Sarah Harris won’t be the poster girl for the ‘post-baby body’
When Sarah Harris began working on Studio 10, one of the first outfits she wore on air included a green leather pencil skirt.
Slim-fitting and buttery soft, it not only looked sensational, it also marked a new era in her career.
Then she fell pregnant and had a child. And then another. And so, for the past five years, the skirt has hung forlornly in her work wardrobe, loved but unworn.
Every few months, one of Network Ten's wardrobe assistants would enquire whether she wanted to get rid of it, but though it no longer fitted, Harris couldn't bear to let it go.
Now, seven years since the skirt's first outing, and after making a concerted effort to build up strength and improve her fitness, she's thrilled to be wearing it once more.
But Harris, who looks fresh and relaxed as she speaks to Stellar despite having just coming off four hours of live television, says that "it wasn't about losing weight but getting stronger.
Carrying two heavy boys [sons Paul, 4, and Harry, 2] had put a huge strain on my back. So last year, after quite a while of having my back taped, I started running and strengthening my core. This is the only body I've got, so I want to take care of it."
Harris may look incredible, as her photo shoot with Stellar attests, but the last thing she wants is to become the poster girl for the "post-baby body". Her motivation is good physical and mental health, and she loathes that women in the public eye are so often minimised to a set of body parts.
"In the past, body image has affected my mental health so I don't want to put the message out there that you should be able to snap back to your [pre-baby] body," she says.
"I'm in awe of what my body has done. I've not only grown these two awesome kids, but birthed them as well. We, as women, are superhuman: we grow eyebrows and elbows and fingers while we're working, even though the tabloids like to reduce us to size eight t*ts and arse. Women are phenomenal. We have to get off our own backs. If I can pass that on to the sisterhood, that's one of the lessons I've learnt."
In mid-2019, Harris, 39, started doing Pilates and working with a personal trainer. She also downloaded the Couch to 5K Runner app and began pounding the pavement. "Running really helps with my anxiety," she says.
"When you're a working mum, it's tricky to book into classes, but with running you just need joggers and tunes. I'm no Cathy Freeman, but some days I'll be really proud of myself, while other days it's more a run/walk."
More than a year later and now 6kg lighter, Harris recognises that body image remains a lifelong struggle for many women. "It's definitely a battle I'm winning against the bully in my head. I'd take strength over looking good in a pair of swimmers any day."
As she talks - about health, work, motherhood and marriage - it becomes clear why Harris is one of the last people standing after the brutal razing of her colleagues on Studio 10. Gone is her co-host and "work husband" Joe Hildebrand, as well as Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Natarsha Belling and longtime weatherman Tim Bailey.
In their place is Dancing With The Stars judge Tristan MacManus, who was hired to bring a brighter, lighter element to the pandemic-weary morning-television landscape.
Harris's role requires her to deliver both the gravitas and giggles necessary to anchor a mid-morning show, where news and hard-hitting opinion have to sit alongside showbiz gossip, human-interest stories, cooking segments and a hearty dose of comedy.
Her versatility saw her not only survive the network-wide culling but also adapt quickly when the Ireland-born MacManus stepped into the slot vacated by her former co-hosts - within days, the pair were dancing the cha-cha-cha on air.
Yet despite the grit and professionalism that took her from a housing-commission childhood to a high-profile job, Harris admits she's still devastated by the job losses - not just for her colleagues, but the community at large.
When Stellar asks her to confirm a rumour that she offered to take a pay cut if Hildebrand could stay, she's cautious to say anything until she's checked with him.
Days later, she messages to confirm that she did, but that network executives declined, saying they wanted to take the show in a new direction. "I'm fiercely protective of Joe," she says. "He's my brother. That's what families do."
In the end it was Hildebrand who made her see that their friendship would survive any media mauling. Says Harris: "He said the most beautiful thing to me when I pointed out that we weren't going to see each other every day. He said: 'We're not best friends because we work on a TV show. We're best friends who work on a TV show.'"
She blinks as if to push away tears before pointing out that the weekend before her interview with Stellar, she had taken Paul and Harry to Hildebrand's home, where they played in a cubby house he built for his own children.
"It's a ramshackle thing guaranteed to give a kid tetanus," she quips, before revealing they still talk most days.
Whether it's her modest upbringing or a pragmatism born of covering tragic news stories, Harris keeps a healthy perspective on the job losses in her industry. "I feel like a woman who walked through fire. So many people lost their jobs, but change is inevitable.
TV people can be in a real bubble and overestimate our importance. Losing a job isn't an ego hit for some, it's 'I'm not going to be able to feed my family' or 'How am I going to get my kids to school because I can't meet the car repayments.'"
She's been impressed by Kennerley's response to being axed. "She's just a really good bird. She understands that she's in a privileged position and she's classy in the way she looked at the whole thing: not just with wisdom and insight, but also with grace. I came from a home where we were living week to week, and KAK also came from not much. It makes you grateful for every opportunity and experience you do get."
While others in the industry may advance through connections, Harris has got ahead by working hard. As a young reporter at the Nine Network in Brisbane, she printed out a quote attributed to former TV executive John Westacott about how women in the industry needed to have "f*ckability", and stuck it to her desk as motivation to chase down stories. (Westacott denied making the comment, which had been alleged in court.)
Friends have called her a street fighter, a description she takes as a compliment. "I do the hard work," she concurs.
"I don't take anything for granted. I never dial it in and I never think I'm too big for the job. This could all fall over tomorrow. Don't think you're irreplaceable, because no-one is."
A solid work ethic is also a quality she values in others, pointing out with admiration that her new co-host supported his family by doing labouring when his dance shows were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Tristan is a devoted family man and nothing is beneath him. He's loved getting out there and doing, as he calls it, real work. He's also been dropped into the world of morning television, but he's absolutely ready for it."
Asked if he might become her second work husband, she's diplomatic. "Oh, I don't want to make anyone jealous," she says.
"Actually, when we went on Kyle and Jackie O's radio show, it was like introducing my new boyfriend to my parents." For his part, MacManus says Harris has all the qualities you seek in a dance partner.
"I'm very aware this is new for me, but Sarah is very embracing and I trust her wholeheartedly," he tells Stellar.
As for the ratings - the show is trailing its competitors - Harris says she tries not to look. "TV can make people quite nutty and wanting validation, and that's where you trip yourself up because you start becoming who you think people want you to be."
In any case, her job is just a part of her life. Her two boys with her IT specialist husband Tom Ward are, she says, "just heaven" and her greatest achievements. As she points out, she's most herself when she strips off her make-up, pulls on activewear and finds herself riding trains and talking about farts.
"I'm a real boy mum," she says, noting that she and Ward are committed to keeping their kids grounded. She was horrified, for instance, by recent reports of private-school boys in Sydney planning a series of controversial "muck-up" day activities that made national headlines.
"I'd hate to raise a couple of d*ckheads," she says. "If either of my sons had been caught up in something like that, they wouldn't leave their rooms for a year. Lots of people say these schools create entitled kids. But what about the parents? Isn't it their values that create entitled children?"
Having battled anxiety, Harris advocates therapy, saying it has helped her stop expecting the worst. "I've spent a lot of money on therapy over the years. As women, we take time to get our hair cut and coloured, and go to a personal trainer, so why not go to someone who will help you sort your head out?"
As she approaches her 40th birthday next year, she says she's more comfortable in her own skin than ever.
"It's a shame, really, that when you've got youth on your side and the world at your feet you're just so dumb. But when your body starts breaking down, it's like you get the rules to the game and start figuring it all out."
So having reduced her drinking to just the occasional glass - "there's nothing worse than being hungover with kids" - she's characteristically realistic and humorous when asked how she will celebrate the milestone.
Rising from her chair to head to the gym, where she'll ditch the smart dress for leggings, Harris laughs and replies: "Oh, I'll probably have a few too many champagnes and do a nude run. Just to remind myself that I'm still cool."