This week, Cara Delevingne opened up about her struggles with perfectionism while addressing a crowd at the NewYork-Presbyterian’s 10-year commemoration of its Center for Youth Mental Health.
She was in conversation with Chioma Nnadi, British Vogue editor, and discussed her journey with anxiety and learning to trust her instincts.
“Things that have really helped me are learning to love myself through other people and learning to really be myself with other people, because I think my whole thing was always trying to be perfect, even though I definitely wasn't perfect. In my head, I just wanted to be better than what I was,” she said at the event.
She then described feeling a ‘huge discrepancy’ when she came to this realization, feeling like she had to reconcile the difference between who she was at her core, the person she was trying to be, and her own perception of her identity.
“Now I feel like I've closed those gaps,” she told the crowd, which included other stars like Camila Cabello, Sienna Miller and Demi Lovato.
Those gaps she speaks of can be difficult to close for everyday people, but when you’re a celebrity, it can be even more challenging. Similar to her describing the difference between who she was at her core, the person she was trying to be, and her own perception of her identity, women who step in to so many different roles in the course of a day, let alone in a lifetime, also struggle with this. Some of us are mothers, wives, friends, daughters, sisters and working professionals - and constantly having to put on those different hats can really challenge our sense of self. Women are often forced into boxes and encouraged to define themselves by that one thing that’s the most important to them. There’s not much grace or room for overlap or nuance.
For Cara though, she comes from an incredibly powerful family with loose ties to English royalty. She went to a London high school for girls and experienced dyspraxia, making school a bigger challenge for her than most other students, and she ended up falling into a bout of depression at age 15.
"I was hit with a massive wave of depression and anxiety and self-hatred, where the feelings were so painful that I would slam my head against a tree to try to knock myself out," she told Vogue back in 2015.
She ended up dropping out of school around the age of 16 to pursue modelling, six years after her first shoot for Vogue Italia at age 10. She had a flourishing modelling career before she even touched acting, and that took off for her, too. It’s no wonder she, at one point, felt the pressure to be perfect.
Celebrities are constantly having to face a flock of paparazzi, tabloids, writers, managers and team members that treat their identity as a brand rather than a critical aspect of their humanity and it’s constantly in consultation or up for discussion at every point.
That’s why it’s so interesting that back in March, for her cover story with British Vogue, Cara revealed that the turning point for her substance abuse issues was actually a photo taken by the paparazzi.
"I hadn't slept. I was not okay," she said. "It's heartbreaking because I thought I was having fun, but at some point it was like, 'Okay, I don't look well.' You know, sometimes you need a reality check, so in a way those pictures were something to be grateful for."
It’s ironic to think that some of the very things that send us on any given trajectory are also the same things that will bring us back to the middle. But it’s also an indicator that perhaps what Cara is experiencing is really a coming of age.
We saw something similar with Emma Watson, not with substance abuse, but with her finding her voice in her 30s. I wrote about her inspiring and unusually long birthday Instagram post here, where she described some of the things she’d been up to in recent years.
While celebrities are often loved and admired by fans all over the world, it’s just as common for them to be the target of online hate, vitriol and unrelenting smear campaigns. But when Cara describes learning to love herself through other people, she’s alluding to taking more control over which narrative she pays more attention to. She’s tuning more into the love than the hate, and the impact it’s having is that she is loving herself more.
The theme for both women, and so many others who hit 30 or any other milestone birthday, seems to lie in finally feeling a bit more comfortable in your own skin. And a lot of that comfort comes from learning to listen to yourself, which Cara touched on.
“I made a commitment to trust my instincts. There's still so many days I have a gut feeling about someone or something in business or whatever it is. But I'll second think that thought," she said. “I'm really learning to understand that I don't need to second guess the thing that I really feel innately is the right thing to do for me."
That’s such a powerful sentiment. The idea of doing away with second-guessing, particularly when the most minute details of your life are talked through in the public sphere.
Perhaps taking that time out to do the 12-step process gave her the quiet that she needed in order to develop the skill of trusting her instincts. With there being so much buzz around you all the time, celebrities like Cara really don’t have the luxury of silence. And that’s increasingly true for civilians these days on social media. And if there’s one thing I know about silence, it’s that the quieter it is, the more you can not only hear what your inner dialogue and instincts are telling you, but trust it more, too.