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The first thing most people notice about someone is how physically attractive they are; yet we are told every day that looks do not matter. Our world is filled with hypocrisy when talking about the notion of beauty. Many quotes and inspirational messages line our halls and are often the background of choice on teenage girl’s cellphones. We are taught that “Beauty is only skin deep” from a young age, but if this really is the truth why do girls starve themselves to be skinny or bleach the life out of their hair?
Countless cultures and people around the world covet physical beauty. Take a peek at any magazine and there are articles and pictures of how a girl “should look” to feel attractive. This phenomenon has been around for centuries. The late 1500’s were a completely male dominated society and in this time a woman’s looks were pretty much all she had to offer. William Shakespeare wrote a sonnet titled “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” and in this story the speaker shows the reader that outer beauty is not the most important feature in a significant other.
The speaker opens the poem with the assertion “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;” (line 1). Right off the bat he is expressing negative attributes about his mistress, or so we think. Does anyone really want to look into a person’s eyes and be blinded by them? Looking into the sun is dangerous so no wonder he would rather look into hers. Following this remark, the speaker states that, “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, when then her breasts are dun;” (lines 2-3).
Back in Shakespeare’s time all women coveted red lips and a fair complexion. They even went as far to use products containing mercury, an element that is extremely harmful to their bodies. The features mentioned above were required in order to be considered attractive in that time. The speaker is admitting that his mistress has neither the red lips nor the fair complexion that are seen as prevailing features at that time. As the speaker advances in his description of the mistress, He continues the story with “if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks;” (lines 4-6) She doesn’t show signs of having well kept hair as those who are held in higher esteem. Staying clean was not an easy task back in those days due to the lack of clean water and soaps. Her cheeks had no blush to them either. In a society that is obsessed with youth and beauty, rosy cheeks are a must and the mistress seems to be missing them. Returning to the point of there being a scarcity in soap, the speaker progresses with the phrase “And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” (lines 7-8).
Of course oral hygiene was hard to maintain with in those days but the speaker seems to just keep talking down on his supposed mistress. As the poem continues he talks about her voice and it’s less than pleasing sound. “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound” (lines9-10). Here the reader can interpret he is saying that her words are more important to him than the sound of her voice. The speaker wants to hear what she has to say and the sound is unimportant.
It’s her mind that he values more. The speaker is aware there are sweeter sounds like music but he would rather listen to her speak. In another seemingly negative description of his mistress depicting her walk, the speaker expresses, “I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground” (lines 11-12) Here the speaker is giving a depiction about the gait to his mistress’ walk. A goddess is supposedly able to float as they walk, and according to the speaker, the mistress certainly does not do that.
. These lines in the poem depict a kind of satire in comparison to other love poems and stories. A message that can be read here is that the mistress is a more realistic object of his affection than the exaggerated descriptions of other writers. The mistress of course doesn’t float, but he still compares her to a mythological goddess in a negative way as a resemblance to other works. Finally, the ending of the poem is where all the negativity and insults are reconciled.
The speaker says “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare,” (lines 13-14) to make up for everything the speaker has to say about his mistress. His love for her is rare considering her lack of physically attractive attributes and he can’t even believe it himself. The speaker can’t find the words to justify himself for his love. To him, no woman can ever compare to his mistress. Her flaws are what make her unique and separate her from the bunch. He sees through her appearances and loves her just the way she is.
When we look back at the poem with the speaker’s outlook in the last lines, we see the piece in a whole new light. The speaker’s feelings support that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and show how the social stigma has no impact on his love for her. Girls today have to realize they can offer an extremely large amount of things aside from their looks. Women and men are considered equals today and should bring more to the table. The mind and soul is a powerful combination and is vastly more important than physical appearance.