Looking at images of Natalie Mariduena, you would never believe that her SI Swimsuit Issue appearance as a rookie in 2021 was her first photo shoot as a model. Usually, she is found behind-the-scenes, producing amazing viral content for social media. Now, the 25-year-old is back for a second turn in front of the camera, “[Last year] when I got the official phone call from MJ [Day], I was just in shock. I didn’t even think that was a possibility for somebody like me,” Mariduena says. “Even in Year two, I was like, ‘What? You guys want to bring me back? Are you crazy?’”
Mariduena grabbed her passport and reunited with the SI Swim team for a non-stop adventure in Belize. “I love them so much, and they know that,” she adds. “They’re like friends to me now–and family.” The crew embraced whatever Belize’s climate threw at them. “I’m very much an outdoorsy girl,” the environmental science major shares. “I’m all about nature and the outdoors.” Below Mariduena talks about how she survived her latest shoot and what childhood dream of hers will soon become a reality.
What was your favorite moment from shooting in Belize?
“Gosh, the Belize shoot was so much different than shooting in Miami last year, and I had so much fun. I think one of my most memorable moments from the shoot actually has nothing to do with me, but with DJ [Quintero], the hairstylist. I love him so much. We were shooting in the river, and it was freezing cold. He’s walking and totally slips. This is the first shot of the day and he gets completely submerged under the water. He was just soaked for the rest of the day. It’s a rainforest climate, so it also kept raining on and off all day. We’d have to stop and go for cover. Other parts of the day, it would get really hot and really humid, which isn’t great for the hair!”
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What did you love most about Belize?
“I’d never been to Belize before. I got to hang out with the women's national soccer team – I played soccer from the age of 4 all the way through college. I love soccer so much and being able to see those young girls and see myself in those girls who were 18 to 20, I think, we had so much fun. I was doing my soccer moves or what’s left of them! The community and the spirit in Belize, people are so in love with their country and their food and their culture.”
Any particular music you had playing?
“I always have my reggaeton playlist going all day long, 12 hours straight. It’s such a good, upbeat vibe. There’s so many beats that you can kind of flow with it as you model. And the set is literally a party all day. It has to be otherwise people are going to get tired because it’s such a long day. You have to be blasting music, dancing, laughing and having a good time.”
You started your career behind the camera in content production. Did any of that help prepare you to be in front of it?
“Definitely. I think having a good understanding of the behind-the-scenes is always helpful when you go in front of the camera because you just appreciate how much goes into that one shot or that one video or whatever that piece of content is.”
Is there anything that you learned from last year that you brought into this shoot?
“I learned so much from the photographer and everybody on set. The No. 1 thing is obviously to be confident and comfortable and just own it. There’s so many people there championing for you and cheering you on. You just want to put on your best performance. Two, and this is something I never realized before, movement in modeling is so important. You never want to strike a hard frozen pose. You kind of have to just flow and be fluid. And that’s when the best shots come.”
How did you prepare?
“Honestly, just a lot of working out; hot yoga is my favorite. Eating healthy prior to shooting, so that you feel and look your best. Other than that, you just kind of have to go and own it and do your thing. That’s what ends up showing up on camera. I love my body, and I love the way it changes and moves throughout time.”
Did you have a favorite swimsuit on set?
There is one that MJ had me put on, and it is this very sexy, tiny little number. We’ll see if it ends up in the issue. I don't know, but it is very tiny and very sexy. A little bit [out of my comfort zone]. I don’t mind showing a little extra skin, and I feel like SI Swim is the perfect place to do that. The bathing suits vary from really conservative pieces to really tiny bikinis. We shoot over 15 bikinis all day long, so it’s a process.”
You are very outspoken about body-positivity and being a great role model for younger girls. How do you stay so confident?
“Honestly, I owe a lot to my family and friends. I think having a supportive network of people around you is so important. And if you don’t have that, you have to find it.”
Now that’s you’ve been in the SI Swimsuit Issue twice, what’s next?
“Oh my goodness.I’m really focusing on making my own content and making more of it and getting to show people who I am, more of my personality and having more of a voice in the things that I’m passionate about. I really love fashion, and I’m going to be breaking into that sphere more as this year progresses. I’m really looking forward to everybody seeing that and what I’m getting into. Fashion is definitely one of my main focuses for this year.”
Have you always been into fashion?
“Always, when I was a kid growing up, my mom and I, we always wanted to have a boutique in town on Main Street. It was a small town, but we didn’t really have the finances and resources to do it. It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own line and to get into fashion and luxury fashion. I’m really excited about what we have going on this year.”
Lastly, I know you are a self-proclaimed pasta lover –what is your favorite dish?
“I love a good carbonara. My heart is also with Jon and Vinny's spicy fusilli. Immediately [after the shoot], not even when I returned from Belize, I literally immediately ordered pasta!”