Heard was born in Austin, Texas, to Patricia Paige (née Parsons), an internet researcher (1956–2020), and David Clinton Heard (born 1950), who owned a small construction company. She has a younger sister, Whitney. The family lived outside Austin. Heard's father broke horses in his free time, and she grew up riding horses, hunting, and fishing with him. She also participated in beauty pageants, although as an adult she has said that she can no longer "support the objectification". When Heard was 16, her best friend died in a car crash. Heard, who was raised Catholic, subsequently declared herself an atheist. Around the same time, she began questioning society around her. At the age of 17, she no longer felt comfortable in Texas and dropped out of her Catholic high school to move to New York City. She eventually earned a diploma through a home-study course. In New York, she supported herself by modeling, but soon moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting.