Former pornography performer Mia Khalifa has publicly shared her experience of the pornography industry. Khalifa performed in pornography over a three month period in 2014-2015, becoming Pornhub’s most highly ranked performer. Khalifa is known for filming a scene wearing a hijab.
“A very vulnerable point in my life”
Khalifa described her entry to the porn industry in an interview with Megan Abbott posted to YouTube earlier this month. Khalifa, who was subjected to racial bullying and called fat as a child, had previously undergone a breast augmentation surgery after a substantial weight loss while attending college. She told Abbott that after her breast augmentation was the first time she had ever felt pretty.
Khalifa recounted first being approached when a car pulled over as she was walking down the street. She was asked to consider modelling and handed a business card. The company was a porn production company.
“I was handed a business card, thought about it for a few weeks, went in and was showered with compliments—felt validated for a whole twenty minutes—and I went back and shot a scene, and it was terrifying and temporarily validating, but afterwards I felt a little empty. Though I still had that pit in my stomach where I wanted to chase that validation again.
“I had never had male attention. I was pretty overweight—I lost about 50 pounds in college—and then after I moved to Miami I got a breast augmentation. So before my self-confidence kicked in, I didn’t know what I looked like and I didn’t know or value my self-worth, and instead I left it up to men to tell me what my self-worth was.
“But I think what made me go back and do it again was that the attention I was receiving, I was afraid it would go away if I didn’t do what I was asked to do.” Read more.
Professor of sociology and women’s studies Gail Dines has discussed the experiences of women and girls in a ‘porn culture’ and their need to be validated: “You’re either f*ckable or invisible...And so when young women who have an absolute developmental need to be ‘visible’ have to dress like that and then get slammed as sluts and are then told by some bizarre feminism that you’re empowered because that was your choice...this is like the mind-f*ck of the century because of what you’re having to deal with.”
Khalifa went on to dispel some more widely accepted myths about the pornography industry, and her time in it.
It did not make her rich
Khalifa reportedly made $1000 per scene. Porn production company Bang Bros and Pornhub received the most profit for her videos, and still do.
“No amount of money would make it worth it.”
She said some women who enter the business are vulnerable and taken advantage of by industry producers, while others are looking for a big star turn. “I am not for women getting into the industry. I don’t think it’s an industry that should be respected,” she said.
Backdated money would not change that for her. If she could, Khalifa said, she would burn the industry to the ground, sending all of her videos along with it.
“The only thing I want is for people to stop seeing me naked,” she said.
Khalifa's experience is not uncommon, with many female performers leaving the industry after a matter of months and without having made big money. Just this week, news.com.au has published an article about another former porn performer, Jenni Lee, who is now homeless and living in tunnels under the Las Vegas strip.
She is not in control of her images now
The porn industry continues to profit from women even after they have left the industry, even after they are dead.
Three of the top 10 actresses on the site now are either retired or inactive in the business, an industry veteran said, and have little recourse to claim compensation or remove their videos if they are shut out from the revenue.
“At end of day, whether it’s Kim Kardashian or Mia, they don’t have power to tell Pornhub to take content down,” said the veteran, who declined to provide a name because he still works in the industry.
She regrets her time in the industry
Speaking to Daily Beast, Khalifa said, “I’m still ashamed of it. It’s hard not to be when one decision you made when you were 21 years old entitles the whole world to see you naked, so of course I’m still ashamed of it, and of course I would go back and change things if I could.”
We applaud Khalifa's bravery in coming forward and sharing her story, despite the vitriol she has been subjected to. We wish her all the best in her future pursuits. Her voice matters.