Welcome to the fourth instalment of our In Her Shoes series, in partnership with the iconic Australian footwear brand Wittner. This exciting new series gives us the rare opportunity to step into the lives of the women who inspire us and discover the strength, courage and ingenuity that has got them to where they are today...
One look at Zoe Marshall and you might think she has it all. She’s a mother of two and a hugely successful TV, radio and podcast host. But if you’ve listened to her podcast, The Deep you’ll know that she’s the first to admit that having it all doesn’t actually exist. The Deep has become one of Australia’s most popular podcast series and she’s had over 1.8 million downloads since its launch back in 2020. On the show she shares her past trauma, grief and abuse by creating a space for others to share their fascinating stories and perspective. She’s open and honest about the pressures of modern motherhood, career and relationships. Here, as part of our In Her Shoes series in collaboration with the iconic Australian footwear brand Wittner, we talk to Zoe about why vulnerability is healing, navigating parenthood and her career milestones.
To shop the collection, go to wittner.com.au
I want to start at the beginning. You've said before that you were raised by a single mother who worked two jobs so your whole goal in life was to be successful in your career. Tell me about your relationship with ambition and how that's tied into your beginnings…
It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I think when you watch your mum really struggle and just that constant burden of stress on her, that weight of not knowing how to pay a bill or picking up more temp jobs to make ends meet, I think it was in my cells that I just didn’t want to live with that amount of stress all the time because I do believe that it impacted her health. She passed away of cancer and I think stress is just a killer. I knew she needed to be a single parent and she needed her independence, but at the same time watching that burden she carried, I just didn’t want that for myself.
I want to ask you about your fascination with The Deep, which is the name of your podcast, and on your show, you tackle often very heavy, very emotional subjects. Why are you so drawn to the things that we as a society usually shy away from speaking about? Ever since I can remember, I was really fascinated with documentaries that cover parts of the world that aren’t mainstream or aren’t palatable and I would always want to know more. I was reading books on the most fascinating things. And then obviously Louis Theroux became my guru and I just wanted to be him and make that kind of content because I was so hungry for it.
1.8 million downloads is phenomenal. Why do you think it's connected with people so much?
I think it’s the guests. I can’t take too much credit for that. I think it is these people who are incredibly brave and vulnerable and are desperate to share their stories and have people hear them and empathise with them. I guess on all of my briefing calls, the one thing I say to people is, “A lot of listeners come with judgements. So if you’re a sex worker and I’m going to be interviewing you, they’re going to have a preconceived idea of you. My goal through our conversation is to disarm them to change the way that they looked at you, to completely shake up their perception and their idea of you and to continue on in the world with this different idea.”
When people feel that they’re allowed to go there and I say, “It’s not mainstream so you can be the ugliest, rawest, disgusting version of yourself and to be honest, that version is going to connect with all of us the most and I’m there to hold that space for you.” People feel really willing to go there. I think because I’ve overcome my own trauma, they trust that I can handle it.
There have been a couple of episodes where I just sob the whole time when they’re telling their story and it’s really nice to be human with somebody. So it’s a very fulfilling role and I think that the biggest thing I hear from our listeners is, “You changed the way I saw so and so, or I saw the world or the way I live.” I mean, it’s big stuff that I can’t even take on because it’s a bit too much for me, those kind of compliments.
You've experienced a lot of trauma yourself, including domestic violence. What it's like to have an experience that often people don't know how to speak about. Is your experience part of the reason that you're so passionate about creating space for these stories? And do you think that we need to be more open and less judgmental?
I think so. I think judgment is also really protective. It allows us to exist in the world in a safe way. I completely understand where that comes from and I still catch myself with things that I have to break through and I’m constantly learning. But I do believe especially Australia, the level of racism, the level in which the patriarchy dictates how we live, we think that that’s quite normal and that’s what’s really shocking is that we have been desensitised and dumbed down and it’s time to actually go, “Oh my God…” You can see it, the world is definitely changing, but it’s slow. I just hope that these conversations just fasten it up a bit.
One thing that I love is that you built your brand around these deep and challenging conversations. But on the other hand, you also work in the family and motherhood space, which is often quite a sanitised or one-dimensional industry. Do you think women, in particular mothers get boxed in when it comes to their identity?
Yes and I think it’s so boring and it’s so limiting especially for the mother. I think that what happens to self when you birth a child is extraordinary, but also that society says, “Oh, you can’t do these things anymore. Or it’s your problem if your kid is injured at school, it’s not the dad’s problem.” Everything is on the mother and so much of herself is foregone. She becomes a shell sometimes and then that’s the whole thing of rediscovering yourself after your kids have gone back to school.
I think we really need to honour mothers more. I think that especially birthing my last birth with Ever on all fours like a wild beast really hit home the power of the woman and the mother. We are the most incredible, resilient, powerful beings and no wonder that patriarchy exists. This was my epiphany when I was giving birth. I was like “No wonder they want to keep us small. We’re fucking terrifying.” Men watch us do this and they’re terrified. They cannot have us in control. There’s no way. So, it was an interesting birth, but I do really want to shift the narrative for mothers as well because women deserve more. They just do.
What were your favourite shoes from the Wittner shoot?
I would have to say the orange pair of heels. They make such a statement, their fun for summer they make me want to go out for a long girls lunch.
How would you describe your personal style?
I keep it pretty classic. But definitely a bit sexy. I love being able to show some skin. I’ve only got these breastfeeding boobies for a short time.
Growing up with your mother as a role model, how has it impacted the way you work now?
My mum was never at the canteen. Never, ever. She was never on time at the school gate. I was the last one or I was at after school care or my nan would pick me up and I longed for my mum. I saw all the other kids just go up to that canteen window and their mum was there and they didn’t have to give the money and their mum gave them frozen pineapple or oranges. And I was like, “I want to see my mum’s face at the canteen window.”
So, there are two parts of that which is – I’m going to work really hard so I can be at the canteen window and I can be there on time. But I’m also going to work hard. I’ve chosen a Montessori school which isn’t that big chain of Montessori. It’s a Montessori school that is totally in line with my belief system, but they are big on community and the parents turning up. I get to do the thing that I want to do. It’s two-pronged, right? Because it’s bloody expensive so I’ve got to work hard for that. Benji and I have always said because we didn’t have it, we’re always picking them up and we’re always dropping them off. That’s really important to us.
Tell me why you found it so difficult to keep the first few months of your pregnancy quiet?
I’ve had three pregnancies. Fox was the first one and Benji was paranoid about sharing early. And that was really hard for me because I was so sick that I felt like people were going to know what’s up. Also if something happened, I would want my community to rally around me. I need that kind of support. It was really important to him for us to keep it private, so I honoured that and we did it that way. The second time I got pregnant, it was the same. The pregnancy was unexpected and I actually wasn’t okay with that pregnancy which had a lot of shame attached to it, which is probably why I didn’t share that as well. I miscarried that pregnancy and later shared my experience with my community after I had come to terms with it. With Ever, I was just like, “I really got to tell people. This is my turn now and it’s time.”
How would you describe pregnancy loss to someone?
It was so layered because there were moments of… I don’t even know if I’ve ever said this before, but relief. I really wasn’t prepared for that pregnancy, and I was deeply shocked and deeply rattled by it. There was a lot of relief, but at the same time there was all this complexity because I had had a lot of therapy to accept it and I had come to terms with it and now it wasn’t happening and then it was… all of those layers were awful.
I think for someone say that has been desperate trying to conceive and then that loss, I know lots of women in that position, that is so different, and I don’t feel like I can even talk on that because it’s so complicated and so different to my experience. There’s so much grief attached to pregnancy loss.
Tell me, is there anything about life in the public eye that you find particularly challenging?
A couple of things. When you’re having an argument with your partner and then you get interrupted in public by a fan of his, that’s awkward. Or after I just gave birth and someone in the hall just wanted to stop and chat to him for a really long time. The things like that, that it can be really strange, but it just comes with the territory. I think for me personally, I speak openly on my social media very often and a lot of that gets picked up by the media and distorted constantly and that can be tricky. My management is always on the phone to me like, “You know that they’re going to pick it up.” But I always stand by what I say. Always, always, always. So it’s I guess that the media can be a really tricky beast but once you step into this arena, all bets are off. Everything is fair game.
How do you handle any negative comments?
I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. Something happened last week and they came for me and in my DMs and in my emails and I had to crisis monitor my comments for two days. But each one is like a little sting and over time, all those little stings get you. I’m quite balanced but the adrenals were firing and I couldn’t sleep. I was holding anxiety for two days and I’m very aware of how my body feels in those moments, but it’s gone now. In those moments, I was like, “You’re yesterday’s news tomorrow girl”. I love that because it really does blow over as quick as it comes, but in the moment it definitely affects you and I think that you’re bullshitting if you say that it doesn’t.
I want to finish by talking about sisterhood because it's at the core of everything we do. Tell me about the role of your female friendships in your life…
The women in my life are spectacular. I am so lucky. I know lots of people don’t have deep connections, but I have lots of different women that fulfil different needs. And also some men in there that are really wise characters for me. My friends and their beautiful minds really impress me and sometimes I just hear them and I’m like, “Are we even on the same page? Because you are so smart. Can I keep up with you?” I think you always want to be around people. You never want to be the smartest in the room. You always want those people to inspire you and stretch you and I definitely have those women.