From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
In October, after 48 years on the air, the Today show expanded from two hours to three. A notable change, to be sure—but nothing compared with the changes that have been visible in the morning program's coanchor, Katie Couric. Over the past year Couric has grown out her short brown hair, which she used to color herself ("I foolishly thought you couldn't tell the difference," she says), and gone blonde, thanks to regular visits to New York City's luxurious Louis Licari salon. And those professional anchor-woman suits? Tossed out in favor of body-hugging clothes that have left viewers—not to mention Couric's colleagues—marveling at the 44-year-old newswoman's figure.

"One day Katie had on a sleeveless shirt, and she flexed," recalls her coanchor, Matt Lauer. "There was a collective gasp. We all went, 'Who knew?' Her biceps were two of the best-kept secrets in broadcasting."

Couric's willingness to reveal—and revel in—her physical assets is a sign of how far she has come since the 1998 death of her husband, MSNBC legal analyst Jay Monahan, who succumbed to colon cancer at age 42. "I went through a difficult period, and the fact that I'm continuing to heal has helped me to feel better about life," she says. "When you feel better, you look better." Of course, it also helps that the 5'4" Couric watches her diet ("I try to stay away from a lot of carbs") and works out up to four times a week with a personal trainer.

Ultimately, however, "what makes her such a great-looking woman is that she's happier," says bestselling author Susan Isaacs, a pal for 11 years. "She's coming back into the world." That not only means dating—her steady beau is TV producer Tom Werner, 51—but talking openly about her husband's death through the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, which she cofounded with friend Lilly Tartikoff and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a Los Angeles-based fund-raising group. Since its March 2000 inception NCCRA has raised more than $12 million. "She is the only person who could go out there and, with charm and effervescence, get everyone to say, 'Yes, I have a colon and this disease needs to go away,' " Tartikoff says.

Not surprisingly, Couric's many roles—which include being a mom to daughters Ellie, 9, and Carrie, 5, with whom she lives in Manhattan—leave little time for off-camera preening. "I try to remember to put on under-eye cream, but I always seem to forget," she says. And the notoriously frugal Couric has even less use for high-priced products. "Some things you get at the drugstore are just as effective as things you get at Bergdorf Goodman," insists the $7 million-a-year TV journalist, who sticks with Dove soap and Eucerin moisturizer.

Still, Couric, who is reportedly being courted for her own daytime talk show, admits she might feel differently if she were to leave Today, her home for the last 10 years. "Between having my makeup done, my hair done and my clothes pressed, I'm really spoiled," she says. "If I ever stopped doing this job, I wouldn't know how to dress myself!"