It goes without saying, the words "sexy" and "baby" should never go together. Never ever. But that's exactly what's happened this week, in the wake of Netflix's latest reality dating show Love Is Blind, which has low-key taken over the Internet. Thanks to one contestant, Jessica, the term "sexy baby voice" has entered my vocabulary, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.
Love Is Blind is essentially the dating show equivalent of The Voice. A group of men and women are thrown into a house and over the course of 10 days, they get to know a member of the opposite sex without ever seeing their face. The first time they meet, they're already engaged — then, they return to the real world and spend the next four weeks planning a wedding. The show is positioned as a social experiment, and it's as compelling (read: addictive) as it sounds.
But while some of us were busy falling head over heels in love with Cameron and Lauren's beautifully pure romance, many people people just couldn't ignore how Jessica's voice often changes when speaking with her beau, Mark. Before the finale was even close to airing on 27 Feb, the internet was awash with opinions about why they're now calling her "sexy baby voice."
As the story goes, Jessica and Mark fell pretty hard and fast for one another, and after they navigated around the Barnett-shaped speed bump in episode two, they got engaged. Upon leaving the house together to enter the second phase of the social experiment, it became impossible for Twitter to ignore her "sexy baby voice."
Naturally, this sparked a conversation in the POPSUGAR UK office. And honestly, things got kind of heated. One editor felt assuming that "sexy baby voice" is linked to mental illness or the patriarchy — as some people have suggested — is too long a bow to draw. Another editor said they have a friend who often changes their voice to a more passive and high-pitched version when speaking to their male partner. The first time she saw it happen firsthand, she was shocked. Personally, I went to school with a girl who used a baby voice when speaking to everyone, and I often wondered if it was truly her real voice or more of a nervous tick.
On one hand, we all held a similar opinion — basically, that it was a little strange and a lot interesting — but we also had very different opinions about the hot takes flying around the internet this week. Vice was confused by the "sexy baby voice", The Cut questioned how it would feel to learn your fiancé has been faking their voice, and Jezebel linked it to the patriarchy.
Meanwhile, The Guardian was inspired by the Internet's "fierce reaction" to speak to sociologist Anne Karpf (who specialises in studies of the human voice) to get to the bottom of it once and for all. Karpf explained that baby talk is more common in women, and is likely a result of societal pressure to preserve a man's ego. "Women's voices have always been seen in relation to the desire that they've evoked in men rather than the desires of the woman and what she wants to express," she told The Guardian. "Babies don't possess social power, economic power, or sexual power."
As for my opinion? I'm kind of on the fence. Personally I don't change my voice when having a regular, serious, adult conversation with my partner, but have we put on cutesy voices when joking around or to soften the blow (as a bit of a subtle "no offence but" if you will) when complaining about everyday frustrations? Sure. In fact, yes. Often.
Baby talk — and specifically, using baby talk in romantic relationships — isn't new. In 2013, Psychology Today posted an article by Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, exploring why couples talk like babies to one another. Seltzer said that in the same way we often call our significant others "babe" or "baby" as a sign of affection, this cutesy language is perhaps a throwback to our earliest loving relationships: the one we had with our parents as children.
So it got me wondering why people are so up in arms about Jessica, specifically, changing her voice when talking to Mark on Love Is Blind. To me, it seems a bit unfair to judge her for doing something that probably doesn't really hurt anyone and may be completely unconscious, or a result of her own past experiences. Of course, it's not that simple and it's reasonable to be frustrated by behaviour that may feed the outdated trope that women should make themselves smaller for the sake of a man's ego.
When I first saw the headlines, I thought, "Who gives a sh*t if Jessica wants to sound like a baby when speaking to her partner?" It doesn't impact my life in any significant way. But all the opinions and points of view that have come from the "sexy baby voice" conversation this week are certainly interesting food for thought. But at the end of the day, if Jessica wants to speak in a baby voice ("sexy" or otherwise), then who are we to judge?