While the theme is not referred to directly by the speaker, it may be discovered through imagery of beauty that most women are able to relate to. The line “...and affection where the eye/ is least correctable...” has an emotional connotation that almost any female will understand. It refers to the way that there is always a certain part of the face that simply can’t be changed. We apply certain types of makeup to enhance certain areas of our faces and make them more noticeable, and when we are unable to make them look better, in a sense, it’s often frustrating. Women get upset when we are unable to look the way that we prefer. Later in the poem, the lines “For beauty’s sake, assault and drive and burn/ the devil from the simply perfect sun” appear. This is a hyperbole that represents the struggle that women go through in order to be perceived as beautiful to others. We don’t literally burn or assault ourselves; the beauty routines that we undergo every day are considered assault on our bodies, and the way that we use heat on our hair and bodies are perceived as us burning ourselves for beauty’s sake. The flaws on a woman’s body are referred to as “the devil” in these lines, because we loathe our flaws and consider them a horrid thing. We worry so much about impressing other people that we don’t have time to appreciate our flaws and consider them beautiful as well.
Heather McHugh is an American poet who was born on August 20, 1948. McHugh is not only a poet, but a translator and an educator. She has received many awards and honors for her work, such as two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Griffin Poetry Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. In Praise of Pain was published in 1994, when more and more beauty products were up and coming. In the 90s, popular hairstyles included the “Rachel Cut,” the bob, bangs, and bleach blonde hair color. Makeup was kept to a minimum; Kate Moss brought about an androgynous look