Women in Podcasting: 3 Hosts on Finding Their Voice

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In partnership with Tamara Mellon

Listening to your voice is a challenge in its own right, but owning whatever it’s telling you is another matter entirely, especially if it means turning up the volume and putting yourself out there in a way that feels unfamiliar.

This pursuit is especially personal to footwear designer Tamara Mellon, who co-founded Jimmy Choo 20 years ago and went on to create her eponymous label in 2013. Pioneering the fresh start of a brand under her name presented the chance to develop her point of view in a more tangible sense than ever before. In addition to overseeing design and direction, Mellon has taken steps to establish a work culture in which everyone is encouraged to speak up and share their opinion, regardless of age or position.

Over the next three months, in partnership with Tamara Mellonwe’re profiling women who aren’t caught up in the snares of “having it all” but who instead contain enough multitudes to prove that mission unworthy in the first place. In this installment, we have three podcast hosts who are literally and figuratively owning their voices by believing they have something to say, claiming the right to be heard and projecting their convictions into earbuds around the world.


Bridget Todd

Bridget lives in Washington D.C. She co-hosts the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You with Emilie Aries. She is also a writer, activist and digital organizer who you might find writing for The Atlantic, making headlines with her Black Lives Matter hat at Donald Trump’s inauguration or speaking on the intersection of pop culture and politics at SXSW.

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How has hosting a podcast helped you own your voice?

Most of my adult life has been spent trying to find and own my voice. At the beginning of my career, I was teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C. As much as I loved teaching, I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to connect with more than just 30 people at a time. From reading the news, I was aware that important conversations about racial justice and women’s rights were happening all the time, and I knew I had something to contribute, but I never felt like I had the “right” to join the discussion. For whatever reason, I had internalized that my voice was not worthy of anyone who wasn’t a 19 year-old student college student. I felt very disempowered.

Having a podcast has given me a platform to advocate and inform millions of people about issues that are meaningful to me. Whether it’s chronicling attacks on reproductive freedom or breaking down the research around people of color and mental health, Stuff Mom Never Told You is my twice-weekly reminder that my voice matters. I’m also tremendously lucky to be cohosting the show with my friend Emilie, who has spent her entire career helping women find their voices professionally. When I catch myself second-guessing whether I am actually an authority on something, she is a vocal reminder that my opinions are valid and worth sharing.

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What made you gravitate toward podcasting as a platform for the stories you wanted to tell?

When it comes to creating something I care about, it’s easy for me to fall into a trap of perfectionism. I used to spend weeks agonizing over one sentence in an essay, determined to get it just right; if I couldn’t, I’d scrap the entire thing. Podcasting has forced me to break this habit because our podcast relies on impulsive, free-form conversation. It’s never going to be perfect and that’s okay! Sometimes the best episodes are ones that include a little messiness, whether we’re clumsily wrestling with wonky research on-air or formulating an opinion that isn’t fully fleshed out in real time. Podcasting has taught me to trust that I can still create something wonderful without agonizing over whether or not it is flawless and polished. (It has also taught me that flawless and polished can be pretty boring.)

What episode of your podcast was the most challenging to produce, and what did you learn from that experience?

We were nervous about our episode on predatory Multi Level Marketing companies (MLMs.) After digging into the research on these companies, it was clear that some of them are taking advantage of people, particularly women who are already marginalized. We weren’t interested in dancing around this reality; a lot of these companies are ruining lives and causing real harm. This episode was a challenge because we knew there would be backlash. A lot of people are very invested in the idea of MLMs being a sound investment, even if evidence indicates they are not. We wanted to produce an episode that would be useful for people who were in over their heads dealing with a shady MLM, but that wouldn’t make them feel disparaged for getting involved with one in the first place. It was a difficult episode to produce, and as predicted, we confronted our fair share of backlash, but I believe we produced something that was actually helpful for those navigating a difficult situation.

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Can you think of a memorable time when you trusted your gut instinct about something and it paid off?

I put a lot of emphasis on trusting my gut instincts. I’ve found that I usually know what I should do deep down, and it’s important to listen to myself. I learned that lesson the hard way when I got into graduate school and mistakenly thought my life plan was totally on track. At the first social event I attended with my new classmates, I showed up to what I thought would be a big party, proudly clutching a giant case of cheap beer. When I arrived, I found doctoral students drinking mulled wine and discussing Foucault. I felt severely out of place. Deep down, I knew something wasn’t right. As the semester progressed, I saw myself sinking more and more time and energy into something I wasn’t passionate about, or even very good at. I was miserable. After one particularly frustrating day in class, I went back to my apartment and put on Kanye West’s album College Dropout on repeat. It was the first time I really let myself listen to what my gut was telling me: that I wasn’t happy, and that the longer I stayed in graduate school the worse it would be. So I dropped out. When I left, I worried that I was closing the door on ever having a successful professional life. In the end, though, trusting my gut turned out to be the right choice. I’ve gone on to do so many exciting and fulfilling projects since then, and I owe that freedom to my gut instinct, and my decision to listen to it.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a podcast?

When I first started writing professionally, I received the following advice: All you need to do to be a writer is write and think of yourself as a writer. That might sound simple, but it changed the way I thought about myself in a pivotal way. I no longer felt like I was waiting for some big moment or external validation that would earn me the earn the right to call myself a writer, because I was a writer all along. I think the same is true for anyone who wants to start podcasting.

If you want to start a podcast, just do it. Podcasting is a relatively new field; nobody has a degree in it. Anyone you might consider an “expert” at podcasting learned by doing. Some of the most successful podcasts that exist today started in closets and garages. Don’t be intimidated and don’t waste time wondering whether or not what you have to say is valid. Trust yourself, trust your voice and trust that you have something meaningful to contribute.

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Jessica Matlin

Jessica lives in Brooklyn, New York. She co-hosts the podcast Fat Mascara with Jennifer Goldstein. She is also the Beauty and Health Director at Teen Vogue

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How has co-hosting a podcast helped you own your voice?

Co-hosting Fat Mascara allows me to have the kind of conversations I’ve had with both Jenn (my co-host) and our guests that we wouldn’t typically get to share in a print publication or even online. We’re not just talking about product (that wouldn’t really interest me) — we’re talking about beauty as a means to have richer, funnier discussions about culture, careers and self-doubt — the whole kit and caboodle. I’ve become more honest and comfortable with my feelings and opinions because that’s what people are tuning in to hear: perspective. If they want product reviews, they have other places to turn. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have opinions for the sake of having them. We aim to combine feelings with real facts. Jenn and I both have a lot of experience in the beauty industry (we’ve both worked in editorial and in marketing), and we come at each news topic and guest interview from multiple perspectives.

What made you gravitate toward podcasting as a platform for the stories you wanted to tell?

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I’ve loved podcasts for years, and after listening to shows like WTF with Marc Maron and Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, where hosts get to voice their personal perspectives at the top of the podcast and then spend an hour-plus interviewing some incredible guest — I thought, “Why don’t I do this with beauty?” My favorite part of my job has always been chatting with experts, because the kinds of thoughtful, gossipy, often hilarious conversations we have rarely make it onto a magazine page. Also, beauty attracts the most fascinating and intelligent people, but the coverage is usually all about about their products. I wanted to have conversations with the people behind the products. I knew if I thought these kinds of conversations were fascinating — and I’ve worked in the business for many years — other beauty fans would, too. At the time, I was deputy beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, but I wanted to have my own “thing” outside of that.

What episode of your podcast was the most challenging to produce, and what did you learn from that experience?

The most challenging aspect is timing. Given the caliber of guest we usually have on the show, scheduling can be insane. Finding a time to record with Charlotte Tilbury took several months, but once we did, it was a blast. And how nice is this: She brought us champagne! We had bubbles, talked about life, The Secret, the lie of the no-makeup-makeup look, career doubt, gossip — she ended up staying for so long! It was worth the wait. Jen Atkin was another tough one to pin down, but once she came, again, every second was gold. Just when we thought the interview was over, she started talking about motherhood, egg freezing and just went really deep — on air. Those interviews were successful (truly, they’re two of our most downloaded episodes ever) because they were the most honest, and we were the most vulnerable. We essentially said, “Okay, can we not talk about beauty for a minute?” Driving a conversation to that place is what I’m most interested in doing.

Can you think of a memorable time when you trusted your gut instinct about something and it paid off?

Doing this podcast! It wasn’t even an option not to do it. I knew some people wouldn’t get it, and that I would literally have to show them where the purple podcast icon was on their iPhone, but I also knew there was an audience for it.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a podcast?

You’ll never know how many verbal tics and other weird conversational defaults you have until you listen to multiple recordings of yourself talking for lengthy periods of time. It’s been humbling.

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Farnoosh Torabi

Farnoosh lives in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to hosting the podcast So Money, she has authored three books (You’re So Money – Live Rich Even When You’re NotPsych Yourself Rich: Get the Mindset & Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life and When She Makes More) and continues to speak to audiences across the country about debt and money challenges. 

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How has hosting a podcast helped you own your voice?

Hosting So Money, which focuses on the intimate and sometimes awkward topic of money, means I need to create a space where guests feel comfortable sharing some really personal stuff. As a result, I try to maintain a voice that is real, honest, inviting and confident, but also one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If I expect guests to go deep and talk about their worst money mistakes, then I also need to get vulnerable, too. I often talk about my own dumb money decisions and guilty splurges. I have many.

What made you gravitate toward podcasting as a platform for the stories you wanted to tell?

Time was a key factor. For a show like So Money to succeed, the conversations required time to “breathe.” I knew people would need at least 30 minutes to reflect and give thoughtful answers to questions about, say, their financial upbringing and how it influenced their money behaviors as adults, so a 90-second YouTube video was not going to cut it. I also knew something like a blog would fail to adequately humanize these kinds of stories compared to audio. When you hear someone’s voice shake while opening up about that one time they lost all their savings, you feel like they’re right next to you. And you want to give them a hug.

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What episode of your podcast was the most challenging to produce, and what did you learn from that experience?

Every show is a risk and a challenge. I never know if I’m going to offend a guest when I ask about their biggest financial failure, or if, despite my efforts, they still get squirmy. That actually happened once. I was asking a very famous self-help author about her greatest financial achievement. She said she’d never had one. (Really? Your seven-figure book deals, perhaps?)

Then, when I asked about her biggest money failure, she said she’d never made a mistake. She started to give really short, curt answers. I asked if I had offended her somehow. She said, no, but that these money questions were “dead ends” for her and she wanted them omitted. I obliged, but I was surprised that someone so accomplished and open about her life in other ways would be gun-shy talking about the ups and downs of personal finance, on a financial podcast, no less. You can’t win them all.

Can you think of a memorable time when you trusted your gut instinct about something and it paid off?

When I was 19, I met my husband (at the time he was just a classmate at Penn State). It was love at first sight, as the corny saying goes. I distinctly remember a few months into knowing him, saying out loud (in a quiet voice to myself), “I will marry him someday.” We were just friends at the time, but I knew there was more for us in the future. Now that we have a marriage and two kids under our belts, I’m more sure than ever that my gut was right — and it’s paid off with dividends!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a podcast?

Take it one day at a time. Don’t be intimidated by the technical stuff. Seek support in areas where you have limited experience so you can focus on being a great host. If you’re not sure what topic to pursue, think about what kind of show you would want to listen to yourself. Think about ways you can engage your audience, as well. Podcast listeners are super devoted and eager to interact. I invite listeners to co-host the “Ask Farnoosh” episodes that air on Fridays when we sift through listeners’ questions about money, career, babies and more. It’s fun and important to connect with the very people who make it possible for you to do what you love.

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In partnership with Tamara Mellon. The Microstud Edition is exclusively available on pre-order for all Man Repeller readers here.

 Photos by Aaron Richter; follow him on Instagram @richterfit.

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