Today we are talking with Maria Thattil from Victoria one of the twenty-eight. Talented and inspiring women from all walks of life who are vying for the title of Miss Universe Australia 2020.
In what has certainly been an unpredictable and unprecedented year of ups and downs we’re thrilled to bring you our ninth year of Miss Universe Australia finalist interviews.
So Maria, why don’t you tell us about yourself?
I’d love to – thank you. My name is Maria, and in a nutshell: I am a 27-year-old dog-loving, family-oriented, Nutella-fanatic, and an ambitious Melburnian! Quite the eclectic mix of adjectives, but very me!
My job is an interesting combination of two different kinds of work that seem polar in nature but intersect beautifully. I work in People and Culture for the Victorian government and am also a digital creator and brand ambassador in the beauty, fashion, lifestyle and empowerment arenas. Both jobs enable me to apply my degrees in both Psychology and Management and to exercise my advocacy for inclusion, empowerment and equality. It certainly keeps me busy – so in my down-time, you can find me spending time with my fur baby Axel, enjoying time with my family and friends, working out or reading! I also enjoy singing, but my audience is strictly limited to the shampoo bottles in my shower.
The Miss Universe Australia program has been on hold since earlier in the year and now making its way towards a virtual final to be held on October 28, What motivated you to enter the Miss Universe Australia Program?
Interestingly, Miss Universe Australia was never an arena I previously saw myself venturing into – however, last year’s diverse Finalists made me realise how wonderfully enriching the program could be for women irrespective of their look, ambitions and beliefs.
Because they all showed up so authentically and with such unique propositions as titleholders, it made me realise that this is a space I too could belong in. That then opened my eyes up to the platform.
I’ll tell you a story: when I was 12, I entered a competition to design the front cover of our school planner, and I was so excited to have won.
The winning design depicted one of the students conquering the Universe because that’s what an education at my high school enabled. As a woman I believe the same thing: that education, opportunity and freedom will empower any person to conquer their Universe – and that’s my purpose.
With my will and my voice, I use both my jobs, and the resources and platforms I have to champion inclusion, equality and empowerment. In the digital arena, I have started public speaking, writing and coaching to enable this – including hosting my own Empowerment Series.
All of it is driven by a value for community – I’ve been able to create a space where people can seek refuge in and inspire others irrespective of their social identity, and this is what galvanises me.
Everything I do is centred around a purpose rooted in service – to inspire people to show up as leaders in their own lives and communities. Currently, I am working on a developing a community based social enterprise that evolves this idea, and this is why I entered Miss Universe Australia: because it is an opportunity to amplify that mission and vision, to work with brands, charities and organisations that align to my advocacy, and to represent the power and potential of women in a global arena.
This year has been like no other, how have you been coping so far and what’s been the biggest challenge and positive that has come out of it all?
My ability to cope has certainly been a fluctuating trajectory, but I am privileged to say, overall, an upward one. The biggest challenge has been the lockdown; as a Victorian, the lockdown has been particularly tough due to the extended duration and severity of restrictions.
Initially, I did experience mental health challenges. Adjusting to the changes made it difficult for me to show up as my best self for my family, my job, this program, my friends and my digital community as I was struggling with basic functions like getting adequate sleep or finding the motivation to eat well and exercise.
It took a toll; however, I was able to draw on innate resources that I didn’t know I had to regain control over my lifestyle choices and in focusing on what I could influence, I was able to bounce back to my energetic self. I’m also someone who tries to transmute difficult situations into something that can grow me, so I chose a perspective that enabled me to find the gift in this difficulty.
Which brings me to a positive outcome of this time, Facing this difficultly has flexed my muscles of grit, resilience and creativity. It’s something we can talk about aspiring to. Still, it is in times of challenge, ambiguity, volatility and unpredictability that we need to apply what we know and strengthen those qualities. Not being able to leave my house has driven me to think innovatively to find new ways to demonstrate my commitment to living my purpose, for example, it is the reason I was able to invest the time and brainpower into creating an empowerment series that has reached people all over the world, and it inspired me to volunteer my HR skills to coach people virtually to navigate conditions of unemployment. Often, when we think we are being buried, it is an opportunity be ”planted,” so a positive has been finding strength in perspective.
With everyone bringing such an individual flair to the competition, what do you think is something that will set you apart from the other contestants?
That’s the best part about this program – the individual flair of every contestant. What a wonderfully inspiring fact it is to note that irrespective of who wins, we will be well represented? Because all the Finalists are hardworking and deserving. For me – a quality I believe that I bring that is unique is my abundance mindset, my ability to transmute even the most difficult of situations into opportunities and what I want to do with this title.
I set off to embark on this year with the intention that it would be one where I would make significant strides toward my wider career ambitions and living my purpose. Then I found myself living from the confines of my home for six months. However, despite facing obstacles and challenges, my abundance mindset has enabled me to realise that the ability to create opportunity and possibility doesn’t come from outside of myself, it comes from within. With that belief, I have been able to do what I set out to do anyway.
I believe in that there is power in the unpredictability of life and in keeping perspective, so over the course of my life, irrespective of challenges I have faced – whether it’s bullying, racism, objectification, being excluded from certain spaces or being locked down for half a year – I choose to view these ”failures” or ”difficulty” as the gift of a lesson, and ”rejections” as redirections. This is how I turn any experience into something that serves.
I think this mindset and ability sets me apart as a potential Miss Universe Australia because it has shaped how I view the title. I conceptualise being Miss Universe Australia as holding a baton and running a race to progress women and girls at an international level, and creating a legacy so that when she passes the baton on the next titleholder, that woman will run further for women everywhere.
What I want to do with this title is heavily influenced by the fact that I perceive this opportunity to be first and foremost, a leadership one. I think Miss Universe Australia is a leader who uses her experiences of both privilege and challenge to inspire through a clear vision, to communicate with courage and conviction, and influence for impact – qualities I believe I embody, and I want to be Miss Universe Australia not for the purpose of a one year reign but to leave a legacy hopefully.
The winner of Miss Universe Australia 2020 will also receive the prestigious Minespec Parts grant worth $20,000 to spend on your education or business startup, what would you do if you received this grant? And would you say your answer has changed now during the current COVID climate?
A year ago when I entered, I intended on investing the grant in the creation of an app that was built around empowering women and girls through the provision of events, mentoring services and facilitating connections to businesses and organisations that could enhance their economic, educational, occupational or social prospects. However, this has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the pandemic, I created an Empowerment Series online where I co-create episodes with an audience on Instagram Live discussing an array of topics including but not limited to racism, mental health, confidence, sexual harassment, body inclusivity, pandemic productivity and bullying. This then evolved to include interviews with influential and insightful public figures like Siera Bearchell (former Miss Universe Canada 2016), Ami Desai (LA Based Influencer and Mom-Blogger) and Jess King (Australian plus-size model). Over the last five months, the series has reached more than 110,000 people all over the world and has become a space that people regularly come to find their voice in topics they were once afraid to speak on or listen to, they’ve been able to make friends through the episodes. I am humbled to know that they have gone on to chair panels, start blogs, secure job opportunities and overcome limiting beliefs after being a part of this community.
That shifted my focus, and I realised that I was able to facilitate their empowerment and an ability to incite meaningful change in their lives. It birthed the idea of a community-based social enterprise that seeks to coach people for confidence and to live consciously whilst backed by a community. So if I were to win the generous Minespec Grant, I would invest the money in my startup and to developing that platform to further the economic, social, occupational and emotional wellbeing of that community of women and girls.
First thing you will do when this pandemic ends?
Catch up with my best friends and go on a road trip adventure!
Place you will hope to travel to next?
India! I was set to return to Kerala (I have not been to India in 20 years) on a volunteering project, and this has now been postponed due to COVID-19. So I am so excited to return!
Have you taken up a new hobby, skill or learnt a new dish during lockdown?
It turns out; I’m not all that shabby at baking! This is after burning several rounds of cookies though … but they no longer come out of the oven charred so I’llI’ll take the win!
Minespec Parts are proud to be the presenting sponsor for Miss Universe Australia, Working to empower and support women not just through the Miss Universe Australia pageant and their $20k education and business grant, but through many platforms with various activities across Australia all furthering and supporting women in the workplace.