Christen Harper and Jared Goff found love in a not-so-hopeless place.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model and the Detroit Lions quarterback met on Raya, a dating app favored by celebrities. The couple was first linked in 2019. They announced their engagement in June 2022.
“… I swore that he messaged me first,” Harper told Fox News Digital. “But when we went and looked back, I actually sent the first message.”
“So all you ladies out there, you better send the first message because you never know,” she chuckled. “You gotta shoot your shot. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Harper said she and the NFL star quickly became inseparable after they met offline.
“It’s so funny thinking that we met on a dating app, but I feel like these days it’s so common,” said the pinup. “And it’s really like how you meet people. Who knows if I would’ve ever met him? So I’m so happy that I went on that dating app five years ago… It’s so fun to see how we’ve grown. It’s been such a fun ride – and it all started online.”
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While Harper quickly scored a touchdown with her beau, the star admitted she was not so well-versed in football while they were dating.
“We first started dating right before the football season started in I think 2018,” she explained. “So it was crazy to be thrown into that. And I didn’t know much about football. My brother played hockey growing up. I knew about the Super Bowl, but I wasn’t watching football on TV all the time. So now I feel like I know way too much.”
Harper noted that in being a supportive partner, it was important for her to learn the ins and outs of the sport.
“It was an interesting dynamic just to see how much work they put in and see how busy they really are,” she said. “I mean, these guys are working so much and to see the other side of it is amazing. It took some balancing from both of our schedules to make it work. And I think in the beginning it was good because we were both busy. And now we really have to figure out ways to give and take. And usually, the off-season is more the time when I get to [focus on my projects]. And during the season he’s focused on his stuff, so it actually works out pretty well. But we find a way to make it work.”
Goff has been Harper’s biggest cheerleader lately. The Southern California native was a co-winner in the 2021 Swim Search. She was named co-Rookie of the Year with Katie Austin following their 2022 issue appearance. She is featured in the current issue on newsstands now.
Harper said it was Goff who encouraged her to give the magazine’s annual casting call a shot.
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“He’s been just the best cheerleader along the way,” she said. “It’s so fun because I get to cheer him on for his football season. But he is the number one supporter, the number one person that’s just in my court. When I went to go initially apply for Swim Search, he was one of the people [who] was like, ‘Do it. Who cares if you don’t get it? Put yourself out there. You gotta do it.’ And I’m so happy that he pushed me to do it. It’s just been such a fun process. And it’s fun to have something so exciting that involves the world of sports as well. He gets to celebrate and be a part of it too.”
Harper said it was SI Swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton who inspired her to throw her hat into the ring. Growing up, Harper struggled with her body image.
“I grew up in California – I never went to one pool party or went to the beach with my friends because I was just so insecure about my body for no reason,” she explained. “When I look back, I wish I would’ve just put on the bikini, put on the one-piece, put on anything, and gone and showed up instead of waiting till it got dark or keeping my cover-up on. This is your life. You only get one life. Nobody else is looking at what you look like in a bikini. I promise you, you just gotta go there. You gotta wear it. You gotta be confident and just have fun because nobody else is thinking about it.”
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“Life’s too short to not wear the bikini,” she added.
Harper originally pursued modeling to help pay her way through college. However, she was often told by agents and clients to lose weight. Today, she speaks out on body positivity and leads self-esteem workshops at the Detroit Lions Academy in partnership with the Pure Heart Foundation.
“… I realized… I can show up to set and be exactly myself,” she said on not fitting into fashion’s sample sizing. “Who cares if I don’t fit into the jeans, and they have to send me home? It was a little embarrassing, but I will be fine because I know who I am… It’s brands like Sports Illustrated that have paved the way for women to feel good about themselves, whatever shape and size they are – it doesn’t matter. We’re all here to just represent everyone and for everyone to feel included and confident.”
To prepare for her shoot this year in Dominica, Harper said she did not feel the urgency to amp up her fitness routine. She said the magazine encourages its models to show up for their photo shoots exactly as they are.
The original swimsuit issue ran in 1964. It has been a launching pad for models such as Upton, as well as Kathy Ireland, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson and Ashley Graham.
Over the years, the issue has featured models in painted bikinis, plus-sized models, unedited photos, tiny swimsuits, amputee models, older models and the addition of professional athletes and celebrities in relationships.
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“I made it a point to not do anything different for the shoot,” she explained. “Growing up, I saw these women, and they were so stunning and amazing, but I felt like I didn’t look exactly like the women I was seeing in the media. And so, I want to show up like I show up in the real world. I don’t want to show up looking like some special version of myself that only appears once a year. I do live an active lifestyle. I work out a lot. I love Pilates, I love walking with friends and going on coffee walks, but I didn’t do anything super particular for this because I just wanted to show up as myself.”
“I think that’s just a good message to put forward, especially to younger girls,” she continued. “… And this is a full circle moment. I am finally the girl that I once looked up to. I’m here and I feel so confident… It’s so much more than just a picture. It’s everything. It’s my story – my past and my future.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.