When content creator and activist Mia Khalifa looks back at her younger self, she sees a woman who was struggling with confidence.
“I was looking to other people to put value on myself. I was looking for validation in every crevice that I could, without actually doing internal work,” Khalifa tells Yahoo Life.
At 21, Khalifa spent three months in the adult film industry — completing 12 films that today have garnered more than a billion views. She now refers to that period of her life as a “lapse in judgement” that was never meant to last.
Khalifa, now 28, is speaking out about her experience in the adult film industry and the path that led her there. She’s vocal about the exploitation she experienced and hopes her story can shield other women from going through the same thing.
“Tik Tok has been better than therapy. The women who tell their stories, who are brave enough to put their face on the internet and share their experiences, that is where my confidence comes from,” says Khalifa. “That's been the biggest key to kind of battling with my own shame. Seeing all of these women who have been through things that are a lot worse than I have and come out like fighting with skin under their nails."
Khalifa has also set her heart on raising funds for the causes that matter most to her. In August 2020, after the explosion in Beirut, Khalifa decided to auction off her glasses to raise money for the Lebanese Red Cross. The $100,000 bid from the auction eventually fell through, and to make good on her commitment, Khalifa launched an Only Fans account to make money. She was able to donate more than $160,000 to the Red Cross, and felt encouraged by the impact she could have with her new platform.
MIA KHALIFA: I would just crawl out of my skin any time someone mentioned the adult industry, it's not the case anymore. Therapy helped me come to terms with my past being an active role in my present. People grow and change and learn. There is other 18, 19, 20-year-old girls out there who don't know that yet and I just want them to so badly.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everyone. Welcome to "Unmuted". Today, I'm chatting with Mia Khalifa about how the adult film industry changed her life and how she's moving forward. Your story starts in Lebanon. What was that transition like for you?
MIA KHALIFA: Arriving to America not really speaking English was difficult for someone who was Middle Eastern. My self-esteem and my self-image and my confidence, everything, it didn't really exist when I was in high school. I was overweight. I didn't really have very many friends. I didn't look like everyone else and that led me into a relationship that I should not have entered. Those were the steps that led me to the adult industry.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I know that your experience in the adult film industry lasted for just three months. Did you feel sort of vulnerable at that time? How would you describe yourself at 21?
MIA KHALIFA: Oh my God, an absolute mess. I was looking to other people to put value on myself. I was naive, vulnerable and very easily talked to into things, especially if it was by a man. I'm not ashamed of how vulnerable I was, I'm ashamed of how weak I was at that time in my life. And what I can take away from this is protecting other women and being a cautionary tale.
Don't groom young women on the internet. It's not all glam and rainbows and a great time and celebrity status immediately and empowerment. There's a lot more behind it and it shouldn't be a light decision that you make to go into sex work. It's OK to make mistakes but there's some things that just will never go away.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So I know you were paid just $12,000 for those films. How much money has been made from the films that you starred in since then?
MIA KHALIFA: I don't have the exact numbers but millions is putting it lightly. There is no control, no say, no nothing.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Do you think it's something people are aware of before they're involved, is that they don't actually own anything.
MIA KHALIFA: I don't think anyone who doesn't have a legal background fully understands what those contracts say. There's so much jargon and there's so many loopholes. It's predatory to say the least. It makes me feel infuriated because it's so out of my control. There's only so much fight I want to put into it without also sacrificing my mental health but it's also not something I'll ever fully give up on.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: And I know OnlyFans is a unique platform because you get to own your content. What kind of impact does that have on you?
MIA KHALIFA: It's really about the accessibility to just ending it all if I ever feel like it. I love that control. I think what's different about OnlyFans is there's so much more of a connection to the fans. It's not so much like a website where you put photos up. I trust the people who I'm sending my content out to.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You were able to donate $160,000 to a charity from your proceeds from OnlyFans. What was that charity and why was that important for you?
MIA KHALIFA: It was the Lebanese Red Cross and the work that they've been doing, especially since the blast in Beirut in August of last year. They're just constantly jumping over hurdles between the government, the infrastructure, the resources that they have. They need all the help that they can get. That was why I joined OnlyFans. A lot of people had opinions about where the money came from but I think it doesn't matter where the money is coming from. I needed to get it to the Lebanese Red Cross.
Pictures of my butt and, you know, cute photos are not what matters but it's what my fans like. If I can shed light on the things that matter to me and the things that we should be paying attention to in the world between that and between my life and all the fun I have, then that is my responsibility. I don't deserve a platform if that's not what I'm doing.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: And you now have millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok. How has that helped you to reclaim your identity or your confidence?
MIA KHALIFA: TikTok has been better than therapy a lot of times. Women who tell their stories, who are brave enough to put their face on the internet and share their experiences, that's been the biggest key to battling with my own shame. I've had so many doors shut in my face because of my past. And surrounding myself with people who love me unconditionally and don't even bat an eyelash about my past because they know who I am and what my values are today, that is where my confidence comes from.