The women who grace the cover and center spread of the July–December
2006 issue of Wedding Essentials, a magazine designed for Manila’s most
fashionable brides-to-be, initially seem like any other cover girls (figures 1
and 2). Four beautiful Filipinas dressed in gauzy white stand with their arms
entwined. They model dresses made of delicate piña fiber and luminous
satin, hybrid haute-couture creations inspired by traditional Filipina formal
dresses, Western wedding gowns, and Japanese kimonos. Yet these bodies
on display are charged with a weighty nationalist task. Titled ‘‘The Four
Faces of Maria Clara,’’ the spread—advertised on the cover as a calling for
Filipina brides to ‘‘embrace your heritage, celebrate your culture’’—publi-
cizes Philippine wedding gowns that incorporate ‘‘native’’ materials to en-
hance the Filipina bride’s unique beauty.∞ The models, the magazine tells us,
represent di√erent types of Filipina femininity: mestiza, morena, chinita, and
dusky. Accompanying captions divide and categorize their essential charac-
teristics, with observations about each model’s presumed ancestral origin,
class position, and defining personal qualities. Culled from the sleek pages
that document Manila high fashion, ‘‘The Four Faces of Maria Clara’’ makes
the contemporary Filipina, distilled into four containable and ostensibly
replicable versions.
The cover and center spread are even more remarkable because of the text
that accompanies the women’s photos. The title alludes to the lead female
character in José Rizal’s Spanish-language novel Noli Me Tangere (1887), a
beloved work of literature that has long been read as one of the foundational
texts of Philippine nationalism. Rizal’s character Maria Clara was a tragic
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