In Conversation with Maria Thattil

Leading the way in being a voice for Inclusion & Equality, Maria Thattil is a woman making waves. She's Miss Universe Australia, a speaker, creator & writer - a CV backed with purpose. We spoke to Maria about her path to today, how she balances her career, relationships & herself, and what's next for her (spoiler, you'll want to keep an eye on this one!). Join us In Conversation...

We’re really excited to chat to you Maria! Where are you right now & what are you most looking forward to at the moment? 

It is such a pleasure to speak to you! I’m currently residing in Melbourne after the most transformative year of my life. With so much having transpired - quitting my corporate job to work for myself, building a solid foundation for what I hope to be an impactful career in media, placing in the top 10 of Miss Universe representing Australia, securing aligned brand partnerships, a monthly column and a few other projects I have yet to announce, and moving into an apartment on my own - I feel like the world is my oyster and it is such a liberating feeling. 

Professionally, I have two major projects to share in the next 6 - 12 months and until then, I’m working passionately on them in excited silence. Personally, after a busy year, I am looking forward to really driving my wellbeing and prioritising my mental health. Overall, I am most looking forward to manifesting a life I am thrilled by, one that sparks me, that is full of creative personal and professional pursuits that enable me to play and show up as my highest self.

You were Miss Universe Australia last year, can you tell us about your journey here and what drove your desire to be a part of the competition? And the biggest challenge/misconception you’ve overcome in the process?  

The world of pageantry always fascinated me, I grew up watching the Miss Universe competition with my mother - and used to love seeing a bevy of beautiful women representing our world. As I got older, I realised I felt more represented by Miss Universe India than Australia, and as a woman - I wrote off Miss Universe as another space I couldn’t occupy. As a South Asian Australian woman, I have found that the standards of beauty, power, success and value are Anglo-Celtic. Post-colonial ideas about our country negate our First Nations history and the cultural diversity that makes Australia what it is - and so, I never dreamed that I could ever make it as an Australian model or someone in mainstream media because that representation didn’t exist abundantly.

So, I pursued a conventional route for success, I graduated with two Honours degrees, and began a corporate career in Human Resources- but somewhere along the way, I decided to act on the inner voice that called me to creative pursuits. After completing a makeup artistry qualification, I started sharing beauty tips for people of colour on social media and to my surprise, I started building an audience. That audience grew into a community of people who were excited to see representation in an industry that they were largely excluded from - particularly in the Australian landscape - and then in 2019, I saw Indian Australian lawyer Priya Serrao win the Miss Universe Australia title. This was a catalytic moment for me - because it shattered any misconceptions I had about the opportunity.

I used to believe that Miss Universe was a platform for models, and in Australia, you were required to fit exclusive standards of beauty in order to take up space in that arena. Seeing Priya win challenged everything I thought and it inspired me to throw my hat in the ring for the title, because the representation showed me that cultural diversity, intelligence and important social messages were not going to be a hindrance, they were essential.

I applied to Miss Universe Australia believing that if I won, the opportunity would grow my platform which would enable me to share social and political messages I believe in with significantly more reach, foray into mainstream media, and challenge outdated Anglo-celtic ideas about Australia’s national identity. Looking upon my year in reflection, I can confidently say I have done this.

What was the most poignant/memorable moment for you throughout the experience? 

There were many poignant/memorable moments for me throughout the experience but the first thing that comes to mind is ‘people.’ I won Miss Universe Australia with the love of my friends, family, my management team and gained the people behind the Miss Universe Australia organisation. However, over the year that ensued, because I was separated from the Miss Universe Australia organisation by border closures, I ended up building my own team of creatives - photographers, videographers, music producers, editors, trainers, stylists, designers, glam - to bring to life all the work I wrote, directed and produced as part of my campaign. Right before I left for America, we had a final dinner where that team, my friends and my family gathered for dinner. The dinner escalated into a night of joy, music, laughter, dancing and celebration and I remember feeling so overwhelmed with love and appreciation and wondering how I got so lucky to have so many beautiful people around me. These people are still in my life and they are so special to me.

I also had the privilege of meeting and befriending the delegates from all over the world. Over the ten days in Miami that we spent rehearsing, working through crazy schedules and preparing for the competition, we bonded over a once-in-a-lifetime unique experience that is hard to express, explain or share with the outside world. Our friendships transcend geography, our experience has bonded us and I have gained sisters worldwide.

Who has inspired your path to today? And why? 

There are many people who have inspired my path. My parents and my brother.

My best friends - women I met as young as 17 - who have become my family.

The people who were unkind, racist, sexist, those who violated my boundaries - the people who I was hurt by.

Acquaintances. Former colleagues.

People I consider mentors.

Spiritual and self-development leaders like Eckhart Tolle, Michael Singer, Jay Shetty, Oprah, Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk and Lisa Nicholls to name a few.

I believe that people come into our lives and there are always lessons wrapped up in these relationships or encounters - they may not always be pleasant, but they are always lessons to help us evolve if we choose a perspective of abundance.

My lived experience to date has been a beautiful mix of privilege and prejudice, of love and hurt, and I believe all of it has inspired my path.

What are your key principles to balancing business commitments, relationships and your own rituals? 

After a very busy year preparing to represent Australia at Miss Universe whilst simultaneously trying to build a foundation for a solid media career writing, speaking and creating digitally - I found that I stopped making time for rest, personal life, relationships and play. I learned some vital lessons in the last year, coming very close to burning out so I have since adopted the below principles to achieve balance.

Having aspirations is essential, however staying too outcome focused on the achievements I aspire to can be blinding. Whilst I still set big goals for myself, I try not to have tunnel vision around a particular goal, that way I can appreciate the process and everything that is part of it.

When it comes to business commitments, I try to take every opportunity, but now consult with my management team on whether taking on new work robs me of my ability to rest and have balance in my life. Time management and communication with my management team is key too - we dually manage my calendar and keep open lines of communication on everything that is going on for me.

Relationships are a big one. Over the course of the last year, I didn’t have capacity for meaningful romantic relationships because maximising my Miss Universe opportunity was a time sensitive priority. Since then, I’ve started dating casually and am doing it on my terms. If a person enriches my life, I like to invest in them - even if it is casual, because I think we are social creatures wired for connection. Friends and family are essential - whilst in lockdown, I ensure I make time to FaceTime them regularly and stay close. 

Checking in with myself matters - if I notice my behavior is skewed drastically toward work or relationships to the point that I am avoiding other critical aspects of my life, I self-regulate. 

Re-programming the way I perceive rest, relationships and play matters too; it has helped me to eradicate any guilt that comes with not working toward my bigger goals and without balance, I can’t live my highest, most full, authentic, fulfilled and true life. 

You’ve just moved into your own apartment (congratulations!). Tell us about your home, your styling inspiration and what makes it such a special space?

I am so excited to have moved into my own apartment and love that my home reflects me: clean, chic and minimalistic. I’ve opted for a neutral colour palette of beige, cream and earthy tones with black accents, and I love architectural forms and different textures - oak, gritty ceramics, rattan, fabric, stone. As for the styling inspiration, mine includes homes like those of Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Ireland - I love the simplicity of it all. I’ve chosen pieces that will work with this space, but also a bigger home when I move in the next year or so. Overall, it’s important to me to live in a stylish space that inspires me and where I can feel myself in every piece I have chosen. It’s the heart in everything I’ve chosen that makes it my special home.

Where can we find your MARLOE MARLOE pieces in your home? 

I chose the Stevie, Lully and Bobby Marloe Marloe pieces because I was drawn to their striking and refined shapes, and loved the charcoal matte black. They’re simple, elegant and timeless. Their versatility is what I appreciated most as it affords me the opportunity to restyle as I see fit. For now, the Bobby and Stevie call my bedroom bookshelf home, and the Lully is on the dining table contrasted with a white piece. 

And finally, what are your plans as we roll into the later part of 2021 and beyond? 

As we roll into the end of 2021, I have just wrapped a project that I will announce soon and am beginning work on another labour of love I can’t wait to gift to the world. Other than those, I’ll spend the year working, dating, enjoying my friends and family, and celebrating life - because this has been the biggest lesson for me in recent years. You don’t need an occasion to celebrate life, you are the occasion - so with mindful presence, I will enjoy my 2021.

Maria styled our STEVIE, LULLY & BOBBY from the CHARCOAL Collection