The teeny tiny breathy voice caught my attention. At first I attributed it to the elderly woman sitting at the front of the bus. The fragile smallness of the tone certainly fit the profile. But then I noticed the breathy almost Marilyn quality beneath the tinny squeak. The come hither tone coming from the throat rather than the diaphragm could be the result of a pulmonary condition, but it sounded too controlled, too intentional to be medical in origin. After a few unsubtle craning of the neck I spotted the source, a young woman in her early 20s. Where on earth did she learn to speak like a sexy grandmother? And how do I wrangle an introduction to her grandmother?
Since that mass transit incident I’ve come in contact with hundreds of women ranging in their late teens to late 20s speaking in tiny breathy voices. How did this happen? As little girls did they dream of one day sounding like sexy grandmas? Did they foresee a lucrative career in senior phone sex? Or was it just an adolescent affectation, like dotting ‘i’s’ with hearts, that simply got way out of hand? And what kind of teenage girl wants to sound decrepit? Or could it be what you and I hear as fragile breathy grandma, these uber-indoor voiced gals hear as submissive and thereby somehow enticing? We’ve all been there; the home perms, the blue eye shadow, the clogs. We’ve all done our time in the adolescent hall of mirrors, trying on one misguided identity after another. But I’d like to think had I continued on any of my (many) misguided paths one parent or another would have said something. In fact they did. During the height of my adolescent years I spent all of 5 minutes with an affected voice; having just spent an enriching day with some upper east side girls. I was told in no uncertain terms to unlock my jaw and open my mouth immediately. My country club affectation was quashed before I even made it up to my room, let alone onto a public bus.
Do parents not hear their own children? Does their adoration tinker with their ears giving every utterance the deep solid tones of a young Helen Reddy? Do teachers no longer send students to speech therapy? Do doctors not notice the panting and squeaking? And what of peers; merciless, punishing, unrelentingly critical peers? Shouldn’t there be taunting and antagonizing? Where are the Depends jokes, the lockers draped in support hose? Or are the geriatric geisha voiced gals admired?! Is having a tiny voice whose sole purpose is to entice men, the 21st century equivalent of a 16-inch waist or the ability to play the harpsichord? Is fragile the new black? Are young woman creating virtual corsets resulting in smaller people with diminished voice? If so, to what end? Surely the job interviewing process is not aided by appearing weak and tremulous. My guess is that by 30, their mouths start to open and they find their real voice. Traditionally that’s what metaphorically happens in one’s thirties. The alternative is simply too hideous to contemplate! No one wants to hear quarterly projections or medical test results in a breathy shaky voice. It would be hard to believe the state of the union is anything but doomed hearing it spoken in a squeak. But just in case these women don’t naturally grow out of the contrivance, congratulations to all you vocal coaches and speech therapists, your ship has come in!