September 4, 2014

Hains ’98 on the “Princess Problem”

Rebecca C. Hains ’98, a professor of media studies at Salem State University, recently released her second book, "The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years."

Rebecca C. Hains '98, a professor of media studies at Salem State University, recently released her second book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years.

It isn't necessarily princesses that Hains has a problem with. Instead, it's the aggressive marketing machine that exists behind the scenes, pushing not only excessive consumerism on young girls, but also harmful stereotypes related to beauty standards, gender and race. The majority of princesses permeating the media are thin and appearance-oriented, weak and male-dependent, and more often than not, white.

Much of Hains's focus has been centered on the ubiquitous Disney Princess franchise, a line of 11 Disney film-related characters that were assembled more than a decade ago to adorn everything from toys, games and food products to costumes, clothing and home décor. Seven of the current Disney Princesses are white. Just one, Brave's Merida, does not have a love interest in her film.

In researching for The Princess Problem, Hains delved into dozens of studies written by psychologists, educators, media literacy experts and girl-empowerment advocates, and gained a unique, first-person perspective of the princess phenomenon by spending several months of weekends dressing as princess performer for children's birthday parties. Most telling, though, were her interviews with more than fifty parents about their perspectives on the princess culture.  

"From my interviews with parents, I learned that they are frustrated because the Disney Princess brand is inescapable," Hains said. "And once the brand makes its way into their homes, new problems emerge around body image and the lack of racial representation."

 As a remedy, Hains devised a system of "Pop Culture Coaching," which encourages parents to identify their family values, build healthy, varied media diets for their children, watch and discuss television shows and movies with their children whenever possible, and teach their children about media creation.

With a bachelor's in communication from Emmanuel and a master's in mass communication from Boston University, Hains began studying girl culture when she entered Temple University for a Ph.D. in Mass Media and Communication in 2002. While there, she took notice of the massive popularity of the Powerpuff Girls, an animated series about three girls with superpowers. Her resulting 2007 doctoral dissertation, Negotiating girl power: Girlhood on screen and in everyday life, became the basis for her first book, Growing Up With Girl Power.

As a professor and a frequent blogger, Hains notes that reaction from both students and parents on issues of mass media and marketing has been divisive.

"I've had students tell me that I've ruined their childhoods after exposing them to Disney's marketing problems, and parents tell me that I'm overreacting, that kids are just being kids," she said. "But that's all part of the bigger problem. Why aren't students being exposed to these issues before college? Why aren't parents more media savvy?"

Hains emphasizes that The Princess Problem is not meant to be critical, but to encourage critical thinking among parents and children.

"I'm not attacking parenting styles or their choices; parents have their children's best interests at heart and they, working parents especially, have to choose their battles," she said. "The book says, 'If your kids love princesses, here are some talking points.'"

The Princess Problem is currently featured on the "New Releases" table at Barnes & Noble bookstores across the United States. For more information on Hains's work, visit

Rebecca C. Hains '98

Explore Emmanuel

The Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA)

In a city known for innovation in healthcare, opportunities for Emmanuel students are bolstered by our location within the world-renowned Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA). With walking-distance access to cutting-edge scientific and medical institutions, ours is a neighborhood that stands hand-in-hand with the future.

Learn More
Learn More
Learn More
Learn More
Learn More
Jolie Erlacher ’19 Finds Purpose Counseling Those in Need

As early as her second year at Emmanuel College, Jolie Erlacher '19 discovered the power of networking, seeing firsthand how the connections she has made at Emmanuel-and then beyond-have affected the course of her academic and career trajectory, each opportunity opening a door to the next.

Learn More
Featured Faculty: Rebecca Moryl

Dr. Rebecca Moryl is an Associate Professor of Economics at Emmanuel College. Professor Moryl teaches on subjects including microeconomics, economic relations, the politics of international economic relations and urban economics. She believes that understanding economics is critical to understanding the worlds-big and small-in which we live.

Learn More
Featured Faculty: Aren Gerdon

Professor Aren Gerdon is the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics and an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Emmanuel College. He leads his own chemistry research group, focusing on biomaterials, and works closely with other research groups across campus. Professor Gerdon is passionate about sharing his deep knowledge of chemistry with his students, guiding them from class work to practical, real-world lab experiments.

Learn More
Featured Faculty: Petros Vamvakas

Petros Vamvakas is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Latin American Studies, Middle East Studies and Peace Studies Programs. His work focuses on security and democratization, as well as issues related to identity and race in politics throughout the Americas. As part of his teaching, he has escorted groups of students to Crete, Greece, and will be bringing a group of students to Cuba.

Learn More
Learn More
Learn More
Learn More

Let's Get Started.

Emmanuel is a place where students broaden their sense of what’s possible and prepare for inspiring careers in an ever-changing world. Be here.