On August 4th, Mia Khalifa appeared in an interview with her friend, and life coach, Megan Abbott. While I highly recommend that you watch the interview for yourself, I’ll give you a rundown on the biggest and most important points that Mia made during the 1 hour and 20 minutes interview. And then, we’ll talk about why this even matters at all to all of us, who care about feminism and empowerment.

Mia, who worked in porn for about three months making films, speaks at length about her life– coming here as an immigrant shortly before 9/11 from Lebanon, being bullied post 9/11 for being dark-skinned and “weird,” and body image issues after her body went through multiple changes. These are all issues that we can deeply resonate with, as many of us come from this perspective. In this way, Mia isn’t all that different from any of us. From there, Mia describes her struggle with needing validation that she’s pretty.

As a young woman who gained a lot of weight, and then suddenly lost all of it, she found that necessary validation from men, after she had breast augmentation. For me, one of the most memorable and resonating pieces of the interview was when she said that after she had the surgery done, she looked down at her breasts, and consciously thought, “I’m pretty.” Having built the foundation for the rest of the story, Mia goes on to say how she was randomly approached to do pornography on the street. She took some time to think about it and accepted the offer. Always having been empowered about sex, Mia didn’t think much of it, or that she would turn into a “pornstar” overnight. She delves into details about that time and that work, and then subsequently, how massively famous she got after her notorious hijab scene, which incited fame and hatred from all over the world– including the terrorist group, ISIS.

Long story short, Mia underwent trauma that is indescribable. This was far more than cyberbullying a woman for her choices. ISIS, and other actors, such as government agencies from various Muslim majority countries, used Mia’s actions as an excuse to oppress women in their countries. Mia was banned from several Muslim countries, and across America, she was vilified. Mia, who was raised Catholic, became a martyr for progressive feminists and a target for conservatives. There is an important conversation about the ethics torn between free speech, a right to bodily autonomy, religious rights, and the objectification of women in general here, but what I found most interesting and insightful about Mia’s interview was her struggle with herself.

Mia moves on from discussing the actual work of porn (for which, the porn industry reaped millions of dollars, while she herself only made about a thousand dollars per film), and discusses the impact on her life. Though most people are wrongly focused on her income from the films being so low, Mia actually spends most of the interview discussing her self-growth. She discusses the estrangement from her family, how her life devolved from those films, and how she found herself lost in the job market, with very few people willing to take a chance on her.

She speaks on finding love, fighting through her insecurities and perceptions to accept that her fiancee’s intentions were true. She delves into her life-long issues with being seen as what she was on someone’s computer, rather than who she is in real life. Mia, working through her past, found light and joy in her present, and hope for her future. She is arguably one of the most notorious people of our generation– even those of us who want to pretend like we don’t know her to have to admit that we do. That’s what makes what she has to say even more important. Millions of people have seen Mia naked, intimate, acting our their perfect fantasies. But how many of us were willing to watch an 80-minute video of Mia baring her soul? And what does that mean, in terms of what we are willing to pay attention? 

And in that way, we need to see Mia Khalifa for who she really is: just another girl, trying to survive a patriarchal, oppressive world. We could discuss the feminism in this topic, where it applies and how. We could tear Mia apart for her shame, or we could apologize that we let the porn industry do this to her. We could say that porn wasn’t right for her, but it could be for other women. We could even criticize the higher Capitalistic oppression placed on the bodies of women. These are all important conversations to be had.

But the point of this article isn’t to point out any of that. It’s to point out that we often hear what we want to hear, in our efforts to further Feminist rhetoric. But this interview was about Mia being Mia, plainly, and authentically. It was honest, humble, and full of the joy Mia has built for herself. And in that way, Mia is just like any of us. Perhaps not many of us have been cyberbullied by ISIS, but we are all stumbling through life together, making mistakes, being judged, and judging others. Perhaps the biggest take away from Mia’s interview is that we need to just sit back, watch an 80-minute interview with two women speaking plainly with one another, and just try to listen without judgment, for once.

There is no need for higher discourse at this moment. This isn’t a woman who is either the face of feminism or condemning it. She is neither a martyr or a target. This is a woman speaking her truth. So, just shut up, and listen.