Cities are places where the tensions of modernity are apparent in everyday life. Cities represent progress. They are places of aspiration for youth desiring lives of comfort and modernity, where they encounter new lifestyles, new products, and new ways of doing things. In the Philippines, cities are sites of a great divide between those who can afford the modern urban lifestyle and those who must watch from the side-lines. They are also places to observe the broader social trends of feminization of labor and the emergence of the service sector.
It is in the city that young Filipino women find themselves competing and aspiring. The prominence of chemicals (from cosmetics, skin-whitening products to alcohol) in their everyday lives invites exploration of how they understand and experience beauty, body utility, sexuality, and the self. My research focuses on different groups of young women in the rapidly urbanizing city of Cagayan de Oro in southern Philippines, sales workers in a cut-throat service sector defined by consumption, lesbians navigating and reimagining identity, and call center agents required to personify the global. I treat the practices of chemical use among young women as a window on the frictions of modernity, on their experiences of the body, and how they imagine, negotiate and reappropriate identity.