Jillian received her PhD in Women's and Gender Studies in May 2013. She was awarded a Dissertation Fellowship from the American Association of University Women for her research: “The Politics of Sexual Aesthetics: Women and Girls Crafting Bodies.” Jillian's research projects focus on contemporary art, sexualities, and girls’ studies. She was formerly Curatorial Associate at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami where she created the nationally acclaimed “Women on the Rise!” outreach program for teen girls. She has organized several exhibitions of contemporary art and published essays in her areas of interest.
The Power of Sexual Aesthetics: Women and Girls Crafting Bodies examines how people of color respond creatively to being framed as sexually deviant through normative assessments of their corporeal styles in the U.S. This work comprises a comparative study of how aesthetics shape the racialization of African American, Latina, and black, non-Latina Caribbean immigrant women and girls. The dissertation constructs its argument by juxtaposing the body crafting practices of heterosexual and LBTQ young women of color I have worked with through community arts outreach, with contemporary women artists of color whose work portrays explicitly raced and sexualized bodies. Employing a multi-method approach, the study combines focus groups with young women, interviews with artists, reception study, and visual analysis of music videos, YouTube media, photographs, collages, and paintings, to fashion a transdisciplinary synthesis. Bridging Art History, Gender, Sexuality, African American, Latino/a, Critical Race, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies, the dissertation traces the circulation of raced female bodies in the visual fields of popular culture, fine art, and everyday social spaces, domains in which norms of body presentation and representation are both crystallized and challenged. Case studies of “chonga” girls, masculine body presenting young women, and contemporary cultural producers elaborate the modes through which racialized corporeal aesthetics are valued. This project highlights a double standard: vernacular images and embodiments of sexuality fashioned by disadvantaged girls more often draw negative critiques and cultural devaluation in social discourse when compared to more professional pictures and bodies lauded as “edgy” and “innovative” for their sexual content in the elite art world, popular culture, and media. The Power of Sexual Aesthetics analyzes how body crafting practices may work to both reveal and occult class disparity in a contemporary neoliberal context. The power of neoliberal discourse lies in its obfuscation of class exclusions and structures, and effective circulation of narratives concerning the putative potential of self-making and overcoming economic circumstances. This dissertation argues that the dissident aesthetics of poor and working class women and girls of color have the potential to unmask realities of class stratification, hence their disciplining as racially, sexually, and aesthetically excessive.