Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie Madisin Rian says shaving her head taught her that 'we aren't just our hair'

·4-min read
Madisin Rian says there is no one standard of beauty. (Photo: Getty Images)
Madisin Rian says there is no one standard of beauty. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

Model Madisin Rian knows a thing or two about staying the course.

The Armani Beauty spokesmodel has worked with brands such as Miu Miu and Polo Ralph Lauren and has appeared in the pages of Vogue Portugal and Marie Claire Australia.

Now, the 30-year-old is taking on another iconic publication as the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie — a full-circle moment for the St. Louis, Mo. native.

"I was told, 'You will never be able to do Sports Illustrated because you're too thin,'" Rian tells Yahoo Life, reflecting on her first attempt at working with the publication nearly 10 years ago.

"I got the casting and I wanted it," Rian shares about making it through the first round with the publication, but ultimately not being selected.

"I just dealt with so many people doubting me and telling me I would never be able to get to this moment," says Rian. But she didn't let this setback stop her from pursuing her career dream of working with the SI team. "Once [the casting] passed, I just kept going and I said, 'If it's meant to be it's gonna be," says Rian. "Now we're here."

Madisin Rian is the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swim Rookie. (James Macari/ SPORTS ILLUSTRATED)
Madisin Rian is the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swim Rookie. (Photo: James Macari/ SPORTS ILLUSTRATED)

Her tenacity has helped her move through the world with an unbridled sense of self-confidence, even in an industry that can be quite restrictive.

"I was put in a box for a long time," says Rian. "I would get the, 'You're not tall enough,' or 'You're not edgy enough.'"

But despite attempts to cage her in, the model says she has always been secure in who she is.

"I've always been very confident about my body. I was pretty much always this way. And I think that you just naturally start gaining more confidence and come into yourself the older you get," she says.

While much of this confidence is innate, her ability to recognize the subjective nature of beauty standards has also helped her tune out the noise.

"In this industry, where everything is about opinion, there is no one standard of beauty. There is no right or wrong way. So I'm just confident in being myself and not wanting to be like anyone else," says Rian.

That said, she acknowledges that self-love is not a one-stop destination but an ongoing journey, with peaks and valleys.

"Loving yourself is an everlasting journey, especially as women. Our bodies will always change through different phases, whether you're in your pre-teens or your 20s or 30s or even after giving birth. It's a journey," says Rian, who notes she is quite excited by the prospect of aging. "When I turned 30, I actually felt this sense of relief, like, 'Actually, my life is just getting started,'" she says. "Age is so beautiful. I wouldn't want to go back to my 20s."

And while she has always been confident in her looks, an impulse haircut in 2017 would take her to new heights.

"One day I woke up and I was just like, 'You know what? I'm going to cut it off," Rian says of her hair, which she says wound up being one the best decisions she's ever made.

"I just felt like, 'Oh my gosh… this is me,'" she says.

By shaving her head, she was able to examine her relationship with her hair and the impact it had on her self-image. Who was she, sans tresses?

"I just wanted to see how I viewed being my most authentic self without having hair to hide under," she says.

"When I made the chop, I felt so confident. I never wanted to grow it back out again," Rian adds. "I know it can sound crazy, because it's like, 'Whoa, you just chopped it off? And that was it?' But it was really just about self-love, self-confidence. And just a phase of me finding who I was and what made me feel the best."

And while major aesthetic changes can seem daunting in an industry so hyper-focused on looks, Rian says the decision ran much deeper.

"Black women, in general, we have these stigmas surrounding our hair, and so we feel the need to add this connection to it," she says. "But, we aren't just our hair; we are more than that."

And for Rian, who spent so much of her career trying not to be boxed in, shaving her head afforded her a much-needed sense of freedom.

"I felt liberated," she says, "making that bold move and feeling so confident without hair or the need to be attached to it."

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