By Maya El Ammar- Lebanese journalist
Those who believe Mia Khalifa was happy doing what she did during her three months’ involvement with the porn industry in 2015, are most likely to have fallen victim to the same alluring trap that the industry ensnared Khalifa with and thousands of girls like her. Porn producers are consummate at preying on callow young women, in need of money, validation, or simply a sense of belonging. The industry uses the same mechanics to cater to its consumers. It projects an image of a free space where limitless sexual possibilities are played out, under the eyes of a male spectator, ever-anticipating the “peak moment.”
And so it is that some defend this illusion-weaving industry as synonymous with sexual autonomy, where the individuals exercise their right to explore every shade of desire. For others, porn companies are securing jobs for those who want a more “exotic” way of life, in addition to helping those that no other domain would hire. Some people think that pornography breaks taboos and promulgates sex education in the world. And for many, sex is perfectly fine being a paid service, just like any other job involving supply and demand.
Developing a Career in the Industry of Illusion
Over the past years, debates about pornography have raged. The sudden death of one adult star, or the resignation of another fire up controversies. Disagreements are fueled among feminists and civil rights activists whenever a woman starts a new porn company, with the goal of creating alternative content to counteract prevalent male gaze and chauvinism.
But there’s no need for long-winded reflections to understand what the reality of porn clearly is.
One need look no further than the autopsy results of August Ames, the famously “happy” Canadian pornographic actress, who took her own life last year, at age 23. Toxicology results revealed high doses of drugs and antidepressants in her system. In order to put up with the industry, most adult actresses are medicated, or take drugs.
Some porn stars quit and survived to tell the tale. Jessica Rodgers, Vanessa Belmond, Cameron Adams, Jennie Ketcham, and others, spoke up about their lives behind the scenes of this opaque industry, where women never experience real pleasure, but get paid for “faking” it in front of a camera.
Mia Khalifa, who has always wanted to be a sports commentator, pitched in her own story with porn in two important interviews last month, one on her friend and life coach Megan Abbott’s channel, the second on BBC’s HardTalk.
Self-loathing Fuels Pornography
Ms. Khalifa debunked the myth that porn is a means for a woman’s sexual liberation, a path for her financial independence, or a way to restore her self-confidence. She says the companies take advantage of women’s horrible social and psychological circumstances to make them sign unfair contracts. When she herself had signed such a contract, she was driven by an aching need to attract male attention, of which she had been deprived through high school and college because of her struggle with overweight.
With her admirably bold frankness, Ms. Khalifa brings back to light the role that physical appearance plays in the life of a young girl who ends up being used sexually and commercially. Khalifa was looking for a lost sense of femininity. She had craved and waited for so long to be told she was loveable, desired, sexy. And when that finally happened, she clutched at it. Many girls can relate.
There is an enormous amount of pressure on girls to look a certain way.
The self-confidence crisis is whetted by a myriad of factors and sources, from harsh personal circumstances to a destructive socio-economic machine, often guided by narrow-minded men.
The Attention-Seeking Strategy as a Poisonous “Cure”
But the problem lies not so much in self-loathing per se as in the coping mechanism girls devise to try and remedy their shattered self-confidence and drown the parasitic voices inside their heads and outside. By entering the porn world, young women succumb to the same kind of pressure that gave rise to their misery. And while they persevere in their goal of gaining men’s approval, as if it were some sort of a soothing balm, they realize soon enough how deceptive and empty such appreciation is. For, in actual fact, what such men groove on is a partial, physical embodiment of some fantasy they have. By indulging male fantasies, young women enter a vicious circle of dependence on masculinist views.
With time, the circle becomes harder to break. A little wrinkle appears here, a sagging piece of flesh there, and the porn actress soon finds herself forced to retire. A new star is born to replace her.
And yet, the painful truth is, so many vulnerable young women are opting for this false solution that leads them to venture into porn. A concatenation of factors make it difficult for them to refuse the available offers the industry gives them. They do it, and end up getting indicted by the whole society, while the industry that thrives on their exploitation, and the culture that perpetuates their commodification, remain blameless.
Unlike Mia, scores of women never get the chance nor do they feel safe enough to speak up. Some are also afraid of losing what little financial advantage they receive, which is absolutely insignificant compared with the billions of dollars the industry and its aggregate sites such as Pornhub, reap from those videos, and will most likely continue to do so for years to come.
Those women have the right to defend their decisions in whichever terms they wish to choose. But history tells us that, whether after months or years of being commodified by a male gaze, they invariably wake up to a battered sense of self. Just like Mia Khalifa, they realize that the attention does not hold up for long, because it is fake. This realization comes despite all the compromises they have made to be able to live with and normalize the abuse they are subjected to, and the equally horrid social stigma, which makes them go through life without ever getting a second chance at a new beginning, as Ms. Khalifa said.
Lolo Ferrari and Eric Vigne
“All this stuff has been because I can’t stand life. But it hasn’t changed anything. There are moments when I disconnect totally from reality. Then I can do anything, absolutely anything. I swallow pills. I throw myself out of windows. Dying seems very easy then.”
These are the words of Lolo Ferrari who was once the most famous porn star, and who overdosed in 2000 and died. Before her death, she shared her experience in an interview with The Guardian.
Her husband and manager, Eric Vigne, designed plans to transform her body and asked his plastic surgeon friend to execute them. Lolo was mentioned in The Guinness Book of Records for having the biggest breasts in the world. She had undergone cosmetic surgery, with huge injections of silicon and toxins, in many parts of her body.
In the modern porn industry, Eric Vigne and his designs are not needed anymore. Like it did with Mia Khalifa 5 years ago, the industry knows now how to push young women to internalize the figure of Eric Vigne themselves.