Strutting her stuff on stage in a red bikini and a sparkly silver gown alongside 73 of the world’s most beautiful women, Thattil looked like she was born for the spotlight but admits she suffered from “imposter syndrome” in the lead-up to the big day.
“In the seven decades of the competition I found out that I am only the third person of colour to represent Australia,” the 28-year-old tells WHO. “Those feelings [of imposter syndrome] come because you haven’t seen it been done before by someone who looks like you,” she explains.
Often labelled as an out-of-date beauty competition, Thattil used the Miss Universe platform to spread the message of how important inclusivity and diversity in the public sphere is.
“I entered Miss Australia because I wanted to shake things up,” the model says. “I wanted to challenge what it looks like to be Australian and to represent the women who don’t fit the typical beauty model.”
It’s a challenge Thattil more than succeeded in, placing in the top 10 of the fierce competition. Unfortunately, Thattil felt the need to prove she’d earned her spot in the pageant after being inundated with messages saying she wasn’t “Australian enough” to represent her country.
“Every day I would open my phone and there would be criticisms and racism,” she reveals. “But I realised that was why it was more important than ever that I didn’t buckle under the pressure and kept going. This wasn’t just for me but for a lot of Australians who don’t ever see themselves represented.”
Competing in Miss Universe was something Thattil admits she wouldn’t have had the “confidence” to do just a few years ago. At the time, she was told she was too short, not curvy enough and didn’t have the “right look” to make it as a model.
“There was no-one in the public Australian landscape who looked like me,” Thattil explains of her youth.
Her difficult teen years saw her copying the makeup trends that her mostly Caucasian schoolmates followed, leading her to cover up her best features rather than embrace them.
“They would put on lots of bronzers and it looked great so I did it, too, because I thought that was how makeup is done. But it didn’t suit me,” she adds.
In 2016, Thattil came across a life-changing tutorial on Instagram from South-East Asian beauty blogger Deepica Mutyala. It inspired her to enrol in a makeup course and eventually share her own beauty tips for women of colour on social media.
“I started to build a community, as people saw themselves in me. I didn’t have a role model, so I ended up becoming the representation in beauty that I needed to see,” she explains.
It’s a responsibility that puts “a lot of pressure” on Thattil, but it drives her to “get out of bed every day”.
“That is why I do this, so the next generation of young girls won’t think they can’t do something,” she says. “They’ll see someone has already done it and know the sky’s the limit.”