Richards was born in Downers Grove, Illinois, to Joni, who owned a coffee shop, and Irv Richards, a telephone engineer. Her ancestry is Welsh, Croatian and French. She has a younger sister, Michelle. Richards grew up in both Mokena and Downers Grove. When Richards was 15 years old, she and her family moved to Oceanside, California where, in 1989, she graduated from El Camino High School. As a child, she was the "only girl on the baseball team". Richards was raised Roman Catholic. At the age of 15, she appeared in the U. S. version of the music video "The Captain of Her Heart" by Double. After her high school graduation, she began working as a model and traveled to big cities such as Paris, New York, and Tokyo to do photo shoots and commercials.