The Story of My Voice

It’s kind of freeing to be online, where no one can hear how your sound. Maybe that’s why I’ve always done a better job articulating myself (or preferred) writing to speaking.

Recently at work we were talking about the sounds of our own voices. This came about because I had gotten a new pair of glasses and I asked them how they looked, and said that when I put it on, I freaked out because I looked like a complete idiot with an unsymmetrical, tiny face. I wasn’t really used to looking at my face in those glasses though, and to be honest, no one really noticed until I pointed it out.

This brought us on to the conversation of hating our own voices. I take a teaching methods class where we are recorded during each lesson we teach for lab and forced to watch it later. God, I sound like such an idiot, is usually my first thought. Most people probably feel this way too, because we are just simply not used to hearing our voices. Okay, so yes, we hear are voices, but we don’t REALLY hear our voices. We hear a much deeper version of our voices inside our heads. The vibrations from our vocal cords mix in to what we’re hearing. On the outside, people just hear output–the air-conducted sounds that are released into other people’s ears as we speak.

It’s such a foreign thing to us. We’re not used to hearing it, and when we hear our own voices, we hear this screechy, annoying sounds. To be, it sounds like I constantly spit when I talk. This is because I have a lisp and I hypernotice it.

I remember in elementary school one of my teacher’s told the speech therapy lady at my school that I had a lisp, and so I was put in speech therapy every day after school. It was terrible. I was introduced to this lady who I barely knew and she asked me to say things like the name of my sister. I remember saying one of my sisters and she corrected me by saying “no, the other one. Your eldest sister.” What? How did this lady know I even had another sister? I was so confused. And then I was told I was talking wrong.

I do think my lisp could have been fixed, but I think they caught it too late. I was maybe already in 5th grade. I knew about stuttering but had never even heard of the concept of a lisp before then. I was moving my tongue too forward or something. The thing that really bugged me was that no matter how hard the speech teacher tried, (and she was a nice lady) I had no idea what she was trying to get me to do. To this day, I still have no idea. I can make a hissing noise but I simply can’t make the regular “s” or even “z” noise. I don’t really think I’m capable of it.

After I left elementary school my parents left behind speech therapy as well, because, quite frankly, it wasn’t working, and I think I was probably getting upset of being chided at home as well. I would try to speak and instead of being listened to, I would be corrected. I loved reading since a very young age and at that point I was already reading a lot by myself. It was frustrating to go back to reading out loud with my mom. It took too long and I wanted to do something else. I wouldn’t sit still for it. I hated speech therapy. Even if I did sound a little bit better when I tried really hard to push my tongue back, it was terrible to work so hard. I had to be super conscious of it. I talked so much slower. I talked less. It wasn’t fun.

Into middle school I remember forgetting about the whole thing and then re-remembering it every once in a while and being extremely conscious. I would remember it for a day or a few hours and during that time, I just talked less or talked slower. In my first two years of middle school I was very jumpy and talkative and so it was odd [to the people around me] whenever that happened. Toward 7th and 8th grade, which is around the time I think I started showing signs of depression as well, I met a girl named Tori. Tori has a lisp too and one day she pointed out my lisp to me. I was horrified for a millisecond until she said she had one too. I hadn’t even noticed until she pointed it out. Tori was truly hilarious. She talked about how in elementary school she had gone through the exact same process of having some teacher notice and putting her in speech therapy. She made me laugh talking about the stupid things those teachers tried to do and she would make hissing noises (which I knew how to do) as well. One time she wrote on one of my papers “lisp buddies 4 evah. sssssssss zzzzzz~~~” or something like that. We were best friends for those two years. I stopped caring about my lisp after that. This is what I sound like. Who gives a shit. I didn’t actually stop hating my voice though. When I did hear it on recording I got angry. But that was just like everyone else. In my room with the door locked, I wanted to be the lead singer of a band like Boys like Girls, Good Charlotte, Paramore, Metro Station, or Fall Out Boy*.

Before going on, here’s a link to a SciShow video where Hank Green, one of my favorite humans, talks about hating our own voices:

I’ll share something else next. Quite often my sisters and I are told that we sound exactly alike. However, there is an odd inconsistency to this. I have two sisters, S and non-S. Most frequently, non S and I are told we sound alike, but that may also be because we have been in public together more. I met her friends in college and we spent a year of high school together. However, often I am told S and I sound like clones as well, or rather, that I sound like a photocopy of S. But, never have I ever heard someone say that S and non-S sound so much alike. Yes, we all sound like sisters, and so sometimes we are told we all sound alike, but never have I heard someone point out that the two isolated sound similar.

And to me, they don’t sound the same. One has a more annoying voice than the other, depending on the day.

Probably the most accurate comparison of these is that non-S and I sound alike. When I figured this out I started to listen more closely to my sister to determine what I sound like. She has a lisp as well although it is not as prominent as mine. Eventually, I decided her voice sounded annoying, for a time. This is a phenomena I can’t find the answer to. It makes sense that we think our own voices sound weird because it conflicts with our ideas of what our voice actually sounds like. But if you heard your voice in a crowd, without being totally sure whether or not it was yours, would you still think to yourself, “damn, that person has an annoying voice.” According to that feeling I had toward my sister’s voice, the answer would be yes.

So I don’t really think my sister sounds weird anymore, but there’s still aftereffects of that. The explanation of the earlier phenomena is simply that I am so used to hearing my sister, all of my life. But then why don’t I think my mom and dad and other sister sound that way? Out of all my family members, non-S has exhibited more animosity toward me in the past (she doesn’t exhibit this toward me in particular more than she does to any other member of my family, it’s a bit of grief she has given to all of us). Certain times when non-S talks though it is just fine and comforting. None of this, by the way, means I like her more or less than any other member of my family. This is just the story of my voice.

However, I do have to mention one more thing about non-S. My voice sometimes goes up and down according to my mood. This is less prominent now because I have less moods, because, well, I’m depressed. But when I talk to my family my voice does go smaller, almost more babyish, and I don’t realize I’m doing it, and it indicates usually that I am happy or comfortable. For a long time, this annoyed non-S. She would chide me and say “stop talking like a baby! That’s not your voice.” I will say I’m just talking normal but she will say no I am not. Sometimes even without being nasty she would interrupt me and say “Talk normal,” and I would try to do so but then I just had to stop talking.

Eventually, my mom pointed out to my sister that she talks THE EXACT SAME WAY in the EXACT SAME VOICE when she’s talking to me or the rest of my family in a happy mood as well. I had noticed this, of course, but didn’t really have the guts to point it out. Now, non-S doesn’t chide me anymore. In fact, she probably talks in that same tone just as often as I do now and it seems to indicate that she is happy. The explanation I can think of is that she wasn’t very happy during that time [when she was telling me how to talk].

After graduating high school the self consciousness that had built up around my voice disappeared. After I started driving, I started singing in the car.  I had a conversation with some friends that maybe part of being able to sing was just getting used to the sound of your voice singing (outside of the shower, ahem.) Slowly, I would lower the volume and just try to sing without hating my own singing voice. I know that even my singing voice sounds much more terrible than I even hear it, but I don’t mind hearing myself sing now and will sing around friends loudly without self consciousness, even if it’s bad. Beyond singing, I also didn’t care so much about my voice. In general, I think I gained some self esteem after being with Bo, who would tell me things such as how I was stunningly beautiful, sexy, smart, capable, etc, and that he loved listening to me and he loved the sound of my voice (even though, well, I loved his voice so much more). I also realized, as I became close to him and a few others, that my family members weren’t the only ones who unconsciously made sillier, childish sounding voices when talking happily with someone we intimately adore and feel comfortable with. Nowadays, I talk less than I did in high school because of how I’ve evolved due to my experiences and depression. I like myself better for talking less and with more caution. I think my sisters and I sound more distinct–though many people dispute this. The only reasons we ever sounded so similar was because we have the same humor, same jokes, same sentence structure, and even some same speaking quirks from being around each other all the time.

The self consciousness has returned though. Out of nowhere, I can feel that confusion I felt as a child at being told I am speaking wrong. I feel compelled to try speech therapy again one day, even though I feel I am incapable of changing those ways in which I speak, and so far the research I’ve done makes no sense and gives me no real idea of how to change this “bad habit.” I wonder, are people even listening to the things I’m actually saying, or the ways in which I say them?

Upspeak. Vocal Fry. Continued in the next post.


*I probably didn’t need 4 bands as an example for the kind of band I wanted to be the lead singer of, but I could go on on about the albums I listened to at that time. I’ll save you the details, Reader.

Image Credit: “Close up of a Microphone of the Ark Stage.” The Ark is a music club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which, by the way, I don’t give a damn about.


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