The gender reveal party likely has more than one inventor, but one of the first documented examples belongs to Los Angeles blogger Jenna Karvunidis. The year was 2008; the cake was shaped like a rubber duck. Karvunidis, who was expecting her first child, sliced it open, revealing pink frosting between white layers. It’s a girl!
Over the ensuing decade, a Pinterest- and YouTube-fueled arms race produced cakes that vomit pink or blue MnMs, black balloons burst to reveal pink or blue confetti, and “color blasters” that detonate a cloud of pink or blue smoke. Today, expectant parents send sealed lab results to bakeries, and gender reveal fails are fodder for Tik Tok. An Arizona Border Patrol agent is paying $8M in restitution for the 47,000-square-foot wildfire caused by his gender reveal color blast. Also? The child Karuvinidis welcomed with a pink-frosted cake is 10 years old and prefers to wear suits.
“PLOT TWIST,” Karvunidis wrote on Facebook on July 25, “the world's first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!” Karvunidis told ELLE that she has “mixed feelings” about the phenomenon gender reveal parties have become. As gender reveals grew in popularity, many called them an early form of the gender policing that shapes our lives every day, from expectations about how we present at school and work to the bathrooms and locker rooms that have become ground zero for the ongoing war against transgender people. Cakes and color blasts slap a label on us—in big, pink or blue font—before we’re even born.
“I did [the gender reveal party] at the time because we didn't live in 2019 and didn't know what we know now—that assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what's between their legs,” she wrote in the Facebook post, which went viral. The post included a recent family photo in which her oldest child sports short hair and a sharp gray blazer.
ELLE talked to Karvunidis about the inspiration for the original cake, and how her daughter has changed her understanding of gender.
ELLE: What inspired you to do a gender reveal party to begin with?
The reason I had a party was that I had several miscarriages. The third time was a charm. Finally, I had a baby that stuck long enough to know anything about her, and the first thing we learn is the gender of the baby. The party was more celebrating the milestone of her coming birth more than trying to saddle any identity onto the child. I had to explain to everyone what we were doing. “Why are we coming to your house for a BBQ?” they asked.
When did you realize the gender reveal party idea was catching on?
I had no idea people would pick this up. I wrote about my gender reveal party on my blog and on iVillage, an influential parenting forum with hundreds of thousands of people. It became a huge discussion thread. At the time I didn’t think, “Oh, I’m getting my idea out there. I just thought, oh, other people are thinking like I am.” My post got picked up by The Bump. Then I started seeing other people do gender reveals later that summer, that fall and into the next year. I started seeing little trickles and then it reached a tipping point and now everyone does it.
Why do you think the parties became such a big deal?
I think people are excited and it’s the first thing you learn about your baby. The problem is the first detail you get about your baby is by far not the most important. There are one thousand more important details about a person than their gender, but you don’t get to know them until later.
Do you think people have taken the idea too far?
For the majority of people, gender reveal parties are not going to affect our lives. That’s the thing with oppression; only those affected feel it. They have bad feelings about it. Gender reveals are really offensive to nonbinary and transgender people. When we emphasize gender as the first thing to celebrate about babies, [transgender and nonbinary people] are further marginalized. If we’re all responsible together and put this gender reveal party away, it helps people whose problems you don’t feel yourself.
What changed your mind about gender reveals?
My daughter. It started almost immediately after she was born. I made a blue and yellow nursery, not a pink one. You know your child from the moment they are born. For her first birthday, I put a black suit coat on her. You know what your kid is gravitating towards and I knew the whole pink thing wasn’t in the cards.
I definitely take my daughter’s lead. She was born a bio female. She’s still a girl, but at the same time, I just take her lead and she likes what she likes and she’s just a kid. I don’t know what her future holds, I accept her and love her. She’s awesome no matter what.
Why did you take down your parenting blog?
I took my blog down because I started feeling like a lot of details about my child’s personal life were up there. I still write on my personal Facebook page and she has her own Instagram, but I’m not sharing every detail of her childhood. I just thought about how I would feel if it were my mom and realized it was time to shutter the blog.
How does your daughter, the original inspiration for the gender reveal party and the reason you no longer support them, feel about all the attention?
I just told her this morning this post is going viral I let her read it. She is just a typical kid, so everything is “oh mom!” that type of thing. But she had a big smile on her face too.
What do you think people should do in place of gender reveal parties?
I don’t want to shame anybody. I think parents get enough flack for every move they make. People want to have their parties and I don’t want to pick people apart for that. Hell, I’m the one who did it in the first place.
When you know better, you do better. It would be great if people could do a different party. Maybe have a party when you’re ready to make your pregnancy announcement and the surprise is ‘yay we're having a baby!’ Cakes of all colors!
Do you regret writing the original blog post?
I feel like the guy who invented gunpowder. He didn’t know it would be used for the Civil War.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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