Meet John Bowen: Founder of the "Beyond the Skin" Project

How often is it that you come across an engineering major who is equally passionate about advocating for equality between women and men? Probably not on a regular basis, it can be assumed. That’s why after receiving an email from freshman John Bowen about a project he was working on, Her Campus Akron was immediately intrigued.

Bowen’s “Beyond the Skin” project is one that began as an assignment for a class on heroism with Heather Pollock, and quickly transcended the classroom parameters to become a campus-wide initiative. “I was inspired by the new Netflix series that recently came out—13 Reasons Why—and it really got me thinking about how one rumor, one objectification of the main character, Hannah, snowballed into her ultimate demise. I really wanted to combat that with this project,” says Bowen.

“I feel that I have a unique perspective as a man to do this kind of a project. I came up with “Chivalry is Not Dead” as my first pledge. Originally it was just going to be a campaign for men to make this pledge, but upon talking with my sister, Brianna, we came up with a second pledge for women as well, called “Do Not Settle.”

Bowen says he and Brianna, a student at Firestone High School, decided the title of the project would be “Beyond the Skin,” with the aspiration to have others look beyond the skin of women and see the beauty that is beneath. “Originally we started with a pledge,” says Bowen. “I believe people’s words mean something. We wanted to keep the project simplistic, but also make it powerful as well. We wanted to give the project a tangible side to it, and that’s where the bracelets came in. For those that are reading those statements on their wrists, it definitely makes them question, ‘What does this mean?’”

The bracelets, set on a bright pink background with white lettering, consist of two sides: one reading “Chivalry is not dead,” and the other, “Do not settle.” Attached to the packaging of each bracelet is a two-sided pledge created by Bowen himself. Both sides of the pledge that read, “Chivalry is NOT Dead” and “Do NOT Settle,” are pledges for men and women to “stop the injustice of women being treated as objects before people.” The “Chivalry” side lists four promises for men to live up to this pledge, including the agreement to “respect women in my words, in my thoughts, and in my actions.” The pledge to not “Settle” notes four promises for women as well, embracing the idea to “not settle for being seen as anything less than a human being.”

Bowen says there was a meaningful decision in color choice as well. “My entire life, my favorite color has been pink. I’ve always been kind of teased by the idea that it’s a ‘girls color.’ Why does a color have to be gendered? Pink is not only a bold color, but it’s also a way of challenging the idea that we have of gendering colors. I wanted to see both men and women wearing the same color.”

The goals for this project are both immediate, and long-term. By partnering with various campus organizations, Bowen hopes to start with tabling events and move on to larger forums, such as a seminar on the objectification of women. “I had a classmate suggest that maybe I create a focus group on this subject, and tie in how men can be objectified by society as well. Hopefully we can lean in to the conversation more, and have those deliberate conversations with people; it’s really about taking that next step to see the project grow.”

The main objective Bowen hopes to see others take away from this project is that we are all more than just our skin. “In society nowadays, we’ve moved away from internal beauty to external beauty. We’ve been told to idolize our bodies,” says Bowen. “I want people to be able to look beyond the skin of someone, and see the person beneath that, to see that they are human. Before gender, before race, before religions, we are human. To be treated as anything less than that, is just wrong. You could really relate this message to any social issue we have today.”

“To add on,” includes Brianna, “from a young woman’s perspective, it’s annoying to hear the comment, ‘Are you tired today?’ just because you don’t wear makeup one day. I feel bad for anyone who feels they have to modify their body, in whatever way that is, just because they feel that there is a perfection society tries to push onto people. I want to try to overcome society’s predetermined views on people as a whole.”

In a world where it can seem as though the value of women is constantly being lessened, it is truly inspiring to see bold opposition to this degradation. Campus communities across the country are compelled to open their eyes to inequality in all of its forms, and support initiatives of promoting equity between women and men. Thankfully, Akron seems to have students dedicated to bringing this issue to the forefront, and who hope to see respect for women flourish among our student and staff populations. Thank you, John and Brianna, for never “settling” in your mission to spread equality.

 

If you would like to learn more about the ‘Beyond the Skin’ project or how to receive your own bracelet, please contact Her Campus Akron directly at [email protected] or John Bowen at [email protected].