Live Through This

Girl Talk

My voice makes me sound like I’m an airhead, but I’m not.

Illustration by Kelly

When I was a kid, I never thought twice about my voice. All of my friends sounded just like me—quick, high-pitched, and perpetually bubbly. Anyone who heard us knew where we were from: the San Fernando Valley, a suburban area of Los Angeles made famous in the 1980s by Moon Unit Zappa’s hit song “Valley Girl,” in which she mimicked our rhythms and cadences. See for yourself:

(A modern-day example of “Val-speak” might be the Kardashian sisterhood: they live about 10 minutes away from my childhood home.)

My voice is the calling card I never asked for and that, try as I might, I can’t throw away. Every time I embark on a new enterprise with the vague idea of redefining myself on my own terms (a job, a move, a friend, a date), I expose my Valley-girl roots the moment words begin to tumble out of my mouth, despite my best attempts to—as my high-school drama teacher once commanded me—speak at least five times slower than I perceive myself to be speaking.

The first time I remember feeling defined by my voice was at drama camp, where I yearned to play soulful romantic leads or brassy ball-busters, but was consistently cast as the ditz, the flirt, or anyone with a Southern accent. (According to most playwrights, Southern girls are both flirty and ditzy.)

In middle school I spent hours upon hours writing poetry on LiveJournal, not so much because I liked poetry, but because I loved constructing my identity solely through sans-serif fonts and an excessive use of enjambment. I made friends through the site, cool girls that I won over with thrift store finds and references to the Smiths. “Your voice doesn’t sound anything like I thought it would” was always the first thing they said when we talked on the phone. I worried: were they disappointed that my voice didn’t match my sophisticated online persona?

When I went away to college up north, at UC Berkeley, I worked hard to drop the “likes” from my vernacular and stop raising my voice at the end of every sentence, making each statement of fact into a question. It was easier to do this once I’d left the Valley, because I wasn’t around as many girls who sounded like extras from Clueless.

But I could never shake the speedy tempo or the ebullient patter. I started feeling judged and it hurt. Some memories:

—My freshman year of college, my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and her friends made up a code name for me so they could write mean Facebook comments about us. (Nice, right?) My pseudonym was “mouse.” Squeak squeak.

—A creative-writing professor told me, in front of the entire class, that my writing reminded him of Henry James, but that he never had any idea what I was saying when I raised my hand during discussion period. I barely registered the compliment.

—This anecdote really makes me cringe, but once, a guy asked me if I was on cocaine because I was talking so quickly on our first date. I sounded “speedy,” he said.

—When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires my junior year, I was excited to put my six years of honors Spanish to use. But my friends in my program made fun of my inability to roll my Rs, and one too many Argentine told me I sounded “like the kids on The O.C.” so—and I still regret this—I stopped speaking Spanish except when necessary.

—A comment I heard dozens and dozens of times: “It wasn’t until I started listening to what you were saying that I realized you were smart, HA HA HA.”

As a result, I started to feel—and honestly, often still feel—that I constantly have to prove that my voice is not representative of the person I really am.

(Before I continue: You’re probably dying to know what I sound like, right? I had all but given up trying to think of an accurate celebrity analogy until I remembered: Lizzie McGuire. Not Hilary Duff, who played her, but Lizzie. This is an acceptable way for a 13-year-old girl to talk, but I am a 24-year-old woman.)

Since people tend to infer that I’m a ditz when they meet me, I constantly stress about presenting the more “intellectual” side of myself. But lately I’ve been wondering if the issue is larger than my uncontainable inner Lizzie. What does it really mean to “talk like a girl”?

In a recent Jezebel piece titled “Are Women’s High-Pitched Ladyvoices Holding Them Back?” Erin Gloria Ryan wrote, “Research shows that people prefer listening to instructions from deep, rich baritones over nags from high tittering trills.” I was disappointed when, instead of bemoaning the survey and its results, commenters made fun of squeaky voices or self-consciously wondered if they had “ladyvoices,” too.

Admittedly, it’s hard not to think in stereotypes when it comes to female voices. I’ve joked that I symbolize the worst parts of both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Fast-Talking Dame. I’m a tad manic, but not mysterious enough to be a Pixie, which I wouldn’t want to be anyway; and I’m snappy, but not sultry enough to embody the Dames I respect.

But we ladies really don’t have that many choices when it comes to how we should speak! There’s breathy, little-girl Marilyn. Heavily accented, over-the-top sultry, like Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. So many pejorative terms: screechy, shrill, whiny. And think: when do people criticize male voices? Not as often, but sometimes if they’re not “manly” enough—then they’re fey, lisping, or adenoidal. Hey, wait! We belittle women for having “girly” voices…but we belittle men for having “girly” voices, too?

Maybe the problem is not so much a girl’s voice, but the fact that she is a girl.

Feminist notions aside, I still can’t help feeling sometimes like it’s just not cool to have an effervescent voice if you want to be a serious person, a sexy person, or an important person. But then I realize that, despite my insecurities, I’ve never really lost out on any opportunities because of the way I speak. I’ve written front-page newspaper stories, won scholarships, and developed close relationships with professors and bosses. I have amazing friends, and guys somehow still like me, even though I talk a mile per minute. There are also some benefits to coming across as “ditzy”: I’m a great interviewer, because people feel comfortable telling me their secrets. I’m nonjudgmental, because I know from experience how much it hurts to be characterized as a “ditz” or “bitch” or “slut” based on a first impression.

For most of my life, I thought my voice highlighted the qualities I dislike about myself: my Valley-girl past, my impetuousness, my impatience, my inability to chill out. But my voice also reflects my best traits: I think very quickly, I’m energetic, and I’m adventurous. I’m empathetic, a communicator, and constantly engaged. These are qualities that I know the people in my life appreciate, the qualities that, as corny as it sounds, make me who I am.

So I’m working on it. Just don’t ask me to read this out loud. ♦

Katie J.M. Baker is a writer living in New York. You can learn more about her here.


  • queserasera January 30th, 2012 11:14 PM

    I can relate so much to this! All my life (well 16 yrs of it) I’ve been teased about my babyish high-pitched voice. It’s been likened to a pig, bat, squirrel, etc. Some even tell me I must be faking it, but I swear, I would give anything to have a low husky voice. I annoy myself and I cringe every time I hear myself recorded. I guess I’ll learn to like it someday. But not now.

  • missblack January 30th, 2012 11:19 PM

    OK, I have to admit that the narrator-voice thing is totally true, because:
    a) I trust the Allstate guy implicitly and
    b) I believe anything the narrator of the Biography channel says.



  • Emily D January 30th, 2012 11:20 PM

    This is a super cool article! Go Katie! This isn’t quite in the same, but I have a bit of a intense laugh…cross someone with whooping cough with an ambulance siren and you might be there. But anyway, when I get really excited and start talking really high pitched and laugh, more often than not whoever I’m talking to doesn’t take me seriously anymore. I’ve received the jabs, and accusations of faking it, and once was even shushed in a theater (it was a comedy. bah.) and even though it makes me feel bad, I have to remind myself that it’s my genuine laugh- and I love laughing. No one’s gunna stop me.

  • marit January 30th, 2012 11:32 PM

    thanks for sharing! you’re so right, and it’s a good reminder not to stereotype or be judgmental.

    faux style.

  • unicorn January 30th, 2012 11:36 PM

    Up until about a year ago, I didn’t know what my voice sounded like. I heard myself talk, but to me it just sounded like a normal, mid-pitched voice.
    After hearing myself on video, I was just like what? I have this pretty high pitched, soft , clueless sounding voice. Because I’m blonde and have a total airhead voice, people assume that I am a total airhead, when I’m not.
    We need to stop judging people based on their voices.

  • saltfire. January 30th, 2012 11:46 PM

    I’m from the Inland Empire and I have this same problem. It’s pretty infuriating when someone decides to focus on the sound of your voice rather than what you’re saying. This whole thing pretty much embodies everything about this subject that frustrates me. I’ve always known that I’m not the only one with this problem, but it’s nice to actually see that there are others dealing with the same things I am, thanks for this post.

  • Mary January 30th, 2012 11:48 PM

    I have always been really insecure about the pitch of my voice and it’s prevented me from my dream of singing. This has inspired me to keep practicing and be less hard on myself for what I have. Thank you for writing this!

  • fizzingwhizbees January 30th, 2012 11:55 PM

    This is a super cool article. I’ve actually always had to deal with the exact opposite problem – I got made fun of as a kid for having a low voice and “sounding like a man”. So girls just can’t win :/

    • roserach February 9th, 2012 10:03 PM

      I completely agree. I have a speech problem. It means I can’t pronounce “r” and “l” correctly. It sounds like a British accent. I’ve found that people will stop you in the middle of a sentence and laugh. Then as if what I was saying was only being said to show off my “funny” voice, they will change the subject to how I sound weird or funny when I say that word. I stand there wondering if I’ll ever actually get to finish that sentence with that “funny” word in it. Simplified, I totally agree from personal experience

  • dearmia January 30th, 2012 11:55 PM

    I can relate. I was born in Texas and I’m Mexican-American, so I have a Mexican/Texan accent. However, I live in New Jersey, so there’s a bit of that in there. I talk really fast, too, and use Texas/New Jersey slang. My voice can’t fit in anywhere hah

  • Adrienne January 30th, 2012 11:57 PM

    I feel like I have multiple voices. For example, my voice tends to be a little more high-pitched, polite, and innocent when addressing adults. When I’m talking to other teens, the voice is a little lower but still somewhat overly polite. Then, when I talk to the people closest to me (friends and fam), my natural voice is lowest.

    And, I also say “like” quite often! I think it’s a way to fill up pauses and such.

  • Miarele January 30th, 2012 11:59 PM

    This reminds me of an article I read earlier about the “Iron Lady Effect”, namely women lowering their voices in aspiration to replicate Margaret Thatcher’s success :

  • Hana January 31st, 2012 12:04 AM

    I can’t relate to this per-say. But I understand where being judged because of how one talks/sounds.

    I have a fairly deepish voice. I grew up in Toronto, so I guess you can say I have a “city accent”.

    When I travel to southern states for work or to visit family. I am told I sound “sophisticated” and “my words are too big”. Also, I have been told that I sound like a prude or bitch, and having chronic-bitch-face doesn’t help either (thanks dad!).

    Furthermore, I work in film & TV, and it is ridiculous that all documentaries and films set in the past (ancient Egypt, Greece, old-timey France, etc) have to have British voice-overs/actors! It’s silly, but that’s what media and society likes to hear when they’re told stuff, everything just “sounds smarter”. HMPH.

    Anyways, I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. But folks should never judge a person because of how they sound (or look!)

    Thank you for the wonderfully written article Katie!


  • TessAnnesley January 31st, 2012 12:06 AM

    I completely understand this article, actually because I have the opposite problem – I’m a 17 year old girl with a very deep, strong voice and the number of times I have answered the phone and someone has assumed I am my equally-deep-voiced mother, my 17 year old twin brother or even my father is RIDICULOUS. I do drama at school, and have therefore been cast as the king, the general or the ‘man’ in any way because of my voice. Dude. I CAN 9IN FACT PLAY A WOMAN. Ugh.

  • glitter and gold January 31st, 2012 12:14 AM

    I’ve always wished for a sort of “Valley Girl” voice. Apparently, I have an “East Coast prep” accent- not a Boston or a New Jersey or a New York accent, though. My voice was once described to me as “what someone would sound like if they had gone to prep school in Connecticut for their whole life and was about to ‘do lunch with Muffy at the country club.’” I’ve tried to make my voice higher or bubblier, but it simply doesn’t work.

  • littleDani January 31st, 2012 1:21 AM

    It’s a bummer people judge you over something you can’t really help.

    My voice is kinda monotone. Not exactly Daria. I guess a mix of Daria and Jane.

  • Susann January 31st, 2012 1:50 AM

    This article was wonderfully written and I can sort of relate to it..

  • Narnie January 31st, 2012 2:38 AM

    Oh my god, this is so important in terms of feminism. It’s interesting how female voices are described as shrill, “like a banshee”, or whiney, but you never hear the same words used to describe mens voices. Yes, they may be lower pitched, but to me it seems like a reflection on how society views women, given the negative connotations of the words.

  • tankgrrrl January 31st, 2012 2:38 AM

    I can absolutely relate. I’m 21 and I sound like a bored 6-year-old (I also look like a young teenager, despite my mohawk and plethora of piercings). I spent a while trying to hide it (my goal was to sound like Daria), but I’ve decided fairly recently to own my little-girl sound. I’m from the Northwest, so I don’t really have an accent but I sort of pick up other people’s. I dunno. My voice is weird, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

  • timelady January 31st, 2012 5:09 AM

    I lived in the Valley my entire childhood and finally left when I turned 18. English is my second language, so I ended up sounding like a Canadian with a bit of valley girl (I try so hard not to say “like” but it’s hard). I too have a small, squeaky voice. It doesn’t help that I get mistaken for a 12 year old all the time. I only sound like an adult when I’m sick.

  • Gerlin January 31st, 2012 6:39 AM

    Although I don’t get it this bad, I can totally relate to what you wrote! I’m not American but Belgian and have a pretty shrill and loud voice (both when I speak my mother tongue or any other language like English – I’m always told I sound suuper American). I also tend to talk very rapidly and A LOT. Though no one’s made any explicitly mean comments about it, people do tend to mock it a little (also probably cause I tend to say silly/ridiculous things without realising it).
    What I mostly related to / appreciated was the fact that you said it reflects your best traits. I’d never really thought about it like that but it’s the exact same with me! And it’s also what people appreciate in me so that’s definitely comforting.
    So thanks, basically.

  • MissKnowItAll January 31st, 2012 7:39 AM

    It makes me so happy to read this because it’s so true. I grew up in New York and both my parents are Indian. New York is primarily made up of immigrants but it always hurts when people look at my (slight) accent and think I’m an idiot. My older brother was also born here but he had an accent anyway. He graduated at the top of his class but people still can’t look past the accent.

  • Rachael January 31st, 2012 8:04 AM

    Oh man, I can relate. I have a high, lispy voice and since I have trouble communicating on the fly anyway (I prefer to organize my thoughts on paper) I feel like I perpetually sound like a clueless child when I speak.

    I thought speech therapy had gotten rid of the lisp until my drama teacher mentioned it during an evaluation and said that she could tell I was self-conscious about it because I rarely spoke. I actually didn’t talk much because I was shy. But thanks, teacher, NOW I’m self-conscious about it.

    • brynntheredonethat January 31st, 2012 4:54 PM

      It’s not exactly voice-related, but people (teachers, included) do the same thing to me regarding skin tone. My face tends to get really red, even when something isn’t actually that big of a deal to me, and I remember earlier this year my Lit teacher (in front of the whole class) asked me why my face was so red and told me I didn’t have to be scared. Well, there wasn’t a reason my face was so red, until you asked me why my face was so red.

  • JAworthy January 31st, 2012 9:08 AM

    I love this piece! I’ve been judged based on the way I talk many times.

    I think it would be lovely if Rookie had a post by a Muslim or something in the future, lots of misconceptions about them.

  • lrnlzbth January 31st, 2012 9:30 AM

    The worst part is, female stereotypes aren’t limited to audible speech. After I read this article, I was reading some of the comments made on the IMDB board for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Beginning with the original poster, a woman that had said that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ripped off Tim Burton was called “harpy,” large breasted, blond, “vacuous”…etc. even by people that have no idea who she is other than the one comment she supposedly made!

    The original poster was called out, but hasn’t made a response.

    “The only thing dumber than her comment is your mentioning her hair color and using the word ‘harpy.’ Cuz those descriptions SURELY get across your main point of calling her dumb, as opposed to your secondary point of calling her a woman.

    Welcome to her club!”

  • geriballmeow January 31st, 2012 11:00 AM

    I can relate as a Southerner. Far too often, a character with a Southern accent is the ignorant, backwards or ditzy person. As a result, most people (outside of the South) can’t believe somebody with a Southern accent can be intelligent, forward thinking, and worldly. I worked on losing my Southern accent as soon as I left the South at the age of 19, and now 26 nobody believes me when I say I’m from Mississippi. I have to say, I wish I still had my Southern accent, as I now would LOVE to smash people’s expectations and show them that by stereotyping me, they’re the ones being ignorant!

  • stepha January 31st, 2012 11:13 AM

    i love hockey, and saturday night hockey is such a big thing in canada. its definitely a boys club, but lately cassie campbell, a future hall of famer id say, has been calling the games and its been awesome to have a female voice up there among all the men. it didnt take long for guys to start complaining about her voice, but shes so hockeysmart and calls the game better than most men. i love her and her beautiful voice.

  • I.ila January 31st, 2012 1:41 PM


    • I.ila January 31st, 2012 1:42 PM

      Also, you are a really, REALLY good singer. the trailer is on, if anyone wants to see it; it’s really great.

      • MissKnowItAll January 31st, 2012 5:04 PM

        Where can I find this????

  • Dahlia January 31st, 2012 2:10 PM

    I have a pretty deep voice naturally (think Fiona Apple) but if I’m not careful, I sound like a bossy child, especially on recordings. Also, I am an incredibly fast talker and the faster I get, the more nasally I sound. Its awful, i have no idea how I have friends. :) the only nice thing about it is the fact I have like an extra lower octave that I can sing thanks to my voice.

  • koolkat January 31st, 2012 2:16 PM

    I’m half American, which is apparently enough in England to be teased. The few words that come out in the wrong accent, and the fact that I speak very quickly and am blonde gives everyone the misconception that I’m not very smart. It’s so stupid that if you say ‘like’ a lot, or have a high voice (I do/have these too) you are immediately stereotyped as a ditz! It’s quite funny really because my writing is very good, but I can barely manage to get out a sentence without confusing everyone, saying the wrong thing and stumbling over my words. People need to find a new way to label others.

  • Whammel January 31st, 2012 3:06 PM

    I have the opposite problem; my voice is supposedly not female enough. I’m very loud, a bit nasal, with a slight Derbyshire accent (one of the more violent-sounding ones) and a rather low, manly tone. People find me threatening in arguments due to it, and although it’s no scarier than an actual man’s voice they have a bit of a double standard because as a woman (and this is a direct quote from a friend) “it just sounds a bit brash and unladylike, and that scares people.” While I don’t think most people are actually that sexist, it does make me nervous that I may be coming across as threatening, something which wouldn’t be such an issue as a bloke. Having said this, accent definitely plays a part in how intelligent people assume you to be whether you’re a man or a woman; someone I know who has a very strong Black Country accent (Brummie, but less depressed- comes top in the polls for “most stupid-sounding British accent”) says he constantly feels pressure to prove his intelligence so people will take him seriously.

  • brynntheredonethat January 31st, 2012 4:43 PM

    I relate completely. I’m sixteen and salespeople have spoken to me on the phone like I’m six. I also have a slight lisp, which doesn’t help, because between that and the high voice people either think I’m too girly or I’m too nerdy, which blocks them from taking me seriously.

  • youarebananas January 31st, 2012 7:13 PM

    ahh, this is ABOUT ME! yesterday we were doing a critique in my art class and after i spoke for several minutes, everyone stared at me and went, “you need to enunciate more…we have no idea what you just said.” a few weeks ago i left a college interview feeling like i sounded SO stupid, because of my voice, and resolved to try to speak in a deeper register to sound more serious–but i don’t know what that says or if i should. thanks for this!

  • erin January 31st, 2012 7:33 PM

    I was always shy as a kid, and now that I’m older, I still don’t talk to people very much, and I tend to stumble over my words quite often. It’s funny though, because while it’s hard for me to actually say things, I can write them really efficiently and intelligently. I think it’s so great that you’ve got past your voice.

  • kaylafay January 31st, 2012 7:36 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this! Even though I live in the city, I’ve been going to school in the San Fernando Valley since 8th grade and most of my friends are there. I have the “valley girl” voice and say “like” too much and always add an “and stuff” to the end of my sentences. Being blonde with big breasts doesn’t help either, so I constantly feel like I need to prove myself around everyone, even my friends. I mentally slap myself if I accidentally say something that comes off as stupid, because it is what people assume from me anyways. I raise my hand too much in class, because I feel the need to prove that I am intelligent. This gets tiring and annoying for me. So, thank you for writing this article. You’ve given me an entirely new perspective about my voice and the way I talk.

  • Emilie January 31st, 2012 7:57 PM

    love this

  • hellomynameisbella January 31st, 2012 9:16 PM

    I don’t know if I’m being overly sensitive or whatever, but I was a little bit annoyed with the “over-the-top sultry” Sofia Vergara comment in the article.

    As a Hispanic girl, it’s really annoying when people make assumptions that Hispanic women with accents are trying to be sexy even when they are not trying to do anything or exude any particular quality.

    If a girl goes to the local high school and has an accent, everyone slut-shames them and assumes stuff about them and they are sexually harassed by the guys AND the girls.

    Half of my family immigrated from Honduras, and my dad still has an accent. In school people would assume that I was dumb or that I couldn’t speak English. All of my female Honduran relatives still have accents, and like Katie they have to deal with judgemental people as well. I just thought it was a little hypocritical of the author of the article to be judgemental toward an entire group of people.

    • katiejmbaker January 31st, 2012 10:27 PM

      hellomynameisbella – Sorry if you were offended! I wasn’t at all assuming that Sofia’s character is representative of Hispanic women – her character on the show is often made fun of for speaking in a very heavy, uber-”sexy” accent, so I was trying to point out how the show’s writers make her voice into a (reeallly overplayed) joke. I wasn’t making fun of her myself. But I think your point is a good one – people often assume certain women are trying to be sexy when they are just being themselves.

      • hellomynameisbella January 31st, 2012 10:37 PM

        It’s okay. Haha. I don’t know I just wish the media would also just create a character that isn’t a stereotype. I haven’t watched the show because of that, but I’ve noted that she has an accent in real life too. So…I don’t know. 0_0

    • Carol January 31st, 2012 10:33 PM

      I completely agree. This post would’ve been perfect, were it not for the implication that Latinas/Hispanic women intentionally heighten their accented voices.

      I’m Puerto Rican and also find it bothersome when English-speakers assume all Hispanics have Sofía’s pronunciation/level of difficulty with English. We don’t. We possess a certain level of understanding concerning both languages (sometimes, a third), which in the first place allows me to comment in a language that is not my own, yet one I have studied for over 12 years.

      • hellomynameisbella February 2nd, 2012 12:39 PM

        Yes! I was talking to my mom about all of this in the car the other day, and I was talking about how I walked into Toys R Us a few months ago with my brother and out of curiousity I went to the doll section just to browse and I saw the Bratz dolls. One of the dolls, and the only Bratz doll that I had seen up to that point with visibly Hispanic features, was named Shadi.


        And Hispanic women in Hollywood like Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek are constantly belittled by interviewers for their heavy accents, and the running joke is that “we can’t understand you!” when I can understand them perfectly.

        It’s gross.

      • lahnnabell February 2nd, 2012 4:41 PM

        I’m a native English speaker, but have studied Spanish formally for 8 years, after which I moved from Boston to San Diego where I’ve been able to practice much of my Spanish on a daily basis. I made a few realizations in that time. Because English is such an intense blend of various languages, the general outcome is a much softer, back-of-the-mouth sound. It’s largely Germanic and therefore incorporates a lot of gutteral and throaty sounds. Spanish (and I say this with love because I LOVE speaking it) is a much more projectile language. It hits the consonants much harder. The rolling of the R’s, even the pronunciation of T’s and V’s, incorporates the front part of the mouth far more than English. I think this is part of why most ignorant Americans think that Hispanics and Latinos speak much louder than they really are.

      • hellomynameisbella February 2nd, 2012 9:31 PM

        Lahnnabell: So…you are a cool person. Haha. I’m serious.

  • Cassidy January 31st, 2012 9:40 PM

    I can totally relate! I have sort of a low, monotone voice, so people tend to think that I am either boring or a stoner…or both. And I am neither!

  • Ayla February 1st, 2012 9:09 AM

    People used to think I had a little sister when Id answer my phone. My voice goes up in pitch quite often unless im pacing myself and formulating well thought out sentences.

    I was bothered by my very very smooth childlike voice last year so i smoked a bunch and now it sort of has a crackle and a fuller tone. I DEFINITELY DON’T RECOMMEND THIS. but I am a lot more pleased with my tone, especially when singing

  • Emily February 2nd, 2012 2:59 AM

    I’m not the loudest person so I tend to mumble and I speak fast sometimes making hard it to understand me. What’s really bad is that in my love for English T.V. shows and my favorite you-tubers I developed a slight British accent. I had to tell all my friends why I was speaking strangely, add on to the fact I say dude, stoked, and sick. I sound like an English skater/surfer which isn’t too bad but it’s a little off putting when I’m from Chicago. There was also when I came back from AK, visiting family I picked up the southern accent which happens pretty much every time I go to visit. It took at least a week to drop Y’All from my sentences.

  • lahnnabell February 2nd, 2012 4:27 PM

    I’m an East-coast raised girl that moved to the West-coast (SoCal) about 4 years ago. I don’t have as much experience with Val-speak but I’ve definitely heard some of it come out in conversations with friends. The turning point for me was when I blurted out the word “grody”, a word I’d never heard before moving to California, in conversation. ‘What just happened?’, was my next immediate thought. The guy I was dating at the time had used it once or twice before, and it’s newness had such an impact on me that it got lodged in my brain. Boston has it’s own language culture (Bostonians tend to drop their R’s, a trait many deem unsophisticated), so it was shocking when I started adopting foreign words. I don’t see it as a bad thing though as language as always fascinated me. What I realized about Val-speak (and all language really) was it was very reflective of the dominant emotional part of the speaker. So, if you’re a naturally exuberant person, speak all the Val you want. :)

  • potameides February 2nd, 2012 7:31 PM

    It’s not often that I’ve come across writing online about this topic, and I’m really glad to have done. :)

    Our voices (and bodies) are just shells. I understand that these shells are the first things others notice. I can’t expect them not to; but if the irrelevance of these ‘casings’ was more apparent to people in general, we’d definitely be a lot happier.

    We all make judgements and think all sorts of things in our lifetimes. What I feel is important though is to assess the truth of these beliefs before making them known.

    I’m sorry these people in your life didn’t properly assess their unfair assumptions of you before doing cruel and ignorant things.

    I’m from England and apparently have a fairly girly, well spoken & young sounding voice. I’m 22 so I am young, but I have been mistaken for around 13/14 years old countless amounts of times because of my voice and face. On so many occassions I have felt held back and definied by this, & these thoughts have caused me a lot of pain as I have let the discrimination set in.

    I think what’s useful to keep in our minds what is really important when it comes down to it- kindness, honesty, empathy etc.

    We can only work on what we can change, and again, that shell’s just not worth nearly as much as a good sense of humour, or an insight into the world around us.

  • Kristin February 3rd, 2012 8:16 PM

    Yes, yes, yes! This article could have been written by me, except something I add to counter my high-pitched voice was a cold stare, so now most people think I’m a bitch. I’ll take it because it means I no longer get rude comments about my voice because people are afraid of me. I also even tried my hand at acting in school and college, and every single one of my acting teachers would be like, “Ok, let’s try it again, but drop the voice.” Um… I can’t.

    I’m sure it’s held me back at work since people think I’m a ditz (and worse, probably, since I’m also Southern), but I swear the cold stare and bitchy attitude have done far more for me since it counters the stereotype that I’m just playing around. I would say it’s isolating, but the amazing people I like to surround myself with always seem to tell it’s a facade and I’ve made some amazing friends. I try to just ignore feeling inadequate, but I wish voices didn’t matter so much!

  • andreamboat February 4th, 2012 5:10 PM

    Great essay. Thank you so much!

    I think you shouldn’t “work on it,” though. I would focus instead on the advantages your voice gives you and use it as a tool to judge other people’s characters. If people can’t get past your voice, maybe they’re squandering your delightfulness!

  • goodtimes February 12th, 2012 1:10 AM

    Are you the same Katie Baker that writes for Grantland? If so, you’re awesome. If not, I’m sure you’re still awesome.

  • b.stro February 28th, 2012 12:05 PM

    It’s funny you mention the Kardashians because I was thinking the same thing about their voices/ way of speaking. Kathy Griffin calls this the “Baby Stripper Voice”, which kinda hits the nail on the head haha.

    I think it’s true that women are judged (very unfairly) by their voices. It’s bad enough we are judged by our looks and how we dress, now we have some other stupid thing to worry about. Have you seen “The Iron Lady”? In the movie Magaret Thatcher is often told to make her voice sound less screechy and more authoritative, and is even told by a male member of Parliament to ‘calm down’ (Have you seen those guys? They’re ALWAYS screaming at each other) and “the lady doth screech too much”. One thing I did like about Maggie (and it’s very hard to like lots of things she did/said/thought were right) was how she never tried to butch herself up just because she was working in the supposed man’s world of poltics. She was unapologetically feminine, from her trademark girlie voice to her pastel suits and blonde bouffant hairdo.