‘A Lot Of People Want To Be Motivational Speakers’: Maria Thattil On Why Her Debut Book Is Not Like Any Other Celebrity Self-Help Book

It was around this time last year when Maria Thattil came out as bisexual during a stint on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!
Having grown up in a "very conservative, religious South Asian family", she says she had shied away from being open about her feelings towards women in her teens and early twenties. It's because of this that coming out on national television was a particularly nerve-racking but simultaneously liberating experience.
Now, just over 12 months later, the former Miss Universe Australia is ready to share more about her personal life through her first published book, Unbounded. Leaning on her previous studies of psychology at uni, as well as research throughout the writing process, Thattil promises to provide a 10-step resource for people who wish to explore their own identity.
But, in a time when there's an abundance of celebrities releasing self-help books, what actually makes Thattil's worth picking up?
"A lot of people want to be motivational speakers or coaches and everyone wants to put books out on these sorts of things," Thattil tells Refinery29 Australia. "That's all well and good, and to each their own."
The model and content creator says that it's because of this that she ensured her personal experiences are woven throughout each chapter. Without those written recollections of how different life moments have taught her particular lessons, Thattil knows her book wouldn't be as valuable to readers.
"One minute, you're teleported to primary school with me and then the next, you're standing on stage with me when I'm 15 years old, terrified as I'm doing my first performance in theatre," she explains.
Thattil discussed the book's contents with her parents beforehand, as she'd be sharing some very personal elements of her and her family's lives that touch on issues such as racism, sexism, intergenerational trauma and mental health.
"For me in sharing these personal stories, it's like, 'OK, what's the merit in doing that?' My dad, mum and I sat down and we talked about this, and we said, 'There's got to be some sort of benefit and impact on other people that warrants you being so vulnerable'."
Ultimately, her parents' advice was that "as long as when somebody picks it up and the book is their sign that things can get better for them, then it's worth sharing your story".
Thattil's coming out and decision to speak up on topics such as abortion and homophobia have sparked an emotional learning process for her parents. They migrated to Australia from India in the 1990s, and with her father being a Catholic priest, he and her mother held more conservative views on relationships. It's taken time, but "mum and dad have grown to really understand and embrace that," says Thattil, adding her brother Dominic is queer too.
Last month the model officially went public with her relationship, posing for a magazine cover with girlfriend, Jorgia O'Hare. She wanted to share the news on her own terms, without speculation from the media about her relationship status.
"It's so good to just be out there with her, because now she can start coming along to things with me and we can go for dinner and not worry about people seeing things or saying things," she explains.
"It's been three and a half years since I've been in a serious relationship. Never mind what gender she is — it's just my first serious relationship and if anyone's talking about it, that narrative needs to be in my hands."
Maria Thattil and Jorgia O'Hare
The couple recently travelled to Bali with a group of friends to celebrate Thattil's 30th birthday. Entering your thirties can be daunting for many women, particularly due to wider society's long-held views and expectations about what turning 30 means. But the TV star isn't succumbing to the pressure.
"There is a stigma and people are always telling women, especially women of colour, that you should be aware of the 'expiration date' [to get married and have kids]," she reflects.
"There's community pressure, family pressure and social pressure and I just feel that for me, it has been so affirming to step into my 30s feeling the most confident I have ever felt. I'm doing what I love, I'm out, and in a beautiful relationship with someone I really love.
"If we're objectively looking at it, life's really good and I'm not about to blanket it with an ageist perception.
"It's really important that I do share that and how I feel about it because I'm genuinely feeling no different at 30 than I did in my late twenties. I want to show that, so people stop stigmatising entering another decade."
She ultimately believes, as she mentions in her book, that we "need to stop prescribing lifestyles and blueprints to people".
"If there's anything people should remember, it's that they were not born to fit a blueprint. They are bigger than any blueprint anyone tries to imprint on them."
Unbounded by Maria Thattil is available to purchase from Tuesday, February 21.
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