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Mia Khalifa on why her work in the adult film industry wasn't a 'death sentence': 'The difference is now, it is all for me'

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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Mia Khalifa's public identity has long been associated with her body after she appeared in a Pornhub video in 2014 and became the most viewed actress on the site. After speaking out about the trauma that she experienced as a result and how she's working to move forward in her life, the 29-year-old is reclaiming her body and her relationship with it through her latest work with Playboy Centerfold.

Khalifa shares her complicated history with Yahoo Life, explaining just how her body impacted her self-worth throughout her upbringing. It even made her feel more distant from her American classmates when she immigrated from Lebanon as a child and allowed her to seek attention by other means.

"I grew up very overweight and I didn’t start losing weight until I was like 18, 19, 20," she says. "It made me insecure, it made me act hypersexual when the opportunity presented itself. Also, [I was] constantly craving validation."

She recalls seeking attention from men specifically as a means to feel good about herself at her lowest moments. "I did not feel good about myself so I just let anyone have access to it," she recalls. "I only thought that I was worthy of just existing when someone else desired me or seemingly desired me."

Still, she wouldn't come to understand these things until she had a life-altering encounter with a man who brought her into the realm of sex work. In her experience, she was made to feel completely out of control of not only her body but also the perception that people throughout the world had of her.

"It just sunk me into a depression and it sunk me into a spiral of shame," she says when reflecting on the vitriol she was faced with online and in real life after performing in a PornHub video while wearing a hijab. "I still didn’t have the confidence to really take claim over my body."

In the years since, however, she's made an effort to do just that.

Khalifa explains that her relationship with her body became better over time, noting that age made a huge difference in her experience. "Just getting older and realizing what matters and what doesn't," she says. "I love my imperfections. I feel like I’ve done the body modifications that I’ve wanted for a long time and thought hard on. I'm happy. I like the way I'm aging, I like the way I’m growing, I like the way I'm fluctuating."

She even came to realize that she could still share images of her body on social media and other platforms in a way that allows her to celebrate her figure and the new approach she has to body image, rather than feeling embarrassed by it.

"Maneuvering my way around the contradiction of feeling like I was powerless when I was in that time of my life versus doing it now in a completely different way really comes down to my confidence," she explains. "The difference is now, it is all for me. The only thing that gets shown to the public or goes out into the public sphere is something that makes me feel empowered or sexy or confident or comfortable."

Now, her work with Playboy Centerfold, a creator-led digital platform dedicated to creative freedom, artistic expression and sex-positivity, is something that she looks to as beautiful and empowering rather than shameful.

"I wouldn't say that I necessarily overcame my fear of putting my body out there. What I would say is the circumstances behind how it was happening became more in my control," Khalifa explains. "My favorite part about what I'm doing now with Centerfold is that I plan everything, I decide what I wear, I decide what photos are taken, I decide everything, down to every little tiny detail. And that's what makes it fun and that’s what makes it empowering."

Most importantly, she can exercise caution when it comes to the message that young women are faced with on social media as Khalifa uses her voice and her imperfections to start an important conversation about body image alongside her display of relatively newfound body acceptance.

"Part of me worries about today's generation with the whole FaceTune era, all of the plastic surgery being pushed on them. But another part of me just also sees the positive side of that, which is more conversations around body positivity and acceptance. And [a] better relationship with food and yourself," she says.

Ultimately, she wants people to learn from her past mistakes by accepting them as a part of her journey.

"I hope that the one thing that others learn from me is it is not a death sentence. You can do whatever you want, whatever you want," she says. "As long as you ignore all of the voices telling you you can't, literally nothing is stopping you."

-Video produced by Olivia Schneider

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