Dominique Dawes is best known as a three-time Olympic gymnast, member of the gold medal winning “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Atlanta games and winner of team medals in all three Olympics Games (the only American gymnast to do so!).  Something you may not know, though, is that she was the first African-American female to compete in and qualify for an Olympic Games through the Olympic trials in Baltimore, MD and, ultimately, the first female African-American gymnast to win an individual medal.

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Throughout her gymnastics career, Dawes won more National Championship medals than any other athlete (male or female!) since 1963, earned numerous World Championship medals and impressively swept all four events and won the All Around title at the 1994 National Championships. It’s no wonder she has since earned a permanent place in the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame.

Gymnastics, though, is only part of Dawes’ accomplishments. Since retiring from the sport, Dawes found a passion in empowering others. As an accomplished motivational speaker, she energetically promotes leadership, teamwork, health, fitness and wellness, leaving a lasting, positive impact on women and girls – and making her nothing short of a Real Beauty!

We sat down with Dominique Dawes and asked her to weigh in on Real Beauty.

What do you think makes someone beautiful?

What makes someone beautiful is never about what’s on their outside, but what’s on their inside:  their heart, their character, and the person they are deep down inside – that is what really makes people beautiful. It’s so important that we teach our young people that it’s not what the world says about you that counts, but more about the beauty within. Other things that make someone beautiful?  Healthy self-esteem (without an ego), having a heart full of patience, kindness and love.  These are all things I’ve learned as I’ve grown up and matured. As a young person I didn’t focus on outward appearance as much because I was so dedicated to my Olympic dream.  This meant that I wasn’t interested in how others dressed, hair etc. and, instead, I focused on achieving my goals and dreams…my focus was on working hard.

Now, at 33, thanks to my faith, I’ve realized there is more to life than setting dreams and goals and worrying what other people think of you.  Instead it’s about making sure that your heart is transformed, and is seeking things that will not fulfill you and will help you help others.

How do you deal with the pressure for body perfection in our culture?

You know, I guess the thing is I don’t feel pressure as much, because of where my heart and mind are focused.  Sure, there are days when I don’t feel like I’m in my greatest shape or I didn’t work out, but the feeling from that is more about emotional – when I don’t work out it changes me. I don’t feel pressure. Health and fitness are important to me because I want to be physically healthy and prolong my life as long as I can with what I can control.

My emotional health is also very dependent on going to the gym, as we do this interview, I’m doing lawn work and sweating. Others may hire people to do that, but working out and getting out and moving is therapeutic for me.  I’m getting my 60 mins a day of exercise and it helps me physically and emotionally at the same time. I’m blessed with a body I’m comfortable with and accepting of the body I’m blessed with. I will do the best job I can to look good on the outside and operate well on the inside as well.

If you watch enough TV today it’s all about how to lose two dress sizes in a week and how to look a certain size, and though I understand if you are dealing with an unhealthy BMI that it’s important to lose weight, it’s really about how your body is operating on the inside.  That is the best measure for how healthy you are. I’ve personally always been on the higher BMI side and I weigh a little more  (I’m 126 at 5’3) and that is considered “whoa” but it doesn’t factor in muscle mass, bone density etc.  Athletes weigh more because they are full of muscle, so you can’t just rely on weight or BMI, it’s about having an intimate relationship with your doctor, knowing your family history, and knowing how you feel inside and out.

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If you could give your younger self advice about beauty, what would it be?

Oh goodness – I’d say a LOT!

I would stress the importance of heart, character and of being wise about how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

When choosing magazines, shows, or entertainment, be selective. Because even though you think their messages aren’t getting through to you or affecting you, they will in the long run.

Focus more on faith and being very keen on who I was following and allowing to come into my private circle.

Be aware of what you are wearing and realize that whatever you choose to wear is communicating a message.  Even if you feel “I’m not that kind of girl if my chest is hanging out” to the rest of the world you appear to be a certain way.

Today it’s more dangerous because of the internet…things that are considered acceptable and cool and for many young women – things that aren’t really healthy choices – are being sent to them or more quickly accessible than ever before.

What’s your one, can’t-live-without-it beauty product?

Good old fashion h20 –  Sure, SPF is great, and I love that, but good water is the best thing. I was traveling years ago and this woman who was just flawless was near me and we were talking about our beauty secrets.  Turns out she was 45 and I was in my mid-twenties, and I thought we were the same age.  I asked her what her secret was, and she said it was water. It helps your body on the inside and outside, it’s the one thing I’d recommend and that I make sure I’m always enjoying.

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