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“Activism isn’t about a hashtag!” Why Maria Thattil is one of our 2022 Game Changers

"It's about showing up for what you believe in every day."
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When Miss Universe Australia 2020 titleholder Maria Thattil handed over her tiara to Daria Varlamova in October, there were no tears on the occasion. After all, winning the beauty pageant was never meant to be the crowning glory for the second-generation Australian born to Indian immigrants.

WATCH: Maria Thattil discusses her sexuality on I’m A Celeb

Instead, Thattil is on a mission to redefine standards of beauty and what it means to look Australian, while normalising seeing women of colour in the mainstream media.

What did winning Miss Universe Australia mean to you?

It’s been such a whirlwind experience that I’m so grateful for. It was always meant to be a vehicle to get me where I wanted to be – having a platform to speak about the issues which are important, and helping minorities to see someone who looks like them on TV and in magazines.

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Maria reveals that Miss Universe was always a “vehicle” to propel her to her role as an activist. (Credit: Phil Castleton for WHO Magazine)

Where does your spark of activism come from?

I didn’t choose to do this, but rather it came from my lived experiences. I can’t wake up and decide it’s not something I need to do today, as I’ll always be brown and queer. Activism isn’t about a hashtag, it’s about showing up for what you believe in every day.

Have you seen a change in the last year?

I know that I’ve been impactful when I hear parents tell me how their kids have felt at seeing someone who looks like me in the media. Sometimes you don’t understand just how much of an outsider you felt until something changes.

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“I’ll always be brown and queer.” (Credit: Instagram)

Last time we spoke, you’d just come out as bisexual and said you’d been hesitant about dating women because of how it would be perceived. How do you feel now?

I’m no longer scared of the narrative being taken out of my hands. I’ve been dating casually for about a year, some men and some women, and I don’t care anymore who sees or what they say.

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