‘Healing Is an Active Experience’: Maria Thattil on ‘Unbounded’ and Making the Choice to Heal

‘Healing Is an Active Experience’: Maria Thattil on ‘Unbounded’ and Making the Choice to Heal

Almost two years ago now, I spoke with Maria Thattil about the power of representation and her role as Miss Universe Australia 2020. She talked about the need for more diversity in Australian beauty and how her position as an Indian-Australian model has allowed her to help push the important message of inclusivity.

In 2023, Thattil’s fierce approach to intersectionality has not slowed. She has spoken loudly, and proudly, about mental health, gender, sexuality and race countless times, and now, she’s written a book about it all, too. Unbounded: Manifesting a Life Without Limits landed in stores on February 21, a little over a year after Thattil came out as queer on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, and it is here to help all of us free ourselves from the expectations of society.

I spoke with Maria Thattil over email about her own journey with self-acceptance and Pride in 2023.

Writing Unbounded and the experience of healing

maria thattil unbounded
Maria Thattil, Unbounded.

In Unbounded, Thattil has taken stories from her past; experiences with racism, sexism, mental health troubles and homophobia, and reflects on how she has turned these painful moments into a powerful drive to advocate for inclusion. But painful experiences they still were, and although Thattil’s journey towards self-love has been an inspiring one, healing is no simple feat.

She shared that, “In the book, I say that healing doesn’t necessarily mean curing, rather healing is an active experience and it’s a conscious choice.”

She continued, explaining that the process of sharing these stories was tough, but that it was a significant part of her own healing experience.

“Writing Unbounded did force me to relive and really look at a lot of the hard moments in my life. However, like I said, healing is an active experience and it’s a choice and [it] is one I continue to make so that I could share these stories for the greater good – in service of other people that will feel helped by them.”

Sharing such a personal recounting of your life requires a level of vulnerability not everyone is able to freely offer. When I asked Thattil about the roadblocks she encountered along the way, she said she felt most “nervous” when it came to touching on family stories. And seeing as Unbounded deals heavily with the concept of identity, family life played a key role.

“…they were family stories, so I was nervous because they weren’t just my story, there were other people involved too,” she said.

“…but the way I navigated that was by talking openly about it with my mum, my dad and my brother and letting them know that nothing they were uncomfortable with would ever make it to those pages, and I ended up getting their blessing to share a lot of our shared moments because mum and dad saw the value in putting something out there into the world that represents common experiences and gives hope.”

Maria Thattil on coming out, a year later

maria thattil family
Maria Thattil with her parents. Image supplied

Speaking of hope, we touched earlier on the fact that Maria Thattil bravely chose to come out as bisexual while on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! in early 2022. Her journey with sexuality and self-acceptance is featured in the book, and she’s spoken openly about this experience in many other settings since – even appearing on the cover of Stellar with her girlfriend Jorgia O’Hare recently.

When we moved onto the topic of coming out, and the perspective time has offered since that moment, Thattil shared that there is one key thing she’d tell her past self if she could.

“I would tell my past self that all the things she’s scared to embrace because she was convinced that they were shortcomings, they’re going to be the things that help her to build a life she’s really proud of and makes her really happy,” she said.

“Being open and out has opened me up to receive a lot of the love I was closing myself from by being a muted, closeted version of myself. I’m in love with a beautiful woman, I’m happy, I’m proud and I feel like I’m living my values more truthfully.”

And the thing is, that pride, especially when it is shared at such a public level, it’s a powerful image for others who might be on a journey of self-acceptance.

For Thattil, hearing the stories of others who see themselves in her (and her story) is “the reason that I do what I do”.

“What’s really touching is, I’ll never forget, I was so anxious the night before the I’m a Celebrity episode aired and I publicly came out, and I remember getting a message right after the episode aired; it was from a 14-year-old girl and she said to me that she came out on the couch to her parents because she didn’t know how to explain what being bisexual was, but when she was watching it she was like, ‘Oh, mum, that’s pretty much like me too’. And she said it was the most simple, easy thing because it was represented so beautifully, so honestly and so fearlessly – and that will always stay with me,” she said.

Pride in 2023

pride
Image supplied

When speaking about celebrating WorldPride in 2023, Thattil shared that it’s been quite the road for her to land where she is today. She wrote about that road in Unbounded, with the hope that it inspires others and instils a sense of hope.

“In the chapter titled ‘Shed’, I talk about shedding the beliefs that don’t serve me. To come out as bisexual to my parents at the age of 28 in 2021 was really challenging, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that if you want to curate a fulfilling life you have to be willing to part with people, places, things and relationships that don’t serve that,” Thattil explained.

“Coming out did require me to shed a lot of my old concerns about religious beliefs and also required me to have months of open conversations with my parents. Initially, they didn’t understand. I didn’t expect them to understand everything initially as they are from a totally different generation and cultural context, however, we have come a long way.”

Since that point, not only has Thattil found a fulfilling loving relationship with Jorgia but she’s been able to use her story to help others see the happiness that can be found on the other side of self-acceptance.

“My family is now so supportive that I proudly stood next to my brother Dom, his partner and my girlfriend on the Olay float this year for Sydney Mardi Gras. I’m an ambassador for Olay and am proud to be part of their Glow Up Your Own Way campaign this year as it directly relates to my own story.

Research shows that only one in two LGBTIQA+ people feel accepted by their family. By sharing my journey of family acceptance following many honest and open conversations with my parents, I hope to inspire others by showcasing that love does prevail.”

Unbounded: Manifesting a Life Without Limits by Maria Thattil is available for you to get your eyeballs across now, and you can learn more about Olay’s Glow Up Your Own Way campaign here

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