AUSSIE MODEL FLYING THE FLAG FOR PETITE WOMEN LAUNCHES INSTAGRAM EMPOWERMENT SERIES MIND WITH ME
One of Australia's most up and coming models, Maria Thattil, has just launched a new empowerment series on Instagram - Mind With Me - inspiring women, men and young people to be confident and live their best lives.
"Given the challenging social context of 2020, I wanted to create a safe space where people could chat to each other about being comfortable in their own skin, what's currently happening in the world and other issues such as mental health, racism, sexism and bullying," said Maria.
"The response from people around the globe has been really positive so far, particularly from those in Australia like me who've been going through waves of reinstated lockdowns and heightened restrictions. I've wanted to launch the series for a while given my own experiences and empower people to tackle issues with courage."
Despite being shorter than most models who are usually at least 175cm, the 27-year-old Melbournian who stands 160cm (5 "3"), has been in demand since she started modelling at the end of last year, appearing in leading campaigns for skincare brands such as Ulta3 and Frank Body.
"I used to think that I was too short to model, however it's been liberating to break out of that limiting belief and refreshing to experience brands featuring people of all shape and sizes. Not being a certain amount of centimetres shouldn't have a bearing on your substance or capacity for impact."
Maria, who is represented by top size-inclusive modelling agency Bella Management, which also represents supermodel Robyn Lawley and Sport's Illustrated star Brielle Anyea, said it's encouraging that curve models and the market for larger sizes has become more accepted. However, she hopes petite models and women will also be given more recognition.
According to the ABS, the average height for an Australian woman is 162cm – around the height of some of the world's most successful petite models such as Lily-Rose Depp (160cm), Anja Konstantinova (162cm) and Devon Aoki (165cm).
"We don't tend to hear much about petite models even though there are millions of short, or actually average women like me. Petite women are also quite underrepresented in fashion. I'm a size 4-6 and it can be challenging finding clothes to wear. I often have to get clothes altered."
Maria, whose parents immigrated to Australia from India, said talking about body positivity in her series was a topic close to her heart, not only because of her size, but also because of her ethnicity.
"Growing up I didn't feel there were many people like me in fashion, politics, business or the public eye," said the model who also works in human resources. "A lack of representation affects your self-esteem and made me wonder how my future would pan out in certain spheres."
When she was younger Maria copped her share of 'brown jokes' and racist taunts. "Not seeing a lot of South Asian representation meant the majority of kids would ask me things like whether my dad was like Apu from The Simpsons because all they saw were exaggerated stereotypes - there was a lot of cultural insensitivity."
Even nowadays Maria still encounters 'subtle micro-aggressions'. "I once walked into a luxury make up store looking for a foundation only to be curtly told, 'We don't sell your shade locally, there's not a market for it here so you should look for global shades online'. I was stunned. It was like they were saying there's only a market in Australia for people who sit on the fairer end of the shade spectrum.
"This is why it's been awesome to be the face of a national beauty campaign for Ulta3 as well as working with Frank Body who believe in celebrating different ethnicities and body types, and telling stories which have traditionally been untold."
Wanting to learn more about cosmetics for deeper skin tones, Maria began documenting her make up journey on her Instagram three years ago. "I loved being able to build a loyal, passionate community which has enabled me to get into other spheres like modelling and public speaking. I now primarily use my platform to empower others through Mind With Me where each episode runs for about 15 minutes.
"The series has been running for almost four months and we're now 13 episodes in. People need to feel strong in all aspects of their lives in these challenging times, so I'm thrilled to be facilitating conversations in pursuit of growth on topics that can seem tough but are none-the-less important.
"I envision the modelling sphere as becoming one that grows beyond exclusive ideals of what it is to be 'beautiful' or a 'model.' Height and shape should not preclude certain people from pursuing dreams or being confident in the body they've been given. All body sizes and shapes should be represented in fashion and beauty."
Catch up with Maria's series on Instagram Live every week on the weekend via her social media profile on www.instagram.com/mariathattil/channel/?hl=en
The challenges of being a petite model in a tall industry
Maria Thatti: Standing at 160cm tall and sporting an exotic look thanks to her Indian parentage, Maria Thattil never imagined that she'd become a successful model in an industry typically dominated by tall, fair-skinned girls.
However, the 27-year-old Melbournian, who also works in human resources, has now appeared in a number of successful campaigns since bursting onto the scene a year ago and is helping to redefine perceptions of beauty.
Not only is Maria flying the flag for petite models and women everywhere, she's also just launched a new empowerment series on Instagram - Mind With Me - inspiring women, men and young people to be confident and live their best lives.
"Given the challenging social context of 2020, I wanted to create a safe space where people could chat to each other about issues and being comfortable in their own skin," she says. "The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive."
Here Maria shares with us her thoughts about the industry, growing up with racism and standing out from the 'norm'.
Have you always wanted to be a model?
Maria Thatti: No because I had a lot limiting self-beliefs. When I was growing up, to be a model you needed to meet strict height requirements and I felt I couldn't pursue work in this industry because of my ethnic background. So, it's been wonderful to overcome those thoughts and see change in the industry championed by consumers, talent and trail-brazing brands.
What are some of the challenges of being a petite model?
Maria Thatti: They're the same challenges for petite women in general – I'm a size 4-6, so it can be difficult finding clothes to fit! You're also a bit limited to campaigns concentrating more on the face, rather than the body. Petites are an underserved segment of consumers - we don't see enough representation of petites in ready to wear fashion let alone high fashion or runways. Often in campaigns, clothes that cater to smaller women are not shot on petite models because brands produce sample sets for photography that work with 'average' model sizes. The crazy thing as far as my height goes is that 160cm (5 "3) is actually around the average height for a woman in this country! However, I still live in a privileged body and have not faced the same discrimination that more marginalised bodies face.
What is a typical day like on set?
Maria Thatti: Early call times, lots of coffee, good music and high energy. Whether it's in the studio or on location, it's always fun and the crews I work with are so dedicated, kind and positive.
How did you overcome the difficulties of finding makeup to match your skin tone?
Maria Thatti: This is something I've struggled with my whole life. There's privilege associated with being a lighter-skinned woman of colour and as a teen, I wore makeup far too light, partly because I couldn't obtain makeup matching my skin. A lot of my photos from high school and early 20s look quite ashy. As a woman of medium darkness, I can now find my colour but only because I know where to look. It shouldn't require 'research' to find brands - we all deserve to be catered to. That's originally how I built my platform - sharing tips to help people of colour navigate what can feel like an exclusive industry.
Can you share your beauty must-haves?
Maria Thatti: A strong SPF is a must - I use the Simple As That Sunscreen SPF 25 plus a hydrating moisturiser - my combination skin loves the Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Gel Creme. I also use a brightening concealer - a dot of Hourglass Airbrush Concealer works wonders to brighten dark circles or neutralise blemishes. A volumizing mascara is also great- the IT Cosmetics Superhero Mascara is my all-time favourite. Finally I always use a hydrating lip balm - currently over-indulging in the Live Tinted Unity Balm Gloss.
How has casual racism affected your self-esteem?
Maria Thatti: For most of my life it led me to normalise mistreatment against me and reject my Indian roots because I believed that my culture was inferior. I found myself striving to fit Euro-centric standards of beauty and lifestyle to be accepted by others. I became so desensitized to casual racism that I just expected it, but it still humiliated me nonetheless. In the last few years I've been on a journey to heal myself from it. I've had to unlearn having to 'choose' between my Western upbringing and Eastern roots and have now embraced the hybrid amalgamation that is me.
Can you tell us the motivation behind your Mind With Me Series?
Maria Thatti: One of the reasons I love Instagram is that it enables me to form connections with people all around the world. When COVID-19 struck, I started live streaming even more. The on-the-spot conversations would always evolve into impromptu discussions on meaningful topics. So, I decided to launch Mind With Me as a weekly series. In the four months since its launch, we've talked about racism, mental health, relationships, social media, bullying, body inclusivity and COVID-19 anxiety to name a few topics. I've now started interviewing empowering guest speakers.
How has COVID affected the modeling industry?
Maria Thatti: It ranges from delayed payments, to cancelled shoots, to little or no work for models. It also affects the incredible teams of hairdressers, makeup artists and photographers we work with. However, it's also encouraged agencies, brands and talents to get creative in how they build their portfolios, create content and host shoots.
Catch up with Maria's series on IG Live every week via her social media profile on @mariathattil.