Ambassador Interview: Meet Isabelle Hanson, Miss Illinois!

The following interview was conducted and edited for clarity by Katherine Lynch, MEDIAGIRLS Editorial Intern.

We at MEDIAGIRLS are proud to introduce our newest ambassador. Meet Isabelle Hanson (she/her), otherwise known as the reigning Miss Illinois!

An on-air news anchor and reporter for her local CBS affiliate, Ms. Hanson is a journalist, a musician, and an advocate for media literacy. Ms. Hanson, thank you for joining us.

How did you come to choose media literacy as the focal point of your advocacy?

The thought of young people navigating today’s digital world without guidance and support is both upsetting and worrisome. When I think back to my childhood, my first cell phone did not have apps nor did it connect to the internet, and I had never heard the names of social media platforms; Instead of begging my parents to watch endless YouTube videos on a tablet, I tried to convince them to let me play outside with other kids in the neighborhood for hours on end. My heart breaks when I think about the fourth grader who bravely approached me after a school presentation and said, “I’ve been called fat on social media.” In that moment, as her peers excitedly rushed my way, their energized voices filling the lunchroom, all I could hear was the pain and courage in the young girl’s voice. And sadly, I know her story does not stand alone. Personally, in my mid-20’s, I feel the weight of today’s digital world every day as different thoughts run through my head based on what I see online. “You aren’t doing enough.” “Your picture isn’t pretty enough to post.” “Only 150 likes?” “You’re not as worthy as she is.” I can only imagine what young people who are growing up with social media feel every day, as media inundates their lives. Today’s digital world demands media literacy education, and I am passionate about ensuring children, teens, and future generations have the support they need to thrive.  

Why did you decide to work with MEDIAGIRLS specifically?

When I was researching different organizations that equip young people with social media literacy skills, I came across MEDIAGIRLS. I was immediately impressed with MEDIAGIRLS’ work and felt our missions aligned. As someone who is a representative of an organization that empowers women, I felt it fitting to join forces with MEDIAGIRLS, an organization that positively impacts girls+. I’m looking forward to what’s to come as an ambassador for MEDIAGIRLS.

What kind of relationship can MEDIAGIRLS, a small nonprofit, have with an American institution like the Miss America Organization?

The Miss America Organization’s mission is to prepare great women for the world and prepare the world for great women. I feel that’s exactly what MEDIAGIRLS does as well. Service is a core value of the Miss America Organization, and every person who competes advocates for their social impact initiative, a cause that’s near and dear to their hearts. To positively impact their communities, state and local titleholders from across the country partner and collaborate with small nonprofit organizations every day. I would love to introduce MEDIAGIRLS to more local and state Miss America titleholders and see them serve as ambassadors in the years to come.

The Miss America Organization recently turned 100, and it has a long and complicated history. How do you and your fellows use your platform to uplift all girls+ instead of the select few who make it to the iconic stage?

Miss America titleholders are passionate about encouraging, empowering, and uplifting girls+. In fact, many titleholders dedicate their year to causes and organizations that positively impact girls+. For example, Miss New York 2021 is an advocate for youth in sports, specifically for cisgender and transgender girls and nonbinary youth. Miss Florida 2021 founded “Be a LeadHER: Igniting the Spark Within” and teaches the foundations of leadership and courage to young women. Miss Virginia 2021 is a big sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters and advocates for her social impact initiative, “Mentoring Matters.” These are just three of 51 incredible women who spend their year as state titleholders serving young people across their respective states. 

MEDIAGIRLS is primarily a consumer-facing organization. We talk mainly with girls+ and the adults in their lives about how social media works and how to have positive experiences. But that’s only a fraction of the social media ecosystem. How can we hold the developers, owners, and advertisers accountable for their design choices and actions?

As adults, our number one concern when it comes to young people should be their safety and overall health and wellness. We can educate developers, owners, and advertisers about the impact their decisions can have on children and teens and share why it’s crucial to put young people’s safety and wellness first. When we see something that does not create a positive space for girls+, we can reach out to the person or company responsible and express our concerns. While it’s important to teach young people how to navigate today’s digital world, social media companies must also share our mission and prioritize people over profits. As advocates for girls+, we have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and speak out when we recognize the need for growth and change. 

I’ve recently hopped on the TikTok train While I’m no expert in creating TikTok videos myself, I’m fascinated by people’s creativity on the platform. As a reporter, I not only write my stories that air on the news but also film the footage you see with each story. Being behind a video camera fuels my passion for storytelling, so it’s impressive to see people across the world express themselves through TikTok videos.

While it’s encouraging to see people on social media taking interest in what’s happening in the world around them and engaging in conversations about current events, I feel frustrated when people share dated or inaccurate information. As social media users, we all hold the power to influence our followers and even those who do not follow us. We are all journalists in our own right when we share the latest news on social media, and that includes certain responsibilities not everyone respects. While people often share unique, insightful perspectives, it’s upsetting when what is shared is not based on facts. As social media continues to grow and evolve, I encourage people to think about the power their words hold and the importance of using that power for good. 

On an individual level, how do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?

Honestly, it’s not always easy to maintain a healthy relationship with social media. To do so, I set boundaries for myself and try to stay in tune with my feelings and emotions when I am scrolling. I have all social media app notifications turned off on my phone, and that helps me keep my mind off social media and resist the urge to open my apps every few minutes. I mainly post on Instagram and Facebook, and I try to close out of both apps immediately after I post so I do not get sucked into scrolling aimlessly. But that’s easier said than done. When I do want to spend time on social media, I’ll set time limits for myself in my head. When I reach the time I planned to stop scrolling, I stop. This helps prevent me from spending hours online. Over these past few years, I’ve become more aware of how I feel when I am on social media and the emotional reactions I have when seeing different content. It has taken some time to get to this point, but when I feel myself going downhill, I stop scrolling and put down my phone. While I’m not perfect and there’s always room for growth, I try to do my best in the moment. Some days are harder than others, but I’ve learned everything will be okay if we aren’t on social media 24/7, and it’s important to give ourselves grace on both the good and bad days. 

On a political level, how do you use your platform to mobilize change where change is needed?

Right now, my efforts are focused on working with the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition’s Legislative Committee and Illinois’ lawmakers to introduce and advocate for a bill that requires educators to teach media literacy skills to junior. high and middle school students in Illinois. This type of legislation is not new to the state. Last year, Illinois lawmakers passed Public Act 102-0055, which requires high school students to learn media literacy skills while at school starting with the 2022-2023 school year. I’ve reached out to every lawmaker who co-sponsored Public Act 102-0055 and have had conversations with them about expanding the legislation to include younger students. The members of the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition’s Legislation Committee and I are working together to meet with more legislators across the state and supporters of media literacy education to make our goal a reality. 

What strategies do you want young people to implement to better understand social media and their place in it?

When I speak with young people, we discuss questions we can ask ourselves while scrolling through social media to think critically about what we’re consuming. The most important question they can ask themselves while online is “how does this make me feel?” It’s easy to get lost while scrolling and lose track of time, so I encourage young people to pause, take a minute, and ask themselves how they’re feeling. Depending on their answer, it might be time to put away the phone or talk to a trusted adult. I also would like young people to know that their worth is not defined by the amount of likes they receive, they do not need to wear a certain outfit to be beautiful, and they are never alone, even when they do not feel seen. It can be tough to navigate feelings that come from scrolling, but what’s on social media will never be a realistic and comprehensive portrayal of real life, and that’s important to remember. 

After your tenure is over, how do you plan to keep up your advocacy?

These past eight months as Miss Illinois, I’ve built connections with impactful people in the media literacy field and worked with several local, state, and national media literacy organizations. My passion for media literacy education and equipping students with media literacy skills will last even after I pass on the job of Miss Illinois to the next deserving woman. I previously described my work with the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition’s Legislative Committee to bring media literacy education into junior high and middle school classrooms across Illinois. We celebrated a major step forward in the summer of 2021 with the passing of Public Act 102-0055, but there’s still more to do. 

I’ll continue to work with the ILMLC’s Legislative Committee to expand that legislation to include younger students. Some of my most memorable days as Miss Illinois are spent with young people. I’ll also continue to seek out opportunities to teach media literacy skills to young people and speak with them about living in today’s digital world.  

For more information about Isabelle Hanson and her work for social media literacy, follow her on Instagram, visit her official Miss Illinois page, or check out her journalism with KFVS 12.

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