This article originally appeared on VICE US.
(This article contains some spoilers, so, uh… you’ve been warned!)
The central conceit of Love Is Blind, Netflix’s newest dating show, is that its 29 contestants (16 women, 13 men) will meet, fall in love, and get engaged before ever seeing one another in person. The series, which premiered on February 13 and has slowly been rolling out new episodes, accomplishes this by having its potentially affianced paramours go on “dates” in two-chambered “pods” where they can hear each other but can’t see each other.
With the emphasis taken off of the contestants’ looks (even though they’re all cOiNcIdEnTaLlY super hot!), all they have are each other’s voices to go on. And Mark, a 24-year-old fitness trainer, falls hard for Jessica’s—or at least the bizarre voice that the 34-year-old regional manager puts on whenever she’s talking to her dates.
How Jessica talks when she’s with the other women is completely different from the way she talks when she’s around Mark or in the pods talking to any of the other men. It’s very obvious in the early episodes as we watch her weave between private confessionals and one-on-one interactions with Mark. Take this scene from Episode 3, where the engaged couples spend their first night together at a Cancún resort. Mark and Jessica walk out onto their balcony to hold one another as they watch the starry night sky.
“No one knows I’m in Mexico,” Jessica says in a straight-to-camera confessional, her voice deep and full. “It’s tripping me out!”
The show then cuts back to her little spooning into Mark’s arms.
“I love hearing the waves crash on the beach,” she tells him, her voice now lilting, high-pitched, upended, and fried. “That’s, like, my favorite thing in the world.”
The transition (or lack thereof) is jarring, and reveals something lots of women do, sometimes without even realizing it: the “sexy baby” voice Into the Gloss defined as “a mix of high pitch, vocal fry, and up-talk.”
This is not to be confused with using a baby voice, like the way you might soften your voice and smush your consonants as if you’re talking to (at?) a dog or a toddler. I mean sexy baby. Baby talk is actually a sign of a healthy relationship, according to some experts, but sexy baby talk is a totawy diffewent pwobwem awtogethew.
For a more concrete example of what I’m talking about, look no further than the many sexy babies that pop culture has blessed us with. The voice features prominently in an episode of 30 Rock as well as Lake Bell’s 2013 feature film, In a World… Paris Hilton famously revealed that the voice used during The Simple Life and her mid-aughts era of relevance was entirely put on, as she found it financially advantageous to do so.
My personal favorite pop culture example of the sexy baby voice is the Lana Del Rey song “Off to the Races,” where her voice goes up several octaves whenever she starts singing to her “old man.”
Now, I’m not criticizing Jessica’s voice for sounding distinctly feminine. I’m literally so uptalky 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! I’m just curious as to why she’s doing this specific voice in these specific circumstances.
There are a few possible reasons, according to Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, who wrote about adult women deploying the sexy baby voice for strategic purposes in a Psychology Today piece from 2017. Apparently, using a baby voice has the effect of minimizing its 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—a very good strategy, whether intentional or not, for someone like Jessica who repeatedly ends her relationship with Mark, or comes very close to it, to pursue hunky red flag of a manchild named Barnett.
As the season wears on, Jessica slowly drops the unhinged sexy baby voice when she’s around Mark, as we see her begin to open up and let her guard down to the man she’s agreed to marry. But will she say “I do” (or even “I, like? Dew…”) on the finale this Thursday? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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