Dr Jacki Willson

Lecturer in Cultural Studies

Central Saint Martins


Jacki Willson has been a lecturer at CSM for undergraduate fashion, textiles and jewellery students since 2012. She also teaching on the MA Fashion Communication and co-supervises a PhD student at London College of Fashion.

Her background is Fine Art practice – performance and film – and she received Arts Council funding for several projects. She has an MA in Cinema when she explored feminist, queer and cross-dressing films by Derek Jarman, Sally Potter and Jane Campion, with particular focus on Tilda Swinton as an actress. Jacki Willson has a PhD in explicit feminist performance practice. She has written two books: The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque (2008) and Being Gorgeous: Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasures of the Visual (2015) which were both published by I.B.Tauris. She is currently working on her third book on female performance and the home – Content in Suburbia.

Research interests

My research focuses predominantly on the female body as spectacle in our contemporary culture. My interests include gender, sexuality, feminism, activist performance, fashion as statement, dressing up, pleasure, humour, carnival, cabaret, burlesque and women’s performance art.

Research statement

I am interested in women’s performance and feminism within both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.

My first publication The Happy Stripper historically contextualized new burlesque in relation to both the 1860s/70s with acts such as the British Blondes and the 1920s/30s with performers such as Gypsy Rose Lee. Burlesque used humour and wit to challenge stereotypes and critique social mores. New burlesque artistes similarly use humour to ham up stereotypes in a tongue-in-chic manner whilst taking control of the way in which they are represented. These are performers who are sexual subjects.

In my newest book, Being Gorgeous, I explore this idea of the thinking spectacle in relation to a wider range of contemporary ‘low’ and ‘high’ visual examples from film, cabaret, art and fashion. I argue that flamboyant dressing-up can become a means by which women can express resistance to hegemonic ideals as regards sexuality and objectification. This is a performance of a radical femininity, which is at once explosively critical and fabulously fun.


Kelly Dearsley, A comparative study of print and digital fashion media reception: A phenomenological study of embodied experience and what it can reveal of our being in the world in the networked digital age.

Selected research outputs