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“Charming Eyes”: Exploring Agency through the Beauty and Makeup Practices of Salesladies in Metropolitan Manila’s Department Stores

Aileen Del Rosario Rondilla

Abstract

An examination of the role and meaning of beauty and makeup practices among the salesladies of Metropolitan Manila’s department stores brings forth a worker-centered analysis of “agency” using the notion of “charming eyes.” Here, we find an intimate blending of the practices of working as a saleslady: how compliance  with the company’s “appearance rules” and “beauty standards” serve the interests of retail businesses and are not merely expressions of individuality. Simultaneously, this analysis addresses concerns about working and pursuing their goals, desires, and aspirations in life. Through the ethnographic approach, this study was comprehensively contextualized through the everyday lived experiences of  acting subjects within the setting, thereby capturing their rich voices. Data sources include interviews, life narratives, observations, photo documentation, material object analysis, and secondary research. I argue that the emergence of “agency” is context specific: to reveal “agency” is to understand the context and how practices correspond with the limits and possibilities therein. The salesladies’ “agency” was manifested in the beauty and makeup practices as they enacted work with their respective mobility—social, cultural, economic—projects in mind. This view subverts the usual low-pay, low-status, and lowprestige associations of the occupation. As a counter-narrative, the article shows a specific group of workers making sense of their work conditions as they try to meaningfully engage its constraints and transform their lives on their terms (Ortner 2006).

Keywords

agency, aesthetic labor, beauty practices, body part labor, capital, “charming eyes,” class, department stores, emotional labor, facework, interactive service work, makeup, Metropolitan Manila, Philippines, retail sales work, salesladies, service interact

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