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Mia Khalifa Only Did Porn Three Months But She’s Still a Pornhub Sensation

Since January of 2015, months after she reportedly left her job at a Whataburger to start a porn career at a customer’s suggestion, Mia Khalifa has been one of the biggest names in the industry. By then, she’d already been the top rated porn star on streaming giant Pornhub for a month. Today, she is still ranked number two, just behind news icon Stormy Daniels, but ahead of industry giants like Riley Reid. She was also the most-searched porn star of 2016 and 2017 on rival tube site xHamster. And she garners mass media attention in a way many of her peers, barring Daniels, never do.

But there is something odd about Khalifa’s longstanding porn preeminence. Mainly, it’s the fact that she is not currently a porn performer. Nor has she been one for over three years. Khalifa’s brief shooting career lasted three months in late 2014, with her movies rolling out throughout early 2015, but quickly tapering off.

Other performers have left the adult industry and maintained a degree of fame among fans, like Sasha Grey, who is still the 19th most popular star on Pornhub despite officially retiring from porn in early 2011. But Grey and her ilk earn their fame through years of heavy content production and effective image building within the industry. Usually, says Cyber5, the pseudonym used by the editor of xCritic.com, when a performer makes a splash at the start of their career but leaves after just a few months, they might retain a small, active fan base, but they usually fall down the ranks fast. “People get bored quickly if you’re not providing them something new,” says porn publicist Erika Icon. “They will eventually turn their attention to some other performer. To be honest, I’m surprised people are still talking about her.” Especially, Icon says, given the length and scope of Khalifa’s career.

Khalifa, adds Cyber5, has actually “been a topic of discussions in the adult community… about ‘overrated porn stars’” for years. Her continuing popularity seems to fluster some porn viewers as well. So how exactly did Khalifa come by her enduring adult industry fame and fan base?

Khalifa declined to share her thoughts on her own lasting adult fame through her current agent. However many porn industry insiders and observers shared thoughts and analyses on her career, pointing towards a likely viable set of explanations for her notoriety.

Khalifa earned her initial burst of fame when she started doing porn while wearing a hijab. The November 2014 BangBros feature Mia Khalifa is Cumming for Dinner was the first major studio hijabi porn produced in America. (Amateur content may have featured hijabs before this, but if so it is hard to track and did not gain much visibility.) The hijab video was something new in porn, which always draws eyes. It was also controversial, which got it play in the mainstream media, driving her viewer base and profile up. “Sometimes it takes a bit of luck,” says longtime adult industry agent Mark Schechter, “getting the right scene at the right time can change a model’s career overnight.

But wearing a hijab alone doesn’t fully explain even Khalifa’sinitial success. After all, while she shot to number one on the porn charts after that release, her co-star Julianna Vega, who also wore a hijab, only made it to the number 19 slot in its aftermath. Some of the difference in appeal, industry observers agree, may simply come down to Khalifa’s large breasts. But some of it may stem from Khalifa’s Arab origins; she was born and partially raised in Beirut, Lebanon, before moving to the United States as a child.

“There aren’t many Lebanese, or Middle Eastern, porn performers,” says Alex Hawkins, VP of xHamster. “Aside from immigration issues, there is not a huge homegrown porn production culture in much of the Middle East, the way there is in South America” or Europe. Porn has tried to pass off ethnically ambiguous performers, like Vega or Janice Griffith, as Arab in select scenes. But Khalifa looked distinct and sported accouterments, like two Lebanese-specific, Arabic tattoos, speaking to her Middle Eastern roots.

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