Heights, MD 20743

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