Gender reveals – and when they become a spectacle
The U.S. custom has found its way into Switzerland – and even into my village. I wanted to learn more about gender reveal parties. My quest led me from the funny to the absurd.
Baby showers are so yesterday. Celebrations of unborn children have reached a new level. Gender reveal parties are the new in.
Sound a bit strange?
In case you’re not familiar with the concept, gender reveals are parties hosted by parents-to-be, where they announce the gender of their child. But because «Oh, we’re having a girl,» alone isn’t reason enough to host an event, soon-to-be parents turn the reveal into a big thing. They may cut into an elaborate cake to reveal pink or blue filling, burst confetti-filled balloons or shoot powder cannons. Whatever the case, loud cheers and thunderous applause are a must.
This trend, which has been popular throughout the United States for years, is now increasingly making itself known here in Switzerland. But I was convinced it was still far removed from me. Until now.
Local pub meets American glitz
The gender reveal has officially arrived in my corner of the world. In an Instagram story posted by my local pub, I recently discovered a repost of this type of baby event, which was apparently held there in the rustic room. The overall vibe: local pub ft. American glitz.
I’m talking a bunch of pastel-coloured balloons in a rustic, local pub setting. Balloons being held by an oversized teddy bear sitting under a balloon arch. Balloons in letter-shaped boxes which spell out «baby». And in the middle of it all, an oversized black balloon that breaks rank – and bears the paramount question: «Boy or Girl?»
No answer has been provided on Instagram, at least not yet. Maybe a video of the balloon popping will follow soon? Out of nowhere, I’d apparently developed an inexplicable curiosity about the gender of this baby I don’t even know. I continued my mindless research on gender reveals. Why, why and why again? I found the phenomenon equal parts fascinating and irritating.
I didn’t even throw a baby shower during my pregnancies. Yet here I was, immersed in the pastel pink and baby blue world of gender reveals. I made some surprising, funny and alarming discoveries. Here are my top ten findings.
1. It’s about the big secret
The key aspect to gender reveals is that, going into the party, even the parents often don’t know if its a boy or girl. It’s supposed to be a massive surprise for them, too – or especially for them. This necessitates some serious planning and absolute secrecy. Usually, a friend who’s in the know will be responsible for organising the reveal. Or a trusted bakery, which is then responsible for getting the pink or blue filling right.
I’m sceptical. Can all this secrecy really work? Yes, Zurich-based influencer and ex-GNTM contestant Sara Leutenegger assures me on request. In her case, the godfather of her unborn child who organised the party after being informed of the gender by the gynaecologist. «The doctor sent him a letter,» the 28-year-old tells me. «He then dutifully kept it to himself until the end.»
The baby’s gender was finally revealed in June 2020 with blue balloons flying out of a box. It was an important moment for Sara Leutenegger – but why? According to her, it was less about gender and more about celebrating the fact that she and her husband were going to be parents.
2. Celebrities are in the lead
It didn’t take me long to realise that gender reveal parties and social media go hand in hand. Influencers such as Sara Leutenegger share their gender reveals with their online community and celebrate it publicly on Instagram, YouTube and the like. Big international stars have paved the way, sparking a worldwide hype.
For example, in July 2020, English soccer star Harry Kane kicked a ball straight into a balloon filled with blue powder. He posted a video of it on his social media, letting the whole world know that he and his wife were expecting a boy.
Actress Kate Hudson also opted for balloons. Hers were filled with pink confetti.
3. The cost can be exorbitant
Harry Kane’s explosive goal and Kate Hudson’s garden party were extremely modest compared to this influencer couple’s gender reveal. In September 2020, Anas and Asala Marwah had Dubai’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, light up in blue. The cost? Just under 100,000 dollars. Criticism was quick to follow. The timing of the parents-to-be was quite terrible: not long before, a smoke bomb set off at a gender reveal party in California started a forest fire (see #7 for more on this).
The couple shared the big event with their followers in an incredibly long, 15-minute video. It has over 40 million views to date.
I recommend you skip ahead. The big highlight – the gender reveal – only starts at the 12:16 mark.
4. Gender reveals can get very creative
Backed by millions in the bank or not, the imagination of expecting parents knows no bounds. Balloons, cakes and confetti are the most common. Going for any of those methods hasn’t been considered creative for a while now. On the other hand, the following methods, which have indeed already been tried, most definitely are. For example:
- Colorful smoke coming out of a car or motorcycle exhaust
- A rubber duck dyeing the bath water
- Straws that change colour in the drink
- Coloured Silly String
- A bowling ball filled with powder that bursts open when you throw it
Should that still be too understated, you can try these ideas, which have also already been done:
- Having a Ferris wheel light up in pink or blue
- Getting a crocodile to pop a balloon filled with coloured powder
5. Public criticism is growing
Given the age of intense debate about gender identity, stereotypes and sexism, the gender reveal hype seems a bit paradoxical. After all, many parents are trying to stop pigeonholing their children into the usual gender roles. Despite the growing popularity of gender reveals – or perhaps because of it – public criticism is also increasing.
Singer and actress Demi Lovato, for one, condemned the concept of gender reveals last spring in an Instagram post – a repost of the original by Indian-American trans activist Alok Vaid-Menon. Critics argue that gender reveal parties are transphobic, because they only account for two genders, ignoring non-binary gender identities.
6. The name needs a revamp
Not only the concept, but also the name itself would actually have to be reconsidered. «Gender» describes a person’s social sex – or how they identify. «Sex», on the other hand, refers to biological gender. Strictly speaking, it should be called a «sex reveal party». Even ignoring the fact that this name could be misunderstood, a new designation is unlikely to gain acceptance. On Instagram alone, there are 2.5 million posts under #genderreveal.
7. The inventor says she regrets it
Even the inventor of the gender reveal party, U.S. blogger Jenna Karvunidis, now regrets her creation. During her pregnancy in 2008, she threw a party for her firstborn, where she revealed the sex by cutting into a cake with pink filling. She shared photos on her blog, where the post was picked up by a magazine and went viral.
Eleven years and worldwide hype later, she raised the following question on Facebook: «Who cares what gender the baby is?» The post was accompanied by a family picture with her husband and their three daughters – two in lace dresses, one in a suit. «Plot twist, the world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!»
In an article in The Guardian, Jenna Karvunidis later added: «I was certainly not anticipating creating an entire identity for my child . . . I have a flair for theatrics and love to throw parties – we had a party for the goldfish once.»
8. There have been some spectacular fails
Not all gender reveals go off without a hitch. Sometimes, people quite literally drop the ball – or balloon. You can find plenty of fails online. Here’s just one best-of compilation:
9. The parties can get completely out of hand
It’s all about being bigger, more colourful and more spectacular – which is probably why accidents at gender reveal parties in the United States are becoming increasingly dramatic. In the spring of 2021, a homemade explosive device detonated in a New York garage during gender-reveal preparations. The 28-year-old father-to-be died, and his brother was seriously injured. Weeks before that, a 26-year-old man was killed in Michigan when a small cannon that should have shot out coloured confetti exploded.
In April 2021, explosives in New Hampshire set off a blast so violent that it triggered an earthquake warning in the region. In the fall of 2020, a fog machine accident in California even led to a brush fire. Nearly 92,000 square metres of land burned down, and the firefighting efforts lasted more than two months.
10. Gender reveals are a business
What once started as a small celebration among friends has mutated into a whole industry. You’ll find everything you need online: from confetti balloons and confetti cannons to every imaginable deco item in pastel pinks and baby blues.
The prominent pioneers, in turn, have also made a business out of it. They have their entire event sponsored – thus allowing them to go all-out. Mention and link content in the right way, and you can have everything provided to you: from the planning and decoration to the flowers, cake and party favours.
My verdict: too much cake and confetti
My local pub never revealed the gender of the baby. And no, I didn’t go and ask. Actually, I’m quite happy that it’s remained a mystery.
I now know it’s not the party itself that irritates me so. Rather, it’s all the staging around it. It’s pretty much just about seeing who has the craziest idea and garnering maximum attention through photos and videos. Sometimes, with fatal consequences.
I’m sticking to my statement. I’ll never host a gender reveal party. Or, if I do, then it’ll be in the vein of German comedy YouTuber Mirella Precek, who parodied the entire concept in an Instagram post. In her words: there was no cake, no confetti and no photo booth.
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