At just 23 years old, Delevingne has lived out many of her formative years in the spotlight. After being featured in a Burberry campaign in 2011, she became one of the most coveted faces in the fashion industry. She recently launched her film career, and regularly broadcasts snippets of her life to millions of social media followers. But when she sat down in a conversation with actor Rupert Everett at the Women in the World Summit on Friday, Delevingne was nervous.
She began the conversation by peeling off her black stilettos. “Sorry, I had to take my shoes off, ’cause I’m bloody scared,” she said.
Then she read a poem:
Who am I?
Who am I trying to be?
Anyone but myself.
Living in a fantasy to bury the reality …
Full to the brim with fake confidence.
Delevingne wrote these words about a year ago when she was feeling deeply depressed. She told Everett that she has grappled with her mental health since she was a teenager, when she “wanted the world to swallow me up, and nothing seemed better to me than death.” At 17, Delevingne left school and decided to start modeling. It was an escape route that ultimately offered little solace.
“The thing with models is you get used,” Delevingne said. “I saw a lot of misuse from photographers, perverse photographers, to young girls … Poor girls who don’t stand up for themselves because they feel like you should be used, because that’s what models do.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Delevingne’s rise to fame was quick, glamorous, and sensational. She posed for everything from Burberry and Chanel, to Topshop and Mango. She also won millions of social media fans (four million on Twitter and 20.6 million on Instagram, to be exact) by being openly and gloriously weird. Often, Delevingne would post pictures of herself in what is now her signature pose: eyes crossed, tongue lolling. She appeared in public in animal onesies and beanies that read “Homies” in the style of the Hermes logo. With her bushy brows and eternal goofiness, Delevingne proved to be an irresistibly refreshing face on the fashion scene, normally so stuffy and aloof.
Internally, however, Delevingne was struggling. She was exhausted and overworked. Perhaps as a direct consequence, she began to develop a condition called psoriasis, which caused welts to sprout up across her body.
“At that time, I really wanted someone to stop me,” she said. “And no one did.”
“Would you have listened to them?” Everett asked.
“Yes!” Delevingne exclaimed.
It was supermodel Kate Moss who ultimately advised Delevingne to slow things down. And so Delevingne took some time off to write, practice yoga, and relax. When she returned to work, she decided to switch tracks and pursue a passion that had been fomenting since she was a child: acting.
Delevingne recently appeared in Paper Towns, an adaptation of the novel by Fault in Our Stars Author John Green. She has five more high-profile films coming out within the next year, including the highly-anticipated Suicide Squads with Jared Leto and Will Smith. But the transition from fashion to film was not an easy one. Delevingne told Everett that certain actors insisted on seeing her audition tapes prior to shooting because they did not believe she would be able to carry a scene.
“When I got my first audition that I cared about, I cried my eyes out,” Delevingne said. “Because I never thought anyone would take me seriously.”
Now that she is settled more comfortably into her career, Delevingne hopes to act as a source of support for the young women who look up to her. “I have so many messages just for young girls about how mental illness and depression is not something to be afraid of,” she said. “And also, women are great. They’re wonderful, wonderful creatures. Women are the bearers of life.”
When fans tell her they want to be a model, Delevingne now suggests they “dream bigger. Go for president.”
As the discussion wound down, Delevingne interjected with one last piece of advice. “Be comfortable in your own shoes,” she said, and then looked down at her bare feet with a grin. “Which apparently I’m not. Because you’re going to be in them for a while.”
Watch the full interview here.