Cigarette Daydreams, I was younger than seventeen when I, donned in my new all-black framed glasses, walked into my 8th grade homeroom and within minutes, was called Mia Khalifa for the first time. I wasn’t aware of THE Mia Khalifa, so thinking it some inane attempt at provocation because it’s funny to annoy the only Middle Eastern girl in your class I guess, I completely ignored it.
However, I wouldn't be able to live this down as quickly as the class edgelord's screaming Allahu Akbar whenever I walked into a room he was occupying. No, my peers of all middle school social status soon indulged in dubbing me Mia Khalifa, and when my close friends joined in on the fun, I had to beg the question: Why the hell is everyone calling me that?
And I was bluntly given the following response: Oh, Mia Khalifa's a pornstar, and you look like her, especially with those glasses.
To be 13 years young and likened to a former actress in the adult entertainment industry is disconcerting. It made no difference that everyone equating me to Mia Khalifa was my age; a middle school girl should never have to internalize the idea that someone has reduced her identity to a subgenre on PornHub. Even if for shits and giggles among adolescent boys; a joke is supposed to be funny, and I certainly wasn't laughing.
After graduating middle school and moving on to an all-girls' high school, Mia Khalifa diminished from my everyday consciousness, but I never forgot who she was. It was as though she'd set up a small camp in my subconscious, subtly guiding me through my teenage and early young adult years as I shed whatever remained of the social conservatism that I was raised in. With a new, more empathetic perspective on adult women engaging in sex work and female sexuality in general, I concluded that Mia was never to blame, and I need her to understand that, which partially explains why I've written this letter.
I'm clearly not the only Middle Eastern girl who has been regularly compared to Mia Khalifa. Even Khalifa herself acknowledges this phenomenon in her Instagram bio: "Are you even a brown girl with glasses if you haven't been called Mia Khalifa?" What devastates me though is how genuinely upset Mia, literally moved to tears, is as TikTok user oreo_mlkshake recounts their experience. Mia then apologizes in her caption, as if she's done wrong by wearing glasses in her former work. She won't even wear glasses anymore because of this. I reiterate, it is not Mia Khalifa's fault that men of all cognizant ages actively participate in sexualizing young girls and fetishizing Middle Eastern women.
If anyone, like oreo_mlkshake commented in response to the duet, Mia Khalifa is "an inspiring woman." Khalifa has shown me how to discover my agency and project it to a world in which women are constantly signaled to sit down, shut up, and leave the important stuff to inept yet conventionally respectable men. Following the August 2020 Beirut Port explosion, one that resulted from decades of mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Lebanese government, Mia Khalifa auctioned off her iconic glasses for 100,000 USD to be donated in whole to the Lebanese Red Cross (which is much less strife with controversy than the American one) and their recovery and rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile, senior Lebanese officials, including the president, prime minister, and commander of armed forces, have evaded accountability and declared impunity to avoid being brought to justice.
I'd much rather be a Mia Khalifa than a Michel Aoun.
In closing, I absolutely adore Mia Khalifa, and I hope to become at least half as powerful, clever, altruistic, and wholly beautiful as her.