Somewhere on the rolling hills of Sweden, Emma Håkansson realised she loved animals more than she liked eating them. “I was excited to see them, not eat them”, she told GirlHero Project in June, her sudden snap of clarity the first spark to her activism. “The hardest part of going vegan was realising that even though I called myself an animal lover all my life,” she continued, “I had been causing so much suffering… and going against my own morals.”
Through her self-discovery to veganism, Håkansson began spreading awareness on social media as an artist and feminist, designing imagery to connect individual people to their active lifestyle choices. Laying the foundation for others to speak out against injustice and discrimination, a huge part of her curation depends on empathy and the feelings she shares—her writing focused on making the world a more honest, more compassionate place.
A model for Duval Agency and activist for Animal Liberation Victoria, Håkansson’s content creation crosses both arts and activism communities, encouraging others to think, support and inspire to create their own change. Chatting to Collarts, Håkansson shares advice on following your ethics and the positive ripple effect social media can help influence.
Hey Emma, thanks so much for chatting! Firstly, how do you describe yourself and the work you do?
Hey! I’m a model, activist, and artist who just finished at VCA Secondary School. So right now, I’d call myself a very excited person, ready to take on everything I’ve been dreaming of doing for the last few years. I’d like to think I’m some kind of creative voice of truth.
Amazing. Being an artist, feminist and model, your work highlights the intersections of activism and beliefs, be it through your art, your portfolio work or your day-to-day updates. Have you always been drawn to creating conversations through social media?
I always enjoyed Instagram and taking pretty photos, so when I became more interested in art, and then became a model, among other things, it only made sense to me to share these things online too. Over time my account became less about my everyday life and more of a curated thing—still as honest as online can be—but more based in things that I felt were important to share, or that I was working on.
Of course. A critical part of your work is using your social media presence to deepen these connections. How do you use your creativity to foster community online?
I could spend all day sharing information and statistics with people about the issues that are important to me – veganism, women’s rights, refugee rights, ethical clothing, sustainability. However, as someone who is a visual thinker, I recognise that people are more likely to be captivated by creative and interesting images than words by themselves. By creating visual content I’m better able to connect to people, and allow them to better relate to the words I write.
“For me, everything I post about veganism—and other issues important to me—is very authentic because the level of care I have for the issue is so deep.”
You have a very clear connection to nature and people, especially when it comes to veganism and the empathy you want to spark. Do you ever struggle to maintain a balance between authenticity and your activism?
For me, everything I post about veganism—and other issues important to me—is very authentic because the level of care I have for the issue is so deep. My heart genuinely hurts thinking about the amount of cruelty in the world and so it is so important for me to do what I can to harbor some empathy in people who are capable of it, but perhaps not completely informed. In saying this though, I’m aware that if it’s the only thing I talk about I lose a little of my sense of humanity, so I try to share things about my personal life in amongst posts which are based around issue awareness and activism.
How do you avoid being emotionally exhausted or burned-out when creating online content?
It’s not always easy! I feel a responsibility to continue to share things that are important to me and the people I follow, so sometimes that feeling is tiring, for sure. I just find I have to practice stepping back. For example, while I’ve been in exam period I’ve really had to focus on my studies, and myself so I’ve been less active online. It can be a bit frustrating seeing engagement go down when I take time out for myself, but I just have to remind myself that the choices I make around what I spend my time on at different life stages are valid—I can’t do everything I want at once, and I’m always scheming.
You’re involved in a number of organisations and agencies—including Animal Liberation Victoria—that depend on like-minded people to help and rally for animals. What are the challenges of inspiring people to act upon what they share online?
It’s certainly a challenge moving online supporters into the streets! That challenge is clear when you see Facebook events for rallies and they always have many more people clicking ‘Going’ than actually turn up. It’s fantastic to have people online spreading awareness, it’s definitely important and effective, and sometimes that’s all people can do, but change mostly happens because of real-world action. It’s a lot harder to ignore the CBD being filled with protestors than it is an online petition with the same amount of people supporting it. Sharing images and footage from vigils and events Animal Lib do online for example, definitely sparks interest in people, and makes them come along next time!
Fashion and self-expression are a huge influence on your online content creation. Do you have a creative process when it comes to a shoot or putting together a look to capture a message?
Most of my most loved fashion content is from shoots where I’ve worked with other wonderful creative people, and the process of working with other like-minded people is always my favourite and most effective. Normally a post begins with me seeing or hearing something online or in the real world that fascinates me, and then I mull over ideas related to it in my head. What do I want to share, what’s the point, what am I trying to do? A lot of this thinking is about making sure I’m putting something new out there—in art there is a blurred line between stealing and borrowing of ideas. Sometimes my head is ahead of my real life capacity and I end up with things I never share. I don’t like to post creative things that I don’t think will provoke any thought, make people feel something, or that people will just enjoy so I’m picky with what I put out into the world.
“Ignore people who want to pull you down, remember your worth, and connect with people who inspire you. The people who bad mouth you will fade into the background, and your time is better spent connecting with people willing to change, willing to listen. Trust your gut and go for it.”
You often speak-out against many issues as a feminist and share imagery that can cause controversy. How do you switch-off criticism and continue to create work with clarity towards your vision?
The issues that I talk about, the images I share are so much bigger than what people think of me, or some small snarky comment someone leaves me. Sometimes I share images people don’t want to see and I get backlash, but the thing to remember is that it isn’t me who is making them feel uncomfortable, but their conscience. If people really didn’t care about something I posted, they wouldn’t bother criticising it, they would just move on. If people really were invested in an issue, really had a belief that opposed mine and didn’t feel convicted by their own actions, they would leave a proper, thought out comment rather than something like “mmm bacon” on a picture of pigs going into a slaughterhouse, or the word “slut” on a post about women’s rights.
Going off the idea of your vision, was there a turning point growing up when you realised you wanted to preach empathy and make a difference?
I think as I got older and became more aware of the enormous amount of darkness in the world, I also began to meet people who were rays of light to me, people who showed me that we didn’t have to be cruel, that kindness could be spread. I saw a really good picture the other day, a man holding a sign that said; ‘I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody.” It’s so disheartening when people say that they wouldn’t make positive changes in their life because they’re only one person, but one person can create such a ripple effect.
What advice would you give to those who want to use social media to share their beliefs, their art and their activism?
Ignore people who want to pull you down, remember your worth, and connect with people who inspire you. The people who bad mouth you will fade into the background, and your time is better spent connecting with people willing to change, willing to listen. Trust your gut and go for it.
Are you a creative person by nature? Learn more about curating your work and communicating what you believe in with our courses, especially in Content Creation. Check out Emma’s blog here or follow her on Instagram. Words by Monique Myintoo.