Maria Thattil Is on a Mission to Redefine Power, Strength, and Worthiness


Warning: This article deals with the topic of targeted violence and/or discrimination against a group and may be triggering for some readers.

Last November, I stood on a stage in front of Australia’s most powerful women and received Marie Claire’s ‘The Voice of Now’ award at their annual Women of the Year Awards. It was surreal to be recognised alongside game-changing women for my voice when as a queer child of immigrants, I didn’t believe that it mattered.

Growing up, every space I looked to was poisoned by racism and homophobia. Poisonous ideologies that I ingested which made me believe I didn’t matter.

These beliefs were reinforced by a society where the most prominent representation of South Asian people was Apu on “The Simpsons” an exaggerated caricature, racism was spewed rampantly and there was no representation of people like me in powerful spaces.

From business to politics, fashion to media, I was nowhere to be found and felt like I needed to occupy skin that wasn’t my own to be enough.

Exploring My Sexuality

I felt this way when it came to exploring my sexuality too. Coming from a culturally conservative and religious family, I inherited my beliefs from limiting frameworks that taught me to be ashamed of my full capacity for love as a queer woman.

Despite weakening in thrall to poisonous stories, I still had hope that one day, the landscape would change and it would allow me to feel powerful, strong and worthy. One day it hit me: instead of waiting for this to happen, I could initiate it by first amplifying my truth and including myself in my concepts of power, strength, and worthiness.

That realisation led me to strategise and venture to the Miss Universe stage. As only the third woman of colour to represent my nation, I brought Australia to the top 10 and challenged international discourse about what it is to be ‘Australian’. I then used the platform to forge a media career where I’ve since become a published author with “Unbounded”. As well as a TedX speaker, actor, presenter, and columnist who partners with brands in meaningful capacities. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Power of Using Your Voice

I went from being a little girl using skin-bleaching creams to an openly queer, brown woman headlining campaigns like Olay’s 2023 Sydney World Pride campaign, featured alongside my parents. People who were once conditioned to believe that my community was ‘wrong’ and had no place in the faith they held close stood alongside me and declared to the world that my community teaches the world to lead with love.

That’s the power of using your voice. It can evolve even the most rigid perspectives. I used mine with the intention of being the public voice that I needed. Because the only way to suck the poison out is by telling your stories.

No matter who you are, your voice matters because using it births possibility. My Women of the Year Award sits proudly on my mantle, but the true reward is the impact that one’s voice has. I encourage you to fearlessly claim yours.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or you have experienced targeted violence or discrimination, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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