- HBO’s new documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood In Silicon Valley, tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her fraudulent health corporation, Theranos.
- The documentary, which features interviews with Holmes and shows her deep voice, has people questioning what her real voice sounds like.
- Holmes has never spoken publicly about her voice, but it’s believed that she’s using vocal fry.
HBO has a new documentary out about Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of fraudulent health technology corporation Theranos, and it’s raising some eyebrows—but not just for the medical fraud.
The film, called The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, details how Holmes convinced people that her blood-testing devices could detect a bunch of diseases in one go, using way less blood than existing tests.
While all of that stuff is obviously interesting (seriously, go watch it if you’re interested in fraud or blood testing or, in the best-case scenario, both!), the film also includes interviews with Holmes (pre-scandal, ofc), during which you can hear her very deep (and reportedly fake) voice.
Really. Former coworkers and acquaintances of Elizabeth told ABC Radio—via their joint podcast on Holmes, The Dropout, in conjunction with ABC News Nightline—that Holmes faked her deep voice. “It was maybe at one of the company parties, and maybe she had too much to drink or what not, but she fell out of character and exposed that that was not necessarily her true voice,” one of her former Theranos employees said.
That’s when, of course, the theories started rolling in: Was Holmes making her voice sound deeper to convey authority? Is she invoking vocal fry?
Well, was Elizabeth Holmes using vocal fry?
Just to clear something up from the get-go: Holmes has never publicly spoken about the tone of her voice, so it’s impossible to know what was going on there. But Eric Hunter, PhD, a professor and associate dean for research for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University says “she seems to be speaking lower than her optimal voice.”
Here’s what we know for sure: Vocal fry is the lowest tone of your voice, and has a deep, creaky, breathy sound, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. When you use vocal fry, you relax your vocal cords, but don’t increase the amount of air you push through your vocal cords. As a result, you make slower vibrations and get that lower, creaky-sounding voice.
Vocal fry is considered part of normal speech and can show up a few different ways, according to Aaron Johnson, PhD, a speech-language pathologist at NYU Langone’s Voice Center. Vocal fry is common at the end of phrases—your tone may drop and get raspy at the end of something that you’re saying.
But people—possibly like Holmes—can also consciously engage in vocal fry and use it as their “speaking voice,” he says. “It’s something that we see in people who are in powerful positions or they want to be perceived as authoritative. They often will lower their voice to have a commanding presence,” Johnson says. Hm.
Can using vocal fry—or speaking in a lower tone—end up hurting your voice?
It kind of depends. When people normally transition in and out of vocal fry—again, like when they end a sentence or are just waking up—it’s not known to be harmful, says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
If you’re doing it all the time? That’s another story. Vocal fry involves some level of strain and roughness, Johnson says, and that’s not exactly awesome for your voice if you’re using it as your normal speaking voice. “It may increase tension on vocal cords and can be potentially harmful,” says Dr. Mehdizadeh. That can mean everything from feeling like your voice is strained or fatigued to developing nodules on your vocal cords, he says, that require treatment like vocal therapy or surgery.
But lbh, Holmes’ vocal cords are probably the least of her worries right now…
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