Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes discusses going natural/touches on Gabby Douglas controversy

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History lesson.

Before there was Gabby, there was Dominique. One of the great icons of my generation, the talented and beautiful Dominique Dawes was the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first Black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. I'm honored to bring you her natural hair story.

CurlyNikki: Dish on the hair! I'm loving the curls!

Dominique: I am finally natural! Finally natural. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would go natural, mainly because when I was younger, I was always told that my hair was unmanageable... that it was dry, that it was brittle. You know, all the things that those with certain textures of hair are told.

I never seemed to be able to get past shoulder length with my relaxed hair, it would always get to my shoulders and start breaking off and I’d have to chop it off and start over. So approximately 2 and half years ago I got a weave to attempt to grow it out.

Within that time I started working with a number of different hair stylists that would install partial weaves that left the top of my hair exposed. Never a fan of weaves, I’d always notice people wearing them, and I didn’t want to be that person. Luckily, I found an amazing hair stylist to put in a full weave and during that time, my hair was able to rest. I of course never got my hair relaxed during this time and it grew and grew. Last year my stylist asked, 'have you ever just thought of wearing your natural hair?' And I laughed because I thought she was joking! And she was like, ‘What? Why wouldn’t you wear your natural hair?’ and I said, ‘because it’s dry, it’s brittle, it’s not manageable. I’ve been hearing that since I was a kid so I never imagined going natural.'As she did every two months, she took the weave out and conditioned my hair. But this time, she took me to the mirror and showed me my natural curls and coils. I fell in love with my hair right away. But I hadn't embraced it. I was in the midst of headshots and interviews at the time and it wasn't... 'comfortable' for me. But at some point, I remember I was out of my weave for like 5 days and just before I was due back in to have the weave installed, I called my stylist up and I said, 'you can burn that hair because I’m done with it, I love my hair!' She knew she was losing a boat load of money because I always bought the top quliaty of hair as well as made appointments every 2-2.5 months... but she was so happy for me. I felt liberated and empowered beause I was embracing a part of myself that I never thought I would embrace.

I really love my coils and curls... so much that I’m walking around and telling people to go natural! And when they laugh at me and say stuff like, ‘oh my hair is too brittle’, I say, 'that’s what I thought too'. And of course my hair still gets dry, but I really love the texture of it. I will talk to you more after I get back in the States, because you’re the expert, but I’m on a crusade to find the right products and the right styling techniques.

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CurlyNikki: I was contacted by CNN to share my opinions about the controversy over Gabby Douglas' hair and I know it's pretty much old and tired news, but I have to ask... would you like to weigh in for the CurlyNikki community?

Dominique: My thing is that it’s really disheartening. This young girl makes history, and us in the African American community should be embracing and celebrating what she has done... not just for herself, but for the impact that it’s going to make on our kids, as I did 16 years ago. She told me that I was one of the individuals that helped her recognize and believe that she could not only go to the Olympics, but do what she has done there. She found inspiration from my performances. So I know that thousands of young kids will get inspiration from her performances. It is a little disheartening that some, not all, in the African American community, instead of celebrating her achievements are criticizing something so superficial.

As gymnasts, we are not concerned about our hair. If you look back at videos of myself at the Olympics, you'll see I wasn't so concerned with how I looked and if I was, I may have never made it to the Olympic games. My focus wasn't on appearance, it was on achievement.

CurlyNikki: As a pioneer in your field, what advice do you have for women that are paving their own way?

Dominique: Make sure you’re doing things for the right reason, also, you have to have a passion for what you’re doing. I always tell people to follow your heart, but also to be very selective in the people you choose to get advice from and to surround yourself with, because you really don’t want to have a lot of noise and clutter distracting you from reaching your full potential and making an impact.

It’s all about passion, all about people and and it’s all about having a vision of where you want to take your life, both professionally and personally. I think people have to recognize that there’s many facets to your life and I never, as I did as a child, never sacrifice everything for one goal. Make sure you’re happy in all facets of your life, such as your personal endeavors, your goals, your hobbies, your physical and emotional health, the relationships with friends and fam, your spouse, your kids as well as your professional life and spiritual growth. Like I tell people, I never strive to be Super Woman. I don’t try to do everything exceptionally well, I just try to do them to the best of my ability that day. And that’s key for a lot of people that want to be pioneers. Don’t negelect those other facets because at the end of the day, you’re not going to wish you spent more time in the office, you’re not going to wish you made more money, you’re not going to wish you got that contract, you’re really going to wish that you had more of a balanced life with strong meaningful relationships.

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lookin' good, gerl