The daughter of a Lebanese-descended father and a Spanish-descended mother, Hayek was born and raised in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. Determined to see that her grandchild develop into a ravishing beauty, her grandmother frequently shaved young Salma's head and clipped her eyebrows, in the belief that such treatments would add body and sheen to her granddaughter's thick dark locks. Equally determined to see that she became well-educated, Hayek's staunchly Catholic parents shipped her off to a boarding school in Louisiana when she was 12. While the beguiling youngster proved both attentively studious and properly religious, she also displayed a bent for mischief that she chiefly directed against the long-suffering nuns who ran the school: among other infamies, she once slipped into the faculty dormitory and set all of the alarm clocks back three hours. The end result of such she-nun-igans was that Hayek ended up suspended and carted back home after just two years. It only took her two more years to finish high school, and her mother, fearful of the effects ''college boys'' might have on her impressionable young daughter, sent Hayek to Houston, where she lived with an aunt until her 17th birthday.
Returning to Mexico once more, Hayek relocated to Mexico City to attend college, where she commenced international relations studies. Though she had harbored acting ambitions since childhood, Hayek had for years been reluctant to seriously pursue such a chancy vocation for fear of alienating her parents. Ultimately, she decided the path of the dutiful daughter and stable career girl was one she could not bear to walk and frankly confronted her parents about her aspiration. As she later told one interviewer, ''One day I took my dad to lunch. I asked him if he believed in destiny and he said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Well, I believe it's my destiny to become an actress.''' In spite of voluble objections from her family and the derision and disbelief of her friends, Hayek quit college and determinedly embarked on an acting career. She first found work in plays at neighborhood theaters, including one assignment as the heroine of Aladdin and His Marvelous Lamp. Several months of tireless stage work led to jobs making television commercials, which in turn yielded a casting in Nuevo Amanecer, a popular daytime TV serial. With no more experience than that to her credit, Hayek got herself cast as the title character of a second serial, Teresa, the phenomenal popularity of which almost immediately made its fetching young star the most fanatically revered actress in Mexico.