Stephanie Toal

Stephanie Toal

“Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”
― Alexander Pope, The Rape of The Lock

In “The Rape of the Lock”, we see that  Belinda is the most beautiful woman in her social circle. Her beauty is said to shine brighter than the sun.  When Belinda is stripped of the lock, her beauty seems to disappear.

Pope’s, The Rape of the Lock shows the amount and what kind of pressure women were under to be physically beautiful, and it is understanding to women—but only up to a point. Pope belittles the effort and time that women spending on into looking beautiful even though he understands how much their place in society depends on their looks.

            “The Rape of the Lock”, Pope expresses his awareness of the social stress and influence on women, alongside the difficulty of expectations. We first saw this social pressure, “Once her beauty is marred by losing a lock of hair and thus unbalancing her hairdo, Belinda’s place is society seems lost as well. As her friend Thalestris exclaims, (The Rape of the Lock 5.100-101).”

            In other writing, Pope also reveals this rare sense of control that society puts on the pressure of being beautiful, which seem to shape traditions and customs of women’s lives at this time.  This expresses the idea that women were controlled by men at this time. In the same writing, Pope projects the example of women to act as models of good humor, and a good sense in spite of their unavoidable difficulties.  This is shown in “The Rape of the Lock”, with the mocking of Belinda, where he expresses that women have no characteristics that make them special and it is simply all about the looks (“The Rape of the Lock.").

As we have read in “The Rape of the Lock”, Belinda is caught up with the external beauty that she receives in her daily life. We know that from the story, it takes two people each morning to get her dressed and ready, before she is ready for the day. In Canto 1, when the Sylphs are talking it was stated that “Betty is praised for efforts not her own” (The Rape of the Lock).

 In the 17th century and over the course of this semester we have found that many of the women are suffering from internal crisis. Whether questioning who they are  and even their believes, believing they only have external beauty is a part of this self-inflicting crisis. Being considered beautiful is more than just what is seen on the outside.

The women in "The Rape of the Lock", like other characters who we have encountered this semester, struggle with social expectations and personal individuality. External beauty seems to be only displayed in "The Rape of the Lock", but in life, internal beauty is worth more.

This is a picture of Alexander Pope who is the author of The Rape of the Lock from 1794.

This is a picture of Alexander Pope who is the author of The Rape of the Lock from 1794.

About This Exhibit


Stephanie Toal


Inspired by the pressure of being beautiful on female characters in literature studied throughout the semester. Specifically the beauty standards portrayed in The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope based off the influence of society and social standards.

~ Cosmetics~

Women and men, dating all the way back in time have always deeply cared about their outer appearance. Applying makeup is almost like a science that takes a lot of time and patience. There is a proper order in which cosmetics need to be applied in order to receive the desired results.

Both men and women can understand the feeling of when a big social event is coming up the scars or pimple on our faces or body can be really embarrassing and take away from the beauty you want everyone to see. Women at this time used patches of shapes and other designs as a way to hide and cover up what they would consider an imperfection on their body. Patches on the face began to become a social norm with pictures, as well as becoming a form of medical treatment (Revising the Visage: Patches And Beauty Spots In Seventeenth-Century British And Dutch Painted Portraits."). These patches seen to of acted almost as a decorative band aid that was placed all over the body.


This is a portrait of a women in 1762. This image was painted by Jason Blackburn

This is a portrait of a women in 1762. This image was painted by Jason Blackburn

~ Hair Fashion~

             Hair styles as we know from today’s society change with the seasons. Hair is a type of accessory that can be changed or altered depending on the fashion style. Hair is just one example of beauty that has seen to be acknowledged by many in the seventeenth century. For many at this time having healthy maintained hair was for the privileged. As we have seen over the seventeenth century hair styles have ranged from being up high on the head with accents.

            Hair fashions and style is a model of beauty, as well as portray of health as well of social status and wealth. From high hair filled curls, to straight parts with curl on the end. Hair belongs along the face outlining the face shape giving it depth and texture. Hair styles or fashions was a way to help the essentials of makeup and the beauty women were portraying (Beautiful Hair, Health, and Privilege in Early Modern England"). Often hair styles would include accessories such as pins, lace, and flowers to add more design to enhance the beauty one was trying to portray.

  From “The Rape of the Lock”, we know that Belinda is devastated when her lock is cut off. Belinda’s “anxious cares” and “secret passions” after the loss of her lock are equal to the emotions of all who have ever known “rage, resentment and despair” (Canto 4).  Towards the end of Canto 4 Belinda states “Oh, hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize / Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!”  This is one way in which Belinda is justifying purely on how much her outer appearance is cherished above everything else.

Given how much pressure there was on women and how much work they put in to conform, it is both great that Pope recognizes the pressure and disappointing that he chooses to make fun of what women do when they give in to the pressure to doctor their looks.

The author of the image was Peter Paul Rubens. The image is his second wife labeled Helena Fourment.

The author of the image was Peter Paul Rubens. The image is his second wife labeled Helena Fourment.


Chaudhri, S. K., and N. K. Jain. "History Of Cosmetics." Asian Journal Of Pharmaceutics       (Medknow Publications & Media Pvt. Ltd.) 3.3 (2009): 164-167. Academic Search            Complete. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

This journal article was helpful in grasping a better understanding of how the wealthy held the standards of  beauty with cosmetics and lavish fragrances. It is interesting to see the different ways scents were used in the seventeenth century.

Hearn, Karen1. "Revising the Visage: Patches And Beauty Spots In Seventeenth-Century      British  And Dutch Painted Portraits." Huntington Library Quarterly 78.4 (2015): 809-823. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

This article was helpful in allowing others to see the different ways people in the seventeen and eighteenth century would use different materials for medical use as well as beauty enhancers. Having the pressure of being a structure of beauty was interesting to see when compared alongside with medical use.

SNOOK, EDITH. "Beautiful Hair, Health, And Privilege In Early Modern England." Journal For  Early Modern Cultural Studies (University Of Pennsylvania Press) 15.4 (2015):      22. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

Beautiful Hair, Health and Privilege in Early Modern England, introduced this knowledge that having healthy and done hair, was only for the wealthy. It was a clear understanding as to why in many portraits of women at this time had beautifully decorated hair that was healthy and full.

"The Rape of the Lock." Pope, Rape of the Lock. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.             <>.’

The Rape of the Lock, was extremely useful in getting a clear understanding of the type of social pressure that was placed on women. This social influence that has women basically trained to look and portray themselves a certain way- was extremely fascinating.