Ann Curry
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Ann Curry

Ann Curry gets real about going gray, the pressure to look perfect, and the Today show.

As a girl growing up in Ashland, Oregon, Ann Curry felt most comfortable in jeans, well-worn shirts, and no makeup, much to her mother's dismay. "My mother was big on beauty," says Curry, now 55. "She'd say [Curry slips into a Japanese accent], 'Anna, how come you look so ugly? You dress like a boy. You not sexy nothing. Anna, fix hair. You cut the hair like a boy.' She had this ancient view that a woman's value was wrapped up in her appearance. But I never bought into that pressure to be pretty." Not that Curry can't look the part. As cohost of Today, Curry wore flirty dresses and sky-high heels. But the look didn't necessarily reflect the real Ann Curry. "One day I wore a multicolored dress and someone asked if I was trying to be Toucan Sam. But I chose it because I thought, This will perk up America. I'm encouraged by my bosses to wear these ridiculously high-heel shoes because women say, 'I love your shoes!' So if it makes women happy, I'll wear them. But I'm still going to be me." In the late spring, shortly before she unexpectedly lost her job as cohost of Today, we talked to Curry about beauty and aging, her personal style -- and how she stays true to herself, even in the face of her critics.

Lately there's been a lot of chatter over the flagging ratings at Today; Good Morning America has bumped you out of the number one slot several times now. How has this affected you?

It's hard not to take it personally. You worry, Am I not good enough? Am I not what people need? Am I asking the right questions? When people say negative things or speculate, you can't help but feel hurt. I know NBC pays my salary but I have never doubted who I work for. I think about the people who watch. They're the ones who matter to me. I want to feel I haven't dropped the ball when it comes to them.

You seem like someone who is comfortable with herself. Is that true?

I'm not so sure I'm comfortable. I try to be. And I become more comfortable with every year. But it's an effort. I think life is about practicing to be the person you want to be. It's about not thinking that you've grown up, but that you are always growing. It's about not wasting time worrying about things that don't matter. I'm not sure I'll ever achieve becoming the person I want to be, but I'm trying.

Do you find your looks matter more or less to you as you get older?

I've decided not to buy into the idea that I want to stop aging. My wrinkles connect me to my family, to my ancestors, and to my future. This is how my father looked when he was my age. I've got cellulite because it runs in my family. I've got gray hair because I won't dye it. I want to be able to honor my family by looking exactly as they did as they got older. Of course I want to look my best. I eat right, exercise, and use skin cream. I try to wear nice clothes. But I don't want to change the fundamental parts of me because it means changing who I am.

Does that mean you'll keep going gray?

I'm going to see how it goes. I don't know if it's going to be tolerated. I know women who work on TV haven't been allowed to go gray in the past. But I think showing some gray is authentic. When I was in high school I worked in a bookstore to raise money for college and I remember seeing a photograph in a book of a Navajo woman whose face was a roadmap of wrinkles. I thought she was beautiful. True beauty is to have a face that you have lived in. You see an 80- or 90-year-old woman with a brightness and joy in her eyes, and her wrinkles show that she has laughed a lot. That's who I aspire to be.

Your daughter, McKenzie, is 19 [Curry also has a son Walker, 17]. How have you been a role model for her?

I try to emphasize achievements and characteristics other than the way someone looks. I've always said to my daughter that it doesn't matter how you look, it matters how you feel. And then one day years ago, I was getting ready to go to an evening event and remarked that I didn't know what to wear. She said, "Mom, it doesn't matter how you look, it matters how you feel!" I realized she'd been listening to me all along.

What about plastic surgery: is that something you would even consider?

People say, "Never say never." But I say, "Never!" Do I want a second chin? No. But my dad had one, so I might have one. Maybe I can say this because I'm half Asian and my mother had fewer wrinkles than I have now when she was 70. But I don't ever want someone to take a knife to my face and have to wonder what I'm going to look like when I wake up.

Ashley Judd caused a stir earlier this year when she asked women to support one another in terms of appearance, not tear each other down. How can women be more supportive of one another?

You know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a stand recently by saying she didn't have to wear makeup, that she wanted to be herself. When someone like that says, "This is who I am," it gives everyone else permission to be who they are as well. And who we are is powerful, especially when we are connected to each other. I think the reason why we're not yet fully in charge in this country is not only because we're being held down, but because we're not holding one another up. Once we start holding each other up, we'll be unstoppable.

What's one thing you'd change about yourself?

I don't always understand my worth. I think it's a chronic condition for women. I'm not talking about professionally. I'm talking about in our personal lives. We constantly punish ourselves with degrading thoughts when we look at ourselves in the mirror. We allow people to treat us poorly, we allow our husbands or boyfriends to get away with things or we have relationships with girlfriends or colleagues who don't treat us well. We don't defend ourselves as we would our own children. Women have demanded and gotten better jobs and more power. But the one thing we deserve is a better relationship with ourselves. We waste too much time beating ourselves up. I think at my age of 55, it's time to stop doing that.

Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years from now?

I've been at Today for 15 years and I'd love to make it to 20. I think eventually I want to become a teacher, like my father wanted to be, and hopefully positively influence the next generation. I see how much our young people want to have lives that matter. I'd like to be there, encouraging them. It would be a great way to spend my 100-percent-gray years.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2012.