At 28-years-old Maria Thattil has achieved a lifetime of success.
In 2020 she became the first Miss Universe Australia in six years to place in the top 10 and used her success to launch a career as a media personality, writer, model, digital creator as well as establish the Mind With Me series.
However, her success story began well before draping a sash across her chest.
Maria obtained degrees in Psychology and Management, graduated with first-class in honours, and received a nomination for a scholarship to Harvard, but despite all these achievements, she didn't always feel her voice was taken seriously.
"Because I chose to do Miss Universe, there were remarks that I was being reduced to model," she tells Now To Love.
"I was a tertiary educated HR worker who was nominated for scholarship. The academic merit, the work ethic and things people are going to want to discredit all the time."
However, Maria doesn't allow this commentary to get to her.
"It was just important to stay rooted in who I am and what I've achieved. No matter what people say, they can't take it away. I let my work speak for itself."
In 2022 Maria made her reality television debut on I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, and won the hearts of Australians when she came out as bisexual.
She tells Now To Love that she went on the show to reach the "wider Australian public," and along the way, discovered personal revelations that have changed her views on life.
"Miss Universe was wonderful, but it's still a little bit more niche, whereas prime time Australian television reaches families and then the wider nation," Maria shares.
Despite being nervous about how she will be perceived, Maria felt it was necessary to "strip back," be "raw," and remain true to herself.
"I learned that I'm so much more comfortable with myself without all the things that we are that the human ego tells us we need. I learned that I'm so much more comfortable with who I am than I think," she reflects.
When asked if she thought deeply about her intentions before stepping into the jungle, she replies that everything she's ever done has come from a thoughtful place.
"I would never want to do anything that makes people who support me and feel seen by me disappointed.
"It's not about living for someone else; it's about making sure I don't lose myself and all the things that I'm doing, and I stay true to my values. I've always been intentional."
Her bond with her co-star Joey Essex was also a highlight for fans who were rooting for their palpable chemistry, and months later, she can confirm they are "on good terms."
"I have fun memories of him and I. I wish him all the best. He's a great guy, and he made it [I'm A Celeb] a beautiful experience," she shares.
As for her next chapter, Maria is passionate about empowering diverse Australian experiences and admits she's considering adding a career in politics to her already lengthy multi-hyphen career.
"I've been thinking about it. It's always been in the back of my mind. Maybe in the future, it's something I want to do," she reveals.
"There are a few more things I want to achieve in my career before I consider that, but it's not off the table. I'll say that much.
"I definitely would work very hard to support the communities that I already do my best to support within the capacity I have now. But I have a few more career goals to kick."
As a voice for intersectional feminism, her involvement with Witchery's 14th annual White Shirt Campaign is a perfect fit.
The fashion brand runs the initiative with the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) to raise funds to support vital research endeavours to assist the early detection of ovarian cancer.
"I got involved because this [ovarian cancer] claims the life of one Australian woman every eight hours, so it's a silent killer," says Maria
"I'm just really thrilled to be there as an ambassador because it's a massive silent killer of women in this country."
Ovarian cancer prevention relies on early detection because "70 per cent" of women are diagnosed in its advanced stages, and "less than 30 per cent of the women will survive beyond five years."
Despite Witchery's campaign reaching millions of women around the country and raising 14.3 million to date, there is still a lot of work to be done and Maria wants to contribute her voice.
"There is still shame and stigma. It's really important that no matter what, we're empowering people to have agency over themselves, to really prioritise and invest in their own health," she emphasises.
The campaign hits close to home for the former Miss Universe as her beloved grandmother is currently battling a rare gynaecological cancer that affects her reproductive organs.
"She's been battling it. She's such a trooper, but it's been hard work. I think that's why I'm more and more diligent with the family history," Maria reveals.
Maria Thattil is a 2022 Witchery White Shirt Campaign Ambassador. The White Shirt, designed in collaboration with Michael Lo Sordo, is available online and in Witchery stores from 19th April - 8th May.
100% of gross proceeds will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation to raise funds for the research to develop an early detection test.
- Food & DrinksHow to navigate weeknight drinks when you've got work the next day
Australian Women's WeeklyJun 30, 2022