Elisabetta Dessy, 64: Mother, Athlete, Unapologetic Pro-Ager

A pro-age model working with Cavalli, Tiffany and Ferragamo, Elisabetta Dessy brings the same concentration and determination to her modeling work as she did to elite swimming competitions in her youth. She discusses competing for the Italian national team, embracing her wrinkles, and the importance of family.

As our health spans and life spans continue to expand, as increasingly larger portions of the population are over 60, 70, 80 and 90, how will our perceptions of beauty at each age change? It is not as if we will be hidden away somewhere. What will the face of our generation at 90 look like? Just as there has been very little thought put into the positive economic consequences of a highly engaged older population, so also there is very little discussion of what the “face” of our age will look like.

Elite athletes are constantly striving to be more than they are, to achieve at higher and higher levels. Acceptance of self is never on the menu. They find themselves in a more or less impossible situation: great but never great enough. Elisabetta was one of them, an elite swimmer, an Olympian, and two-time Italian champion. Then, at 19, she left; it was all too much. What came next was, in a way, the opposite of where she had been.

Modeling is one of the very few jobs in the world that, despite what TV shows would have you believe, you cannot train for. You can either do it or you can’t. It is not like acting where one can take classes where there is instruction. Well, there is a bit but it is minimal. You get chosen because you have the right look. Additionally, and few people talk about this, there is a huge amount of self-acceptance needed to deal with the constant rejection — a model has almost no personal control over getting or not getting the gig. She either looks right or she doesn’t.

Is the culture of what is beautiful changing? Beauty is not the same as perfect. Perfect is what Olympians strive for and never actually attain, the rest of us are better served with a helping of self acceptance.  In fact, the idea of perfect is artificial, something we humans will never be in any sense. Tom Ford is said to have populated his house with photos of Georgia O’Keeffe so that he can recalibrate his compass of what is beautiful to accommodate a range of ages.

Elisabetta, elite athlete, mother of 2, and the pro-age face of Cavalli, Tiffany and Ferragamo.

“I started to be a very young champion, at 11 years old.”

Where do you live?
I am based in Rome, my town, but I am often in Milano for work.

How did you become a competitive swimmer?
When I was 6 years old, my mother was desperate because I was undisciplined. Our doctor told her to bring me in a swimming pool, hoping that I could be more quiet. But after few years, I started to be a very young champion, at 11 years old.  I was one of the athletes of  the Italian national team.

What was the feeling you got from being on the podium in international competitions?
When I won and I was on the first step of the podium, I felt the power of my opportunities.

When you are swimming in a competition, what goes on inside your head, what is your mindset?
Before any competition, I felt always bad… The fear of the competition was strong. But, after dive, when I felt the water around me, every fear went away. I thought only to swim faster and faster.

What was your training to be an elite swimmer? It must have been very demanding.
My training was really hard! I woke up every day at 5:30am because I went to swim before going to school. Then around 6pm I came back to swim until 9pm. Was devastating but funny! 

How did you feel having left competitive sports at such a young age? Why did you leave?
When I finished to swim… I felt that something lacked me. I was too tired and exhausted of all the training I did.

How old are your children and what do they do?
My daughter Aurora is 34 years old. She is a very good journalist. My son Aldo is a trade consultant.

Many of your images are very cinematic. What is your mindset when you are working? Do you think of a character?
When I work I am always very concentrated (as in my competitions) and I think to be only myself at the best level. 

“I go running and walking every day. I am crazy, I know, but I can’t stop myself”

You have been in the model business for a long time. Do you have ongoing work relationships with any designers or photographers?
There are many people I have met in recent years with whom I am happy to have a relationship. It is always wonderful to be able to work with Simone Guidarelli, an exceptional stylist. Last year, it was incredible to have the opportunity to work with Fausto Puglisi for Roberto Cavalli, and Chris Colls, a legendary photographer.

You are a former elite athlete. What is your current exercise program?
I go running and walking every day. I am crazy, I know, but I can’t stop myself.

Are there any foods that you emphasize to stay away from?
I eat everything, what I want. I am lucky because I don’t gain too much kilos.

Your skin is lovely. What is your daily routine?
My skin is a nature gift. I have the same skin of my mother and grandmother.

How do you care for your hair?
Everyone asking me about my hair care routine. I can say nothing, just a good hairdresser.

“I have my wrinkles, but every wrinkle has a story, a past, and are part of me”

What is your feeling on interventions such as injectables, Botox, and surgery?
I believe that is not easy to accept the fact that years are running so fast! A light esthetical surgery… for me, is a yes. Please do not exaggerated! Many beautiful women become unrecognizable. Why? I have my wrinkles, I know that I am not a young woman, but every wrinkle has a story, a past, and are part of me. 

Who are your heroes?
I read the life of Marie Curie; she died for her work and for what she believed. The World Medical Committee refused she the Oscar because she was a woman. She took it years after. This is my idea of hero.

What are your favorite movies?
I love action films, spy games and brilliant comedies. Let’s say that James Bond is handsome!

What are your favorite books?
I read a lot. I like very different type of books. I prefer “yellow books”… crime books, as you call them.

What are 3 things you can’t live without?
I can’t live without my prayers. I can’t live without the nature around me. Maybe it could be simple to say that I can’t live without my family… But it’s the true. They are my breath, my power, my tears and my smiles. I am nothing without them and I am blessed to have all of them.

Do you feel there are more women your age modeling now in Italy than before?
There have always been Silver models but I think I made this role more visible in Italy and opened the doors to other brave women.

What advice do you give to women who are your age?
Being yourself is always fulfilling.

Connect with Elisabetta Dessy on Instagram.


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David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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