Adam Rippon is nearly 20 minutes late for our interview. When we finally connect, the former figure skater has a very Adam-Rippon-y explanation. “I’m so, so sorry,” he says. “I’m very pretty, but I’m also very dumb, and I thought this interview was tomorrow. I’m so sorry.” As millions know by now, Rippon has a very specific sensibility—and sense of humor—that few other people can pull off. It’s a perfectly balanced blend of vanity, self-deprecation and sincerity that’s made him irresistible ever since he made history at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he became the first openly gay man to represent the U.S., and where he clinched a bronze medal for his sport.
Rippon may indeed be pretty, but he’s far from dumb, and his looks are just a tiny facet of the mixed-meaning title of his new (and first) book, Beautiful on the Outside. Laced with his ultra-specific humor (which he seems to have carried through all 29 years of his life), the memoir traces his journey to the ice rink and beyond, while covering the spins, falls, triumphs, laughs and controversies in between. (Few can forget Rippon’s public denouncing of Mike Pence when the Vice President was chosen to lead the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.)
Now retired from skating, Rippon has always been one to make his unique voice heard, and he does so in a whole new way with Beautiful on the Outside, which is more about high achievements than high cheekbones. Similarly, our interview, while sprinkled with Ripponisms, honestly unveils a champion in transition.
So, what made you decide to write a book?
It’s always been a dream of mine to write a book! And when the Olympics were over, many people I’d been working with said, “Right now would be a really great time for you to do this.” I just wanted to share a lot of the experiences I’ve gone through and the lessons I’ve learned, but at the very core, I wanted to write a book that you could laugh along with.
Everyone has their own story to tell, of course, but we’re seeing a lot of people writing memoirs these days. What made you feel that yours would stand out?
I think the number one thing for me was that the story be told told through the eyes of a comedian—that it was funny and there was always a joke that tied it together. Because humor was such an important part of my life growing up, and it was something that helped me conquer a lot of difficult situations. I also thought about the books I loved reading. Most recently, Ellie Kemper’s book [My Squirrel Days] had me laughing out loud, and of course there’s Tina Fey’s Bossypants. If my book has a mother, I hope it’s Bossypants.
I’d love to hear the title Beautiful on the Outside explained in your words.
I wanted to do a title that was basically a play on what we’ve all heard our entire lives: that we’re all beautiful on the inside. I thought the title could help the book be something you could laugh with right off the bat. And the double entendre is basically saying that, as an athlete in a performance sport, even if you feel like everything is shit around you, you need to put on a brave face and act like nothing’s up, and that everything’s fine and beautiful on the outside.
Sometimes we’re all afraid to show that we aren’t perfect, and we put on this facade that there’s nothing wrong when, really, it would serve us so much better if we were honest about how we’re feeling. Pretending to be beautiful on the outside has held me back in so many different ways in my life. It felt like the perfect title.
How would you describe the book to someone who’s less familiar with you?
Well, first, I would say, “Shame on you,” if you’re less familiar, but also, “Welcome!” Then I would say that it’s funny, and it basically serves as a transition from my skating career (which I spent my entire life working toward) to this other career of being in the entertainment world. It’s sort of the perfect segue from one world to the other. It’s about an athlete like me coming into my own, and about how my reactions to challenges have led me to where I am now.
Does it feel weird to have been in the skating world for so long and now be in the celebrity/entertainment world?
Yeah. It feels very strange. There is no job you’ll have that feels as difficult as being an athlete. It’s so mentally straining, among other obvious demands. But I do feel as though I’ve skated for so long that I can basically walk into any rink and feel well-respected. And now, I feel like I’m sometimes in that place of having to prove myself again. But I can rely on a lot of the things I’ve learned: being honest, working hard, working through problems, finding ways to improve. And I think all of those things will help me in this next chapter of my life. But it definitely feels weird. Even just, like, getting a cheeseburger: If you look or feel fat the next day, at least you can take comfort in knowing that your work isn’t going to get worse!
The first chapter brings us back to your first time on the ice, which didn’t go so well: you fell, you didn’t get to wear your dream outfit. Was that always how you wanted to start the story?
[Laughs] Getting started was the hardest part. I decided to lay out everything I wanted to have in the book. And skating has been such a big, important part of my life that it felt like it was probably the perfect way to get to know me. I had the opportunity to write this book because of what I’ve done with skating, so I should probably begin with how I started skating in the first place.
One major thing the book zeroes in on is when you were so broke that all you ate were the apples at your gym. How’d you get to that point and how did you get through it?
Right before the 2014 Olympics, I was about 22 and I was trying to give it one last push. I moved to California, and I didn’t have a lot of money, and it was more expensive to live out there. I ended up living in a room in my coach’s basement. I had to get a gym membership to stay in shape, and I didn’t have any money left over for groceries. So I tried to find ways to cut corners, and my gym had apples and tea. So I would take all the apples they had out, and that was all I would eat because they were free. But I’m grateful for those times. When you feel like you have nothing, you have nothing to lose at the same time. It was probably when I was at my most fearless.
I love the photos in the book almost as much as I love the captions. One photo that struck me was your fifth birthday party at Wegman’s supermarket. How did that come together?
Your guess is as good as mine! At five years old, I don’t know what kind of pull I had with my parents, but I just loved being at Wegman’s. Growing up, I thought Wegman’s was, like, boutique. And I loved the idea of having a magician there…which I did, as you see in the picture. I know he looks like a normal man but he holds a lot of power.
I also see you had a little Justin Timberlake-circa-N’SYNC hair moment at one point.
I so did. That’s my natural hair. The bleach blonde isn’t natural, of course, but the super-curliness is. If I grow my hair out, it looks like that. To keep it straight I get a Brazilian blowout, which is totally life changing.
Speaking of life-changing, can we relive the 2018 Olympics for a moment? What does it feel like looking back on all that right now?
It feels almost surreal. Looking back, I feel like I’ve never been more prepared for something in my life. I was so well-trained for that competition, but more than that, I was so mentally focused that I was able to have my mind in multiple arenas but still buckle down and focus and be taken seriously as an Olympic athlete. Thinking about it now, it’s a strength I didn’t even know that I had, but in the moment it felt so normal.
That’s admirable, because given the media, the fanfare, and the politics surrounding you at the time, it must have been distracting from your actual job on the ice.
I think what helped me the most was that I had tried to make the Olympic team two times in the past. So when it finally happened, I was just so ready and in the moment. It didn’t matter what else was going on. I was prepared to, first and foremost, get my job done. It’ll actually be two years ago in February, and it feels like it could have been five minutes ago or five years ago.
Another big moment for you was appearing on Dancing with the Stars—and winning. I read that you have a signature skating move, called the “Rippon Lutz.” Do you have a signature dance move?
My signature dance move is…I’ll paint the picture for you: I’m at a wedding. I’ve been moving my arms so much that my shirt has come out of the pants. And it’s a collared shirt because I’m at a wedding and I’m not a monster. I’ve been moving so much that the jacket’s off, the shirt is out, the tails are flying everywhere. I’m sweating through the armpits of said shirt, I’m in the middle of the dance floor by myself, and I’ve requested “Cha-Cha Slide.” That is my go-to dance move: Sweating in the middle, waiting for “Cha-Cha Slide.”
You were born in 1989, which I always remember as the year the original Batman film was released. What do you personally know and love about the year you were born, and your actual birthdate?
Well, 1989 is my favorite Taylor Swift album, so that was a great year for both of us. November 11, my birthday, is the same day that Leonardo DiCaprio was born, and he’s been pretty successful, so that’s great. Happy for Leo. When I was born, it was the week the Berlin Wall was coming down, and 1989 was also the year that Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” video came out. And she’s really having a moment now, too. I saw her at her Vegas residency. Phenomenal.
Speaking of Taylor Swift, you were part of the massive cast of her video for “You Need to Calm Down.” What was that like?
Taylor was just as sweet as I thought she would be, but more importantly, she was super kind to everyone there. Everyone in the cast didn’t get to interact, but she was everything I hoped she would be. And I’m really grateful for the whole message behind the video and her pushing for the Equality Act to be passed. Somebody like her, who has such a powerful voice—it means a lot to a lot of people that she’s using it for really important causes.
Which is something you’ve certainly done as well, sometimes in ways that were controversial, particularly during the Olympics. Has a copy of your book been sent to Mike Pence?
It has not. And here’s the shocking part: It probably won’t be. We’re just not on good terms. No love lost, no love gained.
The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team winning the World Cup this year was a huge queer moment in sports, and it called to mind your time at the Olympics. What was your reaction to it?
Watching Megan Rapinoe and all of the girls…it was crazy for me to feel this overwhelming sense of pride for people I’d never met. I felt so seen by this person [Rapinoe] who was so vocal and so themselves in that moment. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it reminds them of me at the Olympics, and that gives me a lot of joy. Because at the Olympics, you live in this bubble, and you don’t really know what other people are hearing or saying or how everything’s being packaged around you. If I made people feel even a fraction of what I felt while watching that team win, that’s overwhelming to imagine.
What’s the main thing you’d like the reader to get out of this book?
Through the lessons I’ve learned, I was able to have the most successful year in my skating career. And I was most successful when I trusted in myself, believed in myself, and I didn’t worry about what other people thought. It sounds so simple to do, but when I was really confident in myself, I felt like I didn’t give people the option of not liking me. I was able to win a lot of people over by feeling good and comfortable in my own skin. And it didn’t happen overnight. I fell down more times than I stood up. Those lessons helped me get to where I am today and where I hope to go in the future.