Why an authentic voice? Authenticity brings with it believability, credibility, trust, and engagement. As women, we must find and use this voice.
A few days ago, my friend sent me a VICE article about Love is Blind cast member, Jessica. The piece focused on how Jessica’s voice shifts from one that is of a lower register, to a “sexy baby voice,” one that is high-pitched and abundant with vocal fry. Why? The article references Deborah Grayson Reigel, MSW, who wrote “about adult women deploying the sexy baby voice for strategic purposes” in a 2017 Psychology Today blog post. Author Harron Walker states:
Apparently, using a baby voice has the effect of minimizing the speaker’s power, making her seem weaker in a given situation than she actually is. It can also make her seem more vulnerable and less capable of handling conflict…
As a loyal fan of the show, as well as a voice and speech coach, I would have to agree. Whether she knows it or not, Jessica is using this “sexy baby voice” to make herself seem smaller and weaker. Yet, I also ask the question: Why? Why does Jessica want to seem less powerful, and why is she using her voice to do so?
As we find out on the show, Jessica is an executive at an IT company. She makes a six-figure salary, owns her own home (plus an adorable golden retriever), and tells fiancée Mark that it took her years to get to this position. She works 70+ hours a week and if Mark wants her to do his laundry, she’ll bring it to a wash n’ fold. She is honest, clear, and a total powerhouse. This is in direct contradiction to the “sexy baby voice,” used earlier in the season to meet a potential match. Some men had even commented that they “loved” that voice, and it was, in fact, “sexy.” Clearly, this was a kind of voice that these men had heard before. The submissive, helpless, inauthentic voice that we brand as attractive. As a result, I wonder: Perhaps the problem has less to do with Jessica, and more to do with how we reward or penalize women’s authentic voices.
As women, we are taught to avoid using an authentic, consistent voice.
Even Walker, an award-winning journalist, mentions: “I’m literally so uptalk and vocal fry-y when I speak – I get it! I’m also not criticizing her for changing the way she speaks depending on who she’s talking to. Again, guilty! We all do that!” Walker is right. As women, we feel the need to manipulate and change our voices so we can survive. To find a romantic partner, get ahead in our careers, start a family, order a drink at a bar, get out of a parking ticket. The list continues. We use the voice to manipulate because the voice is our first line of defense. Our emotions live in our belly and come out through the voice and how we speak. We hear the voice shake when we start to cry, and when our anxiety heightens in public settings, the voice can often be the first giveaway. We even assume a speaker’s confidence based on the sound, and most importantly, we use the voice as a barometer of whether or not to trust that person. So, when someone speaks in what we perceive to be an inauthentic way, we are challenged to like them or believe their words. This puts women in a tricky situation. We are taught to change our voices based on the situation and to avoid finding an authentic sound. Yet, this means that we are also seen as less powerful or less trustworthy.
We must break this cycle.
As more and more women speak up about injustice, we have to use our authentic voices to get our message across. We cannot deepen our voices when we want to be taken seriously, or make them higher-pitched when we’re on a date. Our voices have a variety of resonances and respond more to authentic emotion and thought, rather than forcing ourselves to be heard a certain way. Frankly, it just doesn’t work in the long run. And, we will feel worse knowing that we haven’t spoken in a true way. If your voice is naturally higher, speak. If your voice is naturally lower, speak. If it’s a combination of the two, again, speak. We have spent decades trying to find acceptance, and it is time to find a sound that is real to each of us. To find the truth, we must begin to speak with authenticity. Breathe, locate yourself, and say what you need and want to say. You’re enough.