She was the cover model of the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and was voted #1 on Maxim magazine's Hot 100 list of 2012.
Refaeli was born into a secular Jewish family, in Hod HaSharon, Israel. Her parents, Rafael and Tzipi, own a horse ranch. Her parents were born in Israel, and her grandparents came from Italy, Lithuania, and Poland.
Her mother was a successful model in the 1970s under her maiden name, Tzipi Levine. Refaeli has three brothers.
Refaeli began a modeling career at the age of eight months, appearing in commercials. Refaeli had to wear braces in her early years, interrupting her modeling until age 15, when she returned to modeling. She was featured in campaigns for the fashion brands Castro and Pilpel, also starring in a commercial for Milky. Refaeli won the title "Model of The Year" in an Israeli beauty contest in 2000.