“At first when I got the news, I was in utter shock. Then I just cried and cried. I was overcome with grief and it really took me a long time to accept it. Not only did I have to get my head around the fact that I had cancer at the age of 37, but I was also petrified I would be too sick to look after my newborn baby the way I wanted to. The most important thing I learned from the experience was that only you have the power to get through such a huge thing. Whilst I had the best doctors and my friends and family rallied around me and supported me during my cancer treatment, what I ultimately discovered was that there was no one who could fight the battle but me. I found a kind of strength and determination I have never felt before. But the flipside is that it taught me that life is delicate, precious and sacred. It’s to be appreciated and enjoyed. It’s a gift,” says Australian media personality and television presenter Sally Obermeder, recalling the time in her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer...
She’s an extraordinary woman. Actually, even that doesn’t cut it. She’s more than extraordinary – she’s uplifting, generous, funny, real and exceptionally inspiring. She’s also a busy mother to four-year-old Annabelle, expecting her second child via surrogate, a co-host of Channel 7’s afternoon show The Daily Edition and also runs fashion and lifestyle blog Swiish.com with her sister Maha Koraiem. She has published three books, Never Stop Believing, Super Green Smoothies (the bestselling smoothie book in Australia) and most recently The Good Life. Even the word busy doesn’t quite sum it up. Yet when we photograph Obermeder in her Bondi home, you don’t get the feeling she’s distracted. She doesn’t make us feel like she has somewhere else to be. Instead, she’s warm, engaging and entertaining. She barely touches her iPhone, is generous with her time and you can instantly tell how strong the bond she has with her daughter is. It was such a pleasure spending the morning with this incredible mama and her sweet daughter. In-between shooting we chatted about her career, what it was like starting eight months of intensive chemotherapy when her daughter was 10 days old and why motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo
What does a typical morning in your home look like?
There aren’t a lot of ‘typical’ mornings in my home. Ha ha! I do try to stick to a routine but there’s always such a mix of things to do. I try some days to get up around 6/6:30 so I can get a bit of a workout in before I start my day because I never have time to fit it in later. I’ll usually go for a walk or do a class at F45 in Double Bay. I then race home and the manic-ness begins. In no particular order – I make a Super Green Smoothie; get Annabelle showered; make her lunch for kindy; leave her to dress herself; pack my bag; fight with Marcus for bathroom counter space hahaha!; tell Annabelle she can’t go to kindy dressed as a bee; check emails for anything urgent; check on Annabelle where she is refusing to remove previous bee outfit and has instead added Elsa over the top of the bee and then a fireman over Elsa “because Elsa can help the fireman with her ice powers.” I smile at her logic, then go back to trying to put my makeup on as Marcus tries to shave and Annabelle tries to brush her teeth. All at the same sink! Hahahahaha. And on it goes until we get out the door, usually with me yelling “quick I’m parked in the school zone and I’m going to get booooooooked!!!!” Really it’s the picture of calm and serenity.
How do you unwind for the night?
I’m so busy during the day so at nighttime, I usually unwind by just spending time hanging out with my husband, Marcus. Once we’ve put Annabelle to bed, we’ll chat, watch TV or cuddle up in bed with books. Sometime I have a hot Epsom salt bath and add coconut oil to the bath, and then I use a foam roller to roll out my sore muscles. I have found as I’ve gotten older that my muscles get sore from all the sitting. The exercise helps, but if I go a while between classes, then my muscles get quite sore. I find I sleep better if I stretch, and it also makes exercise the following day (if I am doing it) much easier.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
Don’t force your kids to be something they aren’t. Get to know them, get to know their personality. Guide them, sure, but don’t force them into a box that’s not made for them.
Can you still remember the moment Annabelle arrived?
I can remember it very clearly. For me, Annabelle’s birth was both joyful and extremely scary at the same time. I had just found out I had cancer and was told I had to give birth to her the very next day so I could start intense chemotherapy. I was overwhelmed with happiness when Annabelle was born as healthy as ever, and in the next breath I was shit scared I wouldn’t survive to see her grow. There were a lot of mixed emotions.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in Castle Hill, which is in Sydney’s north west. It was basically your typical suburbia. Maha, my younger sister, and I loved playing in the street with all the other neighbourhood kids and went to the local school. Admittedly, school had its ups and downs. It was a lovely school but back in the 70’s, it wasn’t very multicultural. I ended up copping a lot of the typical racial bullying that kids do for most of my junior school years. I got pretty good at hiding in the library or when I wanted to get a change of scenery, I’d hide in the toilets. High school was much better, but on the whole I was happier once school was finished.
Where did your love of fashion begin?
I’ve always had a love for fashion. My first job was at SUSSANS and I spent my entire wages each week in the shop. I would also spend every lunch time walking around Westfield choosing new things to buy and putting them on lay-by. I was basically obsessed with lay-by. It makes me laugh so much now as I think about it. I was really diligent about making little payments each week. When I worked in finance I still loved fashion, but my work wardrobe was more conservative and involved a lot of suits. A lot. As I moved from finance to television and having a blog/business, it has become a much bigger part of my life. Having the online store at SWIISH means that I spend a lot of time analysing what’s going on in the fashion world, what’s trending, what everybody’s wearing at fashion week and best of all how we can get the look for less for our readers. I am always pinching stuff from the online store to wear.
Have you always been a go-getter?
I think I’ve always had that go-getter girl in me, it just took a while before she came out! It was actually during the process of trying to get healthy and lose weight that I had a revelation that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. It doesn’t sound like a revelation but that process of losing over 35 kilos was a real gateway to strength and courage. I felt fearless after that. After that, at the age of 30 I decided to leave my career – and the money, status and security that came with it – and take the plunge into TV. I think that’s when the super motivated, go-getter in me really came out. I realised I had one life, and it was mine and I wanted to have no regrets.
Can you tell us about your beautiful website SWIISH?
Well one thing I’ve always believed is that we shouldn’t have to make the choice between living a fabulous lifestyle and saving money. I knew there was a way to have both and I felt like it was something other people could really relate to. So that idea was in the back of my mind for a while. But it was actually during my cancer battle and treatment that I decided I wanted to start a blog about it. I had been thinking about what I would do in addition to TV if I survived cancer, what work I wanted to do and I kept coming back to SWIISH. I pitched the idea to Maha and she loved it. That’s where SWIISH was born! The blog SWIISH is focused on inspiring a ‘luxe lifestyle for less’ and covers everything from fashion, beauty, family, homewares and health. Our readers are women (and some men!) of all ages, who want to live a fabulous lifestyle without blowing the budget. A year ago we launched our online store. It’s a monthly edit where we refine down the essentials – fashion, accessories, homewares, our books and health related products. What’s been so rewarding about it is the incredible response we’ve received from our readers and customers who love that we cover the whole lifestyle spectrum. Whilst fashion has unsurprisingly been hugely popular, we’re thrilled that everyone has been loving everything else just as much. We weren’t sure if everyone would want trays and tumblers and trinket dishes or even superfood powder as much as us! Ha! But we’ve had huge growth and it’s been unbelievably rewarding to see the site grow in this way. It is of course not without its challenges but that’s part of the growth of us – Maha and I – in terms of managing the business and the team. And also, I’m yet to come across anything worthwhile that doesn’t come with a bucketful of challenges.
Have you always been close with your sister – did you steal each others clothes as kids?
Maha and I have always been best friends. And like any sisters, we started stealing each other’s clothes as soon as we were teenagers. Well, she stole mine. Haha! I always say it’s that kind of relationship where you love each other to bits but at the same time you’re not afraid to tell them when they’re being ridiculous or that they need to burn those pants.
What has been one of your biggest career challenges?
Switching from finance to media was a huge career challenge for me, but one that was totally worth it. After losing a lot of weight in my late 20’s, I realised I could put my mind to anything if I wanted to. That was when I decided it was now or never if I was to pursue my dream of working in television. I left my job in finance and began volunteering anywhere and everywhere I could to get experience. It was a lot of hard work, but determination, drive and persistence got me through it.
What are your time management tips – how do you juggle it all?
Tips??!! Juggle it all??!! Please! it’s taken me months to do this interview! The gorgeous Georgie from The Grace Tales, is about to take a hit out on me! Hahahaha! I have done nothing but drive her crazy because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. So I am not sure I’m qualified to answer this! I am great at stuff that must be done – critical tasks – reading material for The Daily Edition, taxes/super/BAS for SWIISH, thank you cards and labelling files. But as fab as I am at that, I am terrible for letting other things slide. My goal for 2017 is to become more efficient. I’m reading lots of efficiency books at the moment so I’m hoping it will help (see Georgie, I’m trying!). At home, I plan ahead when it comes to meals. I’m always cooking extra when I make home cooked meals (as long as it’s stuff that can freeze well). That way I can stash away a few extra meals in the freezer and whip them out when I don’t feel like cooking.
How would your friends describe you?
I think they would describe me as loyal, kind, caring, cheeky and tenacious. I’m also known as a bit of an organisation freak.
What is your favourite social media platform and why?
I definitely use Instagram the most. It’s a great way to share little snapshots of my life with people. I’m keen to start using Instagram Stories and/or Snapchat but I can’t wrap my head around 10 seconds… I do love a chat and 10 seconds is hardly enough time!
You began eight months of intensive chemotherapy when your daughter was 10 days old – what do you remember about this period of your life?
For about the first two weeks, there was a lot I had to go through. Scans, tests, MRI’s, blood tests, swabs – I was poked and prodded and I went blindly where they told me to go. I was shocked and felt a lot of grief and even guilt – did I do something to cause this? Did I work too hard? Did I hold my mobile phone too close to my body? I lost almost all of my energy and struggled to accept the fact that I wouldn’t get any of the motherhood experiences I had longed for with my new baby. There were a lot of days where I felt like I didn’t know what was going on. My world and everything that I knew had been shot to pieces. But every time I looked at my new baby, I knew that I had to keep going. I didn’t always want to keep going, but I did it anyway.
You’ve said before: “It's ok not to be superwoman”…
I think there’s a lot of pressure these days to be able to ‘do it all’. We want to have the perfect wardrobe, attend all the school events, be successful at work, stay fit and make it to every social outing. But the truth is, it’s just unrealistic! It’s one thing to try and do everything to your best ability, it’s another thing to punish yourself if you can’t. Women need to remember to slow down sometimes and take care of their own health and wellbeing. And also, saying no is liberating. The world won’t stop spinning and if someone can’t forgive you because you said no to their dog’s birthday BBQ then they aren’t really your friend anyway. Always be there for the big stuff, the special moments, but it’s ok to pass on small things along the way if you need the break.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I live by an 80/20 philosophy. This means most of the time, about 80%, I try to eat unprocessed foods and lots of lean proteins and veggies and good carbs. The other 20% of the time, I let loose. BUT you can do it in a way that’s still good for you. I was very keen to show our readers how this is possible in our cookbook, The Good Life. Having an all or nothing approach is too hard to maintain, and ultimately isn’t enjoyable. You’re more likely to binge when you deny yourself whole food groups. I really believe that you can have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes the trick is to make the clean eating version of that cake, so that you can enjoy it guilt free. High fives all round.
Can you tell us about your book Super Green Smoothies?
Well after my treatment for cancer, my body was pretty battered and I had gained a lot of weight. I started drinking green smoothies simply because I heard they were good for you. I honestly thought they would taste awful but soon found out that when you create the recipes with the right combination of ingredients, they actually taste incredible! It wasn’t long until I got Maha onto them too, and we started making up our own recipes and swapping them with each other every day. One super green smoothie a day helped me shed over 15kg. I had more to lose than Maha, but she lost 8kg. Plus, my skin started to glow again, my hair and nails to grew back and I had a tonne of energy. Then came the book! It was a number one best seller and has been reprinted 10 times and has even just been published in Poland!
What are your daily beauty essentials and how long does it take you to get out the door in the morning?
AVON Mega Effects Mascara in Blackest Black and the AVON Ultra Luxury Lip Liner in Nude are my two favourite beauty products. I also love using Pure Hair Food Hydrate Your Hair Shampoo, Conditioner and Masque, ModelCo Rosehip Oil, Nivea Q10 Pearls, Sephora Eyebrow Builder and Valentino Donna fragrances. It actually doesn’t take me that long to get out the door in the morning, I don’t have time to spend hours doing my makeup. Luckily, there’s a whole makeup team at Channel 7 to do that for me. Ha ha!
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
My mum always taught me that above all else, you should just enjoy it. Yes, there’s the relentless exhaustion, the tantrums, the sticky fingerprints and ice-cream covered clothes… but like she always told me, at the end of the day, “motherhood is a gift you choose not a burden that is inflicted on you.” And I totally agree. I also try to follow in my mum’s footsteps when it comes to creating joy in the household and making sure the home is always full of love and food and laughter. My mum always encouraged us to play and use our imaginations. And whilst she was big on keeping everything neat and tidy at the end of the night, she was just as big on us making as much mess as we wanted while we played. She would always say, “you’re kids – have fun and enjoy being kids … there’s plenty of time to be adults.” I have definitely learnt a lot from her and try to create a similar environment for Annabelle. I want Annabelle’s childhood to be filled with as much joy and laughter as mine was!
What do you love most about raising your daughter in Sydney’s Bondi?
I feel so lucky that I get to raise Annabelle in such a beautiful city. I love Bondi in particular because there’s so much to do outside. I can take her to the park, down to the beach or to get food at the markets. We love spending summer nights at the beach until sundown and then wandering across the road for dinner. It feels like a holiday every night, especially in summer.
What will we find in your handbag?
Squashed sultanas. Snotty tissues. Half eaten M&M’s. And that’s just my stuff, not even Annabelle’s. I always have a packet of baby wipes on hand #mumlife! I also always have my Avon nude lip liner, hair ties, mini roll on perfume, Ecoya Hand Cream, chili flakes (I’m obsessed with chili), a container of our Gooey Choc Caramel slice (it’s insanely good, and it’s sugar free and it’s lean. I mean seriously. The recipe is from The Good Life) plus my two phone’s – one for me and one for SWIISH. Tom Williams, my co-host on The Daily Edition teases me and calls me Two Phones Obers. My bag basically weighs 13kgs.
What are your fashion essentials – the items on high rotation in your closet?
At the moment our Take Control Khaki Blazer from the SWIISH edit, suede nude strappy heels and my YSL clutch that Marcus gave me as a birthday gift – these are my favourites! Also this maxi dress that I am wearing, is my total go to at the moment. It goes with flats, heels and booties. Easy!
Sally’s little list of loves:
1. SWISH DELIISH Super Green Superfood Powder – one teaspoon of this in my smoothie every day makes me feel ahhhhmazing!
2. Sonoma Olive Sourdough – this is hands down my favourite bread in the world. I eat it with haloumi on top, I eat it with cream cheese and smoked salmon, I have it toasted with butter… I could eat it with everything, ha ha!
3. Podcasts – in particular, The Mark Bouris Show, I Don’t Know How She Does It by Mamamia, Lewis Howes, Travis Jenkins and Calm (Calm isn’t a actually a podcast – it’s a meditation app, but I love it as much as my podcasts).
4. C Lab & Co Coffee Body Scrub – This stuff leaves my skin feeling so incredibly soft. Plus, it smells sooo good! We just started stocking it in our online store because I love it so much.
5. Watching Beyonce SLAY at the VMA’s – the woman’s talent knows no bounds!
6. Fashion books – I have so many of these. Chanel Collections and Creations, In Vogue 50 Years of Australian Style, Alexander McQueen, Stars in Dior… they provide me with endless inspiration!
7. SUITS – I mean, Harvey Specter…. come on… what’s not to love?! And the American television crime drama series Ray Donovan. Kylie Gillies, got me onto it. And now we watch it every night and are totally and utterly hooked.
8. Asking Annabelle what she wants to be when she grows up – at the moment, she has nine future professions in mind!