The Barry White effect

I lost my voice. Not in the metaphorical I’ve-lost-the-power-to-be-heard kind of way, but in the literal sense. Thanks to some well-timed hay fever symptoms and a cold caught from one of the many sick people I’ve encountered over the past few weeks, my voice was almost completely kaput. And true to form and habit, I really didn’t know what I had until it was gone.

As a kid, I was always a bit anxious about how I sounded. As a female in a family of fairly dainty women, I was the deep voiced ten year old in the corner who just wanted to answer the telephone without people assuming she was the man of the house. We didn’t even have a man of the house at that time.

I remained self-conscious about it well into my teens, although I did have a brief stint where me and my siblings would pretend we had a radio show and record episodes on my voice recorder. Still, it remained another thing that I thought separated me from the other girls, and added to the reasons boys didn’t seem that interested in me romantically.

Plus, if you’re a shy teenager who dies inside every time someone makes direct eye contact with you, having a deep and extremely recognisable voice does not exactly help you to remain hidden in the shadows. Much like Batman is, minus fighting bad guys and the constant surface level anger.

And then I got a bit older and discovered that women with deep voices were considered in some circles to be sexy as hell. Unfortunately I didn’t exactly belong to any of these circles, but I knew that they were out there. I still rejected my real voice though, always subconsciously making my voice an octave higher than usual in a place with new people. I began to notice again that people paid attention when I spoke, even when I was saying something pretty mundane (which was most of the time, because let’s be honest, no one is interesting all of the time), and that perhaps the power of my voice extended beyond even me.

The full embracing of my deep and “powerful” voice however, probably only came into effect when I got into spoken word poetry. When I started recording my own spoken word stuff, I actually began to like how I sounded and found I could manipulate my voice to make a better point (yes, yes, this is nothing new but if you hadn’t already guessed Reader, I’m what you would call ‘slow on the uptake’).

So imagine my dismay last week when I lost my voice. How was I supposed to complain loudly about tube travel in London when my voice was but the whisper of a fairy? How could I argue vehemently with friends about the political ramifications of certain films when all I could get out in my indignation was a squeak? And how on earth were people supposed to take me seriously when I sounded like a mild mannered new age therapist who spoke in hushed tones so as not to aggravate the spirits?

I wanted my deep, dark voice back. People were mistaking my whispers as sensitivity and empathy, and that just could not continue for much longer – I have a reputation to uphold! I would much rather portray that side of myself for real anyway, rather than in the form of an assumption from the other person.

I didn’t know how significant my voice was to me becoming the person I am, until it took a hiatus. Plus I couldn’t sing in the shower anymore which was quite annoying.

I finally got it back after about five days, and a new love hath sprung forth for my Barry White-esque tones ever since. I can’t help but feel that maybe people might have preferred me a bit more softly spoken, but where would we be if Barry White had accepted that as his fate and not paved the way for other deep-voiced kindred spirits? There would be no baseline for what is a deep and sexy voice for one thing; and we would likely be in a world filled with Bee Gee impersonators.

I don’t think anyone wants that alternate reality.

Image credit: beard by Santiago Arias from the Noun Project

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Maame Blue

Writer| Poet| Blogger| Ghanaian by heart, Londoner by nature

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