When journalist Jana Shortal landed her first on-air reporting job in the early 2000s, she wore the unofficial “uniform” of many female news anchors: makeup, straightened hair, manicured nails and high heels.
Inside, Shortal was struggling. She had recently realized she was gay, but she wasn’t publicly out yet. She feared that if she dressed how she really wanted to on camera, viewers wouldn’t accept her.
“I didn't know anybody in television that was an openly gay woman,” Shortal, 41, told the 3rd hour of TODAY. “So I best keep my mouth shut. Right?”
For a while, Shortal continued to play the part of a traditional female TV journalist, dyeing her hair blond and wearing jewelry and heavy makeup.
“At some point, at least for some people if they're in the right community and they have people who love and care about them, slowly but surely, you start to come out,” she said.
Still, for years, she maintained her more traditionally feminine style on camera, worried that if she switched up her look, her TV career might suffer.
That all changed in 2016, when Shortal landed her own show, “Breaking the News,” on NBC’s KARE 11 affiliate station in Minneapolis.
When she began hosting her own show, Shortal decided to make a bold move. With the support of her station, she began dressing in a way that made her feel truly comfortable, beginning on her first day of hosting.
“I wore a David Bowie T-shirt, a pocket square and a black blazer with curly hair and glasses,” Shortal told TODAY. “And not because it's a look and I'm trying to be somebody. That's what I wear.”
After she debuted her new look on air, Shortal said many viewers wrote in and thanked her for “showing us that there’s a different way that women can dress.”
Some viewers have even been sending her vintage handkerchiefs that she can wear as pocket squares.
Now, Shortal hopes to inspire people struggling with their own identities. She hopes people will watch her and realize they don’t have to present themselves according to rigid societal norms.
“Maybe because of me, somebody will watch and say, ‘I want to do that,’” she said. “And they won't think that they have to be somebody else because they saw me.”