When Ruth Tedaldi graduated from medical school in 1980, she intended to work in pediatrics. Through a mix of circumstances, she landed in dermatology instead and, as a natural aesthete with endless curiosity about human behaviors and emotions, loved it instantly (she’s good at it, too). When Botox, a drug that’s made from a toxin and most commonly used to smooth out facial wrinkles by paralyzing them, was introduced in 2002, her medical practice began to give way to more requests for cosmetic work. Cosmetics now take up nearly all of her practice — that means injectables such as Botox and fillers, as well as laser treatments, chemical peels, and skin care.
Though Botox is often marketed, and is still largely viewed, as a way for (mostly) women to look younger than they are, there’s been a shift in how many of us in our 40s and above consider our appearances — and how we consider our cosmetic choices. Many who spent years concealing their roots, Tedaldi included, ditched the hair dye during lockdown and have since kept their “COVID hair.” A survey last year by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported a 14 percent decline in filler injections among respondents compared with 2021, while a recent trend report from The Aesthetic Society found a 57 percent increase in filler reversals. And in September, Pamela Anderson — the former Baywatch star known for her ultra-glam, ultra-unnatural look — showed up at Paris Fashion Week wearing no makeup, following in the footsteps of ‘90s supermodel Paulina Porizkova who recently began posting makeup-free selfies to Instagram.
“I have changed,” Porizkova, now 58, wrote of her face in one caption. “Fortunately, this change also means being wiser. And bolder.” Anderson, for her part, told Vogue France, “I’m not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room. I feel like it’s just freedom. It’s a relief.”
Filler fatigue has also hit Boston. As Tedaldi herself has aged — she’s 72 — she’s seen more and more of her patients shy away from the desire to look younger, an impulse she understands. “I reached a point where I had a feeling, almost a need, to not look like an imposter,” she says. “I wanted to celebrate my wisdom, rather than try to erase it.” After all, aging means that “you’re better, you’re stronger, more knowledgeable,” she says. And now? Women want to incorporate those traits into their looks — without necessarily sacrificing the tools they’ve come to rely on to help them feel their best, whether that’s Botox or a favorite lipstick.
Lucie Beauchemin, a 61-year-old interior designer in Boston and a patient of Tedaldi, likens the idea to renovating a home.
“As I go through houses, clients may have some old stuff that’s been part of their lives,” she says. “To ignore those things, to put them away somewhere or replace them entirely, is I think, a tragedy. You don’t want a hotel room; you want your home.”
Beauchemin first saw Tedaldi for Botox when she was 48. “She knows that I want [to keep] my crow’s feet,” she says. “I’ve earned them. A room that’s brand new and shiny and sparkly isn’t that interesting. Neither is a face.”
I have seen Tedaldi for Botox since sometime in my 30s. Back then, aging unnerved me, and I did want to look younger. In my mid-40s, I got divorced and began dating again. I wanted to look better than I felt, but I absolutely did not want to look like I was in my 30s. Those years were fun, but once was enough, and I’d been through too much of life to want a face that looked like it hadn’t. One guy told me I looked “great for 46.” It was meant as a compliment but was, of course, a reminder of the importance that even the most well-meaning people place on youth. “Like we’re supposed to aspire to be something other than who we are,” says Newburyport creative director Libby DeLana, who gets told she doesn’t look her age all the time. “I always respond, ‘Well, I hope I do look 61. I am 61.’” For my part, I told the guy I looked great for any age, thanks (he stuck around).
Lynne Zekis, 73, is a semi-retired Boston realtor and a TikToker (@honest_aging) whose most viral video — imploring viewers to “not let age define you” — hit more than 1.8 million views. She recently told her dermatologist she wanted to slow down. Less Botox, more come what may. Zekis grew out her grays during COVID and says it has been transformational, physically and emotionally.
“When my hair was darker, I looked harsher,” she says. “Almost like I was trying too hard. When the hair went gray, everything softened. And as my look softened, the same thing was happening inside. I was softening. I was more at peace with myself, more confident.”
DeLana has embraced her gray for decades and, like Zekis, wears it long — well past her shoulders. At first, it was a decision based on economics — coloring her hair wasn’t worth her time or money. But eventually, gray hair became her brand. “Once, in my late 30s, a sweet little girl came up to me and said, ‘I love your hair. It’s like glitter. It has magic in it,’” DeLana recalls. “It felt like sort of a superpower.” Last year, at 60, she began modeling. Already, she’s appeared in national campaigns for Glossier and Verizon.
DeLana has sometimes questioned her decision to embrace her gray hair. “But then I’d be like, this is who I am,” she says. “I’m not for everybody. None of us are.”
In early October, DeLana was just back from Iceland, where she was delighted to hear a piece of folklore from a friend, a third generation Icelander. “In my family,” the friend said, “we believe that those with gray hair have been chosen by the natural world as the keepers of extraordinary wisdom.” DeLana says, “I love that. And I do have extraordinary wisdom, by the way.” Why would she — why would any of us — want to hide that?
Alyssa Giacobbe is a New England-based writer and editor. Send comments to email@example.com.