Danielle Robay, 26
TV Host + Entertainment Journalist
Danielle Robay, the youngest on-air host in Chicago, navigated the competitive entertainment industry as a young woman in her early twenties under a constant stream of scrutiny. Rising through the ranks, she was soon to realize that she had to work harder than her male counterparts, and would routinely be met with judgement regarding her appearance. “As a TV host you have to walk into meetings dressed up,” she says. “Makeup, hair, heels, the whole thing. I can see the look in their eyes, it’s a ‘here comes another one’ kind of look. And you feel like you have to overcompensate just to start on equal footing.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I chose to become a journalist because I love talking to people and more so, I love asking questions. I’m passionately curious about who you are, what you’re in love with, what you’ve overcome, and what makes you tick. Also, I’m really driven by amazing women. I was raised by one, named after two (Robay is created from my two grandmother’s names Rodi + Barbara) and constantly inspired by the women I meet. I am determined to help tell their stories
My greatest professional achievement is my current role as co-host of WCIU’s The Jam. I’m the youngest TV Host in Chicago- my hometown- and I truly look forward to waking up in the morning to go to work. And with a 2:30AM wake up call, you must really love your job! And I do; my co-hosts make me laugh every day, I’m constantly learning about the world and different people (one day I get to interview David Yarrow one of the world’s foremost wildlife photographers about traveling to some of the world’s most dangerous places, and the next I’m interviewing Sarah O’Hagan the CEO of Flywheel on her career or Mo’nique about feminism).
Aside from pure professional achievement, I’m most proud of the community of amazing girls and women that has developed on my Instagram. I get tons of messages every day from women of all ages sharing advice, asking for advice, recommending great books, asking for book recs. It’s incredible!
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
It’s been tough being a young woman and being taken seriously. As a TV Host you have to walk into meetings dressed up, makeup, hair heels, the whole thing. I can see the look in their eyes, it’s a “here comes another one” kind of look.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
As a woman I have to do the same job as a man and more just to be taken seriously. At first it angered me, there are moments when it still does, but I’ve really learned to accept it (for now) and know that the extra hard work will make me even better at my craft, more resilient, more creative, and hopefully more impactful when the time comes to tackle the next adventure!
I didn’t always feel that way…some of the judgments used to upset me, and I think I used to overcompensate for them- especially the young/”cute” girl stereotype instead of being seen as professional or as a skilled broadcaster. But when I started this morning show I made a conscious decision to stop caring about what other people think or to try to prove a thing. It sounds so obvious but much harder in practice; it set me free. As women, we get to be ‘and’s’ not ‘or’s’. We can be pretty and smart. Just like men get to be handsome and accomplished.
Also, I learned early on in my career that when meeting someone for the first time I don’t take a meeting outside of someone’s office or past 6pm. If they are serious about what we are meeting about, they will invite me to their office during the day.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I truly tuned them out- the words went in one ear and out the other. Every time someone said “there are so many people who want those few jobs” I thought “Yep- and I’m going to be one of the few who get them”. When you know your purpose, in your gut, nothing can sway your narrative.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Whatever you think your limitations are, they all have a corresponding strength. And, they are what make you unique. For instance:
Naive -> Positive
Disorganized -> Creative
Shy -> Reflective
Don’t hide from your weaknesses. Embrace them, talk about them (super important to talk about them and not shame them), leverage them. Your weakness may just be your competitive edge. There has never been a better time to be an ambitious woman. We got this.
Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.
I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…
From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"
I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.
I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.
While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.
There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.
I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:
So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.
This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...