Reimagining body image, beauty through art


Junior theatre studies major Sarah Marcum and junior theatre and dance and African American studies major Paige Brown submitted an original piece to the Cohen New Works Festival.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Through the Cohen New Works Festival, presented by the UT University Co-op, students are given the opportunity to use theater as an agent for social change. Theatre studies junior Sarah Marcum and theatre and dance junior Paige Brown are taking advantage of this opportunity by collaborating on a project that draws attention to modern-day beauty ideals and their various effects on women.

Students have the opportunity to submit their own original pieces for consideration to be showcased during the weeklong festival that happens every other spring. The committee accepts all types of “new work,” whether it is theater, dance, music, film, design or visual art. The festival’s committee-at-large, which consists of about 40 undergraduate and graduate students, is currently in the process of selecting the works that will be showcased in the festival.

“It is a process that incorporates a large number of voices to help create as diverse a festival as humanly possible,” PR/Marketing chair Isaac Gomez said.

Marcum and Brown submitted an original piece about how Western culture’s modern ideal of beauty affects the day-to-day lives of women in the United States.

Marcum said the piece was influenced by the people in her life battling with the struggles of body image and beauty.

“Sarah approached me one day about wanting to create a piece on beauty and appearance that really talked about the very real social and political ramifications of having this one idea of beauty and how it plays itself out on different types of women,” Brown said.

Before submitting the play to the festival, Marcum received a Go! Grant to help develop it. Marcum and Brown then surveyed and informally interviewed women of different backgrounds and races to try and gain perspective on their own personal ideas of beauty and how this standard ideal of beauty has impacted their lives. It is important to both Brown and Marcum to represent women as a whole, not just women of a certain race or background.

“My goal is to really try to represent these women as closely as possible because it is their personal story,” Marcum said. “Beauty is very personal and I want to give respect to each one of their voices.”

Brown describes the piece as “a string of experiences” and “a continuous conversation” with many different types of women who are all linked together through an idea of beauty and appearance.

“I think that the ultimate goal is to leave the audience with questions about the society that surrounds them,” Brown said. “I want to challenge notions, and for people to experience these narratives and question the ideas that have been forced on them.”

The play consists of different memory scenes that are connected through direct quotes from the women they interviewed and surveyed. Each scene will illustrate and represent different definitions of beauty. The scenes will also tell different stories from moments or times in these women’s lives when they felt beautiful or unbeautiful. Brown says, her intention is to create an open and safe forum for women to share their experiences with beauty, good and bad, as well as the function of beauty in their lives and how it has influenced their own self-awareness.

“We are not presenting our own idea of what beauty is, we want to provide a space where women can come in and question their own ideals and find beauty for themselves, not through one monolithic ideal,” Marcum said.

The projects chosen for the New Works Festival will be announced Monday. Marcum and Brown intend to continue work on this piece whether or not it is chosen.