Have you ever heard that people can guess your weight over the phone? There was even a radio host called Lunchbox that got popular by guessing his caller’s weight after they answered just a few questions. He was surprisingly good at it, too!
People’s voices change for a variety of reasons. Your voice changes early in life as a result of puberty and after that, you can experience changes again for medical reasons, or even from gaining or losing weight.
So, why do fat people’s voices sound different?
Fat people’s voices sound different because when you gain weight, you gain it in your throat and larynx too. Fat accumulates in the throat and changes how air sounds as it’s pushed across your vocal cords. The fluctuation of hormones that happens when you gain or lose weight can affect how your voice sounds, too!
Below, we’ll take a closer look at how your weight changes the sound of your voice. I’ll also talk about why this happens and answer a few other questions you might have about your voice sounding different.
Why Do Fat People’s Voices Sound Different?
To understand why fat people’s voices sound different, first, you need to understand a little about how a voice box works. Your voice box or your larynx is located inside the neck and it has two flaps- one on either side. When you speak, the air from your lungs is forced through the voice box and across these flaps, where it creates vibrations that result in sound. Here’s a Youtube video that explains it a little better.
Even though it’s common for gained weight to primarily accumulate around areas like the stomach, hips, and thighs, especially in the case of weight caused by stress hormones, it also accumulates in the arms, legs, and even your throat. This is one of the reasons that people who are overweight are more prone to sleep apnea, particularly when they sleep in certain positions.
The excess bulk in your airway means that air is forced through a smaller space when it travels through your voice box. Since the shape of a voice box and how narrow/large the opening affects the sound that comes out, it makes sense that anything that alters the typical shape of your larynx is going to change the sound that is coming out of it, too.
Additionally, losing or gaining weight changes the balance of hormones in your body. We’ll take a closer look at this in the next section.
How Hormones and Weight Play a Role in Vocal Changes
While the physical aspects of weight gain can make your voice change, hormones play a role in how you sound as well. While there are many other hormones in the body, research shows that there is a higher concentration of hormone receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and androgen in the larynx, making it most sensitive to changes brought about by these hormones.
We can see instances of vocal changes in times when hormone levels change in the body. For example, it is the increase in hormones during puberty that causes a young man’s vocal chord to grow thicker and lengthen, resulting in a deeper voice. Females going through puberty also experience voice changes, though it’s not nearly as noticeable.
Hormones also play a role when it comes to the vocal changes that come along with being pregnant. While some pregnant women don’t notice this change until they are in later trimesters, others notice it earlier on. Additionally, some women notice minor vocal changes during the pregnancy and more noticeable changes after the birth of their baby, when hormone levels change again.
That being said, some of the vocal changes that come about from being overweight may also be a direct response to the change in hormones in your body. We’ll take a look at how weight loss and gain change your hormone levels (and your voice) in the next section.
Does Your Voice Change When You Lose Weight?
Yes, a person’s voice can change from losing weight. In fact, you’ll notice that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from singers who have lost weight that they just don’t sound the same. This can happen for a few reasons.
First, if you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, then your face and neck area is going to thin out, too. As your neck gets thinner, there isn’t as much fat built up around the larynx that alters the way your voice sounds.
Second, the levels of hormones in your body change after significant weight loss. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology monitored the hormone levels of women as they lost weight. The results showed there was a significant decrease in both estrogen and testosterone levels after losing weight.
What does decreased estrogen and testosterone mean when it comes to your voice? Surprisingly, it means different things for a man than it does for a woman. Men who lose weight have lower levels of estrogen in their bodies, which allows the pitch of their voices to deepen. By contrast, a woman who loses weight has lower levels of testosterone and her voice is going to become higher pitched.
Does Your Voice Change When You Gain Weight?
Vocal changes from weight gain happen for two reasons, including physical changes and the presence of hormones. Physical changes include adding bulk around the neck, which physically changes the shape of your voice box. Additionally, gaining weight increases levels of hormones including estrogen and testosterone.
In case you need a refresher from science class, while both men and women have the same hormones, the balance of hormones is different. Men tend to have higher levels of testosterone that are responsible for certain traits, while women have higher levels of estrogen.
As a man gains weight and hormone levels increase, they are most affected by the increased level of estrogen. This causes their voice to become higher pitched. By contrast, the increased level of testosterone that a woman’s body is not used to causes a woman’s voice to deepen if she gains significant weight.
Gaining weight could also change your ability to produce certain sounds, which may be noticeable to someone who is familiar with the way that you normally speak. Most people find this is most apparent in the way that they pronounce certain vowels since the amount of fat in the throat changes the shape of the larynx.
Furthermore, people who gain a lot of weight and who are not physically active may have noticeable changes in their breathing patterns. While we know that weight is not always an indicator of a person’s health, people who are larger may have more weight pressing down on their lungs.
Bigger people also do not have as much room in their diaphragm. This matters because when you breathe deeply, you engage your diaphragm to have a higher lung capacity. This means that someone whose overweight is more likely to need to breathe more frequently during conversation, particularly if they aren’t healthy.
Does the Amount of Weight Gain or Lost Make a Difference in Your Voice?
Yes, the amount of weight that you gain or lose does make your voice sound different. In most cases, these vocal changes are only significantly noticeable in people who experience either extreme weight loss or extreme weight gain. Someone who is just a little plus size or who is big-boned rather than overweight probably won’t notice any difference in how they sound.
For example, one study that researched the effects of bariatric weight loss surgery on voice found that around 2/3 of participants experienced some change in voice. This presented in different ways, with some people experiencing changes in pitch and others experiencing changes in the way they pronounced certain words phonetically or the loudness of their voice.
Additionally, there is anecdotal evidence of singers whose voices have changed because of drastic weight gain or weight loss. This makes sense because we know that people with longer, thicker necks can produce powerful vocals. Just think about the vocals of legendary Aretha Franklin or the pop sensation Lizzo and how their necks are shaped. You may have even noticed that a lot of opera singers are overweight.
There is a ton of research that proves fat people sing better when it comes to vocal range and creating a powerful sound. That being said, there’s really no reason to put off losing weight or keep a healthy lifestyle just to change the sound of your voice. Being healthy also has benefits. For example, losing weight improves your lung capacity and how long you can hold a note.
What Other Things Can Make Your Voice Change?
Voice changes can happen as a result of weight gain or loss, as well as the hormonal changes that come along with life (like puberty at a young age, during and after pregnancy, or following menopause as an adult woman or the natural decrease in testosterone and androgen in an adult man. The hormonal changes associated with weight gain or loss also can change your voice.
That being said, there are other conditions that result in vocal changes. Some of these are serious, so if you do experience voice changes without significant weight gain or loss, it may be best to speak with your physician to find out what is going on. Even in the case of hormones, certain underlying conditions can cause imbalances that result in vocal changes completely unrelated to weight loss or gain.
In some cases, a growth inside the throat and the extra tissue on the vocal cords changes a person’s voice. Growths might be from cysts or other fluid-filled bumps, webbing that grows between the vocal cords, a granuloma caused by chronic inflammation, or polyps.
Any type of inflammation or swelling can also cause vocal changes. This could be temporary like in the case of a cold, surgery, or over-exerting the vocal cords or it could be more permanent when it’s caused by untreated acid reflux, long-term overuse of the vocal cords, smoking and alcohol abuse, or exposure to certain chemicals.
Conditions that affect the nerves also may partially or totally paralyze the vocal cords and change your voice. This includes conditions like ALS, Huntington disease, and multiple sclerosis. Having surgery that cuts through the nerves also changes your voice.
Of course, vocal changes can happen as a result of the aging process, too. In addition to hormonal changes affecting voice as we get older, vocal cords become thinner, shorter, and more brittle. This process is known as aging voice and it changes how we sound.
So, why do fat people’s voices sound different? People who are on the larger side often have a larynx that is shaped differently than the average thin person’s. The increase of hormones that happens with weight gain changes the shape of the larynx and the way that you sound. Plus, the way that certain vowels are pronounced and even a person’s breathing pattern can make their weight apparent.
In most cases, any voice changes that you experience as a result of gaining or losing weight aren’t cause for concern. However, if you haven’t experienced a significant weight change, the changes in the way your voice sounds could indicate an underlying hormone imbalance, vocal cord damage, or even certain diseases and conditions. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions!