KOCHI: For 27-year-old Maria Thattil, being crowned the 16th Miss Universe Australia breaks down the Anglo-Celtic perceptions of the country. It also highlights the need to value people for their substance and impact they make on the world around them. Born to Indian immigrants (Maria’s father belongs to Kochi, Kerala and mother is from Kolkata, West Bengal), Maria takes after her predecessor, 2019 title winner Priya Serrao, a native of Karnataka.
Most pageant winners have their biggest cheerleaders among the audience. But Maria’s parents couldn’t physically attend the studio filming owing to the pandemic. Always one to see the glass half full, Maria asks, “How blessed are we to live in a technologically advanced age? They could watch the ceremony live at home and they were ecstatic.”
What the win means
“It affirmed that my nation supports me and my abilities, and that I have the opportunity to be authentic in a global arena. It asserts unwavering self-belief, strong intention and aligned action will fetch you results. Also, it doesn’t matter what external ideals or norms exist, you can be the change you want to see,” an overjoyed Maria says.
Though she visited India only once in 2001, her upbringing was influenced by the Indian culture. “But I grew up in a Western environment, where I felt a strong need to fit in with my peers at school. Not feeling seen or represented meant feeling othered. I went through a phase during my teenage and early 20s, where I tried hard to mask elements from my culture to fit in. This, however, spiralled into a vortex of self-rejection,” she says.
Unlearning internalised racism and rejecting conditioning that belittled cultures was her first step. “I started to just be who I am — an Indian Australian woman whose culture is a blend of both Eastern and Western ideals,” Maria says.
A third-culture kid
“I think many third-culture kids can resonate with having to subscribe to the notion that you need to choose between your culture and that of the place you belong to, to fit in. I recall being asked throughout my participation as a finalist if I thought that my chances of winning would be hurt by the fact that the reigning Miss Universe Australia at the time was Indian too.
To me, that seemed like the words of a society quick to put people in boxes of gender and ethnicity, because stereotypes are understood better than individual differences,” Maria explains. Currently based in one of the most multicultural societies in the world, Maria is a proud Australian woman who embraces all that makes her who she is.
Being an influencer
Mind With Me, an Instagram TV series that Maria created in response to a tense social climate amid 2020 now has 22 episodes and counting.The platform is a safe space for a spectrum of conversations, including those on sexual harassment, racism and confidence, and has grown into a global community with over 150,000 participants worldwide.
“Entrepreneurship, coaching, modelling, media and driving tangible change. I can’t wait,” she adds.