When Ava Gilchrist decided to stop coloring her hair, she fully committed to her gray transition by sharing her process on YouTube and Instagram. And while sharing the transition publicly may have helped keep her on track, that doesn’t mean the process was always easy.
In our interview below, the 53-year-old makeup artist and mom of special needs teens twins describes how seeing her gray crown emerge was downright scary at times.
We spoke during the depths of the pandemic, back in July of 2020 when the world felt like it was falling apart. Thank goodness for all the change we’ve seen since then: Not only is Ava’s hair fully silver, but virus numbers are decreasing, vaccinations are increasing, we even have a new administration, hallelujah.
And she continues to take on challenges: she’s currently deep into training for a figure competition in September. You can follow along on Instagram and YouTube for updates on her fitness as well as hair and makeup tutorials focusing on gray hair and 50+ beauty.
Read on for some real talk on Ava’s journey to all-natural hair (both curls and gray), as well as the latest on her fitness competition plans.
Tell us about yourself—where do you live and what do you do?
“Right now I’m a makeup artist who doesn’t make up anybody (thanks to Covid). I’m just trying to fill that void how it all began, by doing my own face—turning the brush inward. I’m a makeup artist slash stay at home mom. I have special needs kids—twins who are 16.”
I’m also 52! When did you stop using color on your hair?
“When I even entertained the idea of going gray there were a lot of factors for me. I went gray because I was so tired of dying my hair. I was doing it myself.
Also, I knew the color itself was just not good for me. I would experience irritation on my scalp. Plus, you do it and two days later they’re peeking through on the edges. And I was just like, I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.
I was 49 when I took the plunge. And it was not like, ‘I’m so excited about embracing my gray.’ No. I was scared. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d wear scarves and have a little bit just peeking through. But there was no going back, and it was scary.
But taking the journey and actually documenting that journey on YouTube and posting pictures on social media really helped because I started to see so many women saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this too. Thank you.’ I really started seeing more women saying they were ready to take the plunge and go gray.”
I can see how it’s scary. It’s not just a hair color change, it’s an identity change.
“Yeah. You’re saying, ‘I accept this aging process.’ That’s what it really is, especially when you’re talking about someone who’s into her fifties. It’s aging, and I’m glad to be aging.”
Right, the alternative is not so great. When did you first start going gray?
“Around 22 or 23 I started noticing white strands and I just started coloring.”
Was it difficult to see yourself going gray? Did it change the way you thought about yourself?
“I had my ups and my downs, and I do think that the way I styled my hair helped me when I was battling certain insecurities with the gray. I could totally cover it with a hair band and I couldn’t see it. But then there would be days when my hair’s all over my head and all I could see was gray under there and it was just depressing.
So I did have some difficulty with transitioning into gray, but the way I got around it was by trying to style my hair in different ways to kinda conceal and cover to help me with the process because it is a process. You just have to get used to it. It’s not anything that you just jump into and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, great!’ Some women might be like that but I wasn’t.”
Did friends and family, or even strangers have opinions about what you were doing?
“Honestly, everyone was extremely supportive. With strangers, it always felt like a conversation. Because I would walk in and people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at your hair. That is amazing.’
I’ve always been one to not pay attention to what other people thought of me. Especially when it came to fashion or style, I just kind of do what I want to do. But I’ll tell you what’s funny, the only negative people were much older women.”
Do you just sort of have a sense of humor about it or does it ever bother you if you get a negative comment like that?
“If someone comes at you negatively, I guess it does have some sort of effect on you, but normally I’m just like, ‘It is what it is.’
When I decided to go natural and not relax my hair anymore, my father, who’s deceased now, was not happy about that. He was like, ‘baby, your hair is all over your head.’ And I was like, dad, this is the way my hair grows out of my head, I cannot help it. This is how it grows and I’m O.K. with that.’
I know what I like, I know what I’m going to do, and I know what I’m going to stick to.”
You had a little practice before going gray. What advice would you give to someone who’s considering taking the plunge and going gray?
“I would definitely say take your time and don’t beat yourself up. Because I noticed that a lot of my followers in the comments say, ‘It doesn’t look good on me, it doesn’t look like yours. It’s this, that and the other.’ You’re going to have to be patient. And you’re gonna have to just go with it. And if you can’t, it’s okay to color and come back! It’s not like if you color it it’s gone forever. So I just always say take your time. You don’t have to rush into it. But if it’s something that you want to do, just commit to it and see it through.“
What has your experience with your community on Instagram or other social media been like? It seems really supportive and positive.
“Yep, very much. It’s really been awesome as far as just the feedback. Even from young people who make comments and they’re very sweet. That’s been surprising. People in general, they’re very, very supportive. I don’t think I’ve received any negative feedback, honestly.”
That’s amazing. Some women have mentioned that they get unwelcome messages from men who like gray hair. Have you experienced that at all?
“Yes, you get direct messages from guys who are all up in your DMS. It’s sad.”[Editor’s note: I followed up many months later…]
And now you’re training for a fitness competition?